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Senator Hassan Holds Virtual Roundtable Discussion with Substance Misuse Providers to Discuss Challenges During the COVID-19 Pandemic

NEW HAMPSHIRE – In case you missed it, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan held a virtual discussion this week with those on the front lines of the substance misuse crisis to hear about their concerns and challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Senator Hassan is working to bolster mental and behavioral health services, including for substance use disorder, during the COVID-19 pandemic. New Hampshire received $2 million in funding through the federal CARES Act to address substance misuse, and Senator Hassan has joined her colleagues in calling for increased investments for mental and behavioral health services in the next COVID-19 package.


See below for coverage highlights:


The Union Leader: Hits to substance abuse programs could take years to recover

By: Kevin Landrigan


Providers battling substance abuse in New Hampshire said it will take years to “rebuild the capacity” of care decimated by COVID-19.


But during a remote roundtable discussion Tuesday, they told U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan the pandemic has had some silver linings, including some clients engaging with them more than they did before coronavirus hit the state.


Since March, New Hampshire drug overdose rates have increased 30% compared to the same period last year, according to Michele Merritt, president and CEO of New Futures.


[…] Until recently, hospitals were not allowed to offer non-time sensitive medical procedures and this too caused many with substance abuse problems to not be served.


“People who have put off treatment are in a higher level of acuity now,” Merritt said.


Hassan said it’s unfortunate that just as drug overdoses were declining in the state, COVID-19 arrived and those numbers have shot back up.


“I want to understand what those challenges are as we continue to fight an epidemic within a pandemic,” Hassan said.


She vowed to press Congress to include in the next COVID-19 relief legislation more support for these programs.


[…] Some clients, especially older ones, have embraced the use of appointments by telephone, according to Daisy Pierce, executive director of Navigating Recovery of the Lakes Region in Laconia.


“We have some participants that we have greater contact with than in the past,” Pierce said.


Congress approved in its CARES Act last March grants to expand the use of telehealth, which included not only video but telephone appointments as well.


Caledonian Record: Epidemic In A Pandemic: Opioid Crisis Exacerbated By Virus Response

By: Paul Hayes


New Hampshire appeared to be making headway on opioid abuse.


Then COVID-19 struck.


Those enrolled in drug and mental health treatment programs were cut off from services when the pandemic hit. They could not meet with counselors or groups because of orders to stay home, maintain social distance, and avoid large gatherings.


[…] “The face-to-face, the connection, that is what is so important in recovery,” said DJ Johnson of The Family Resource Center in Gorham, who believes a client’s recent suicide was linked to pandemic-related loneliness. “He was really, really isolated. Since then I do as much as I can with trying to get out there and at least talking to and seeing people. As someone in recovery myself, I’d probably be lost if I didn’t have people, I really would.”


Johnson joined a half-dozen mental health and substance abuse professionals from across the state Tuesday for a roundtable discussion on Tuesday with Sen. Maggie Hassan, who called the opioid crisis “an epidemic in a pandemic.”


New Hampshire overdose deaths increased 300 percent over a five-year period and peaked at 490 in 2017. After two years of decline, they are poised to rise again due to pandemic-fueled drug use.


“I appreciate that right now, in the midst of a pandemic, a challenge that was already a really significant and difficult one has been made that much harder,” Hassan said.


[…] “We must address the issues of equity in tele-health by continuing reimbursement for audio only tele-health, to a avoid worsening disparities when women can’t participate in video tele-health,” Goodman said. “And then subsidizing cell phones and data for low income women. We have a pilot [program] at Dartmouth-Hitchcock where we’re doing this right now with a small internal brand and it’s already making a difference.”


“Long term I would hope the federal government will rapidly and meaningfully support expansion of low-cost broadband to remote rural areas.”


Hassan said she is pushing for expanded broadband access in a new COVID-19 relief package.


NHPR: COVID-19 impacts substance abuse, disorder recovery efforts

By: Sarah Gibson


Specialists in the substance use recovery field say the pandemic is hitting them and their clients hard.


On a call Tuesday with Senator Maggie Hassan, Michelle Merritt, of the advocacy group New Futures, said many substance use disorder providers in New Hampshire have received COVID relief funds, but they are still struggling to support their staff and clients.


“Over the coming months it's really going to be critical to make sure our provider system which again is young and fragile has some protection,” Merritt says.


Providers say they need help connecting their clients to basics like housing, food, and phones to help them stay connected during the pandemic and avoid relapse.