Most of the gubernatorial candidates looking to replace Gov. Maggie Hassan agree that the opioid crisis needs to be dealt with immediately.
But oddly enough, they also agree on one specific policy to combat the epidemic: fully funding the New Hampshire Alcohol Fund.
“A lot of people we talk to aren’t necessarily aware of the fund as a source of money to combat substance abuse with treatment and prevention,” said Kate Frey, deputy director at New Futures, a nonprofit advocacy organization looking to prevent and reduce substance abuse in the Granite State.
New Futures released a five-point agenda on Tuesday of alcohol, drug and health policy initiatives they would like to see the Legislature take up this session.
The New Hampshire Alcohol Fund was created in 2000 as a non-lapsing and continually appropriated fund to support alcohol and drug education, abuse prevention and treatment programs. The law provides that 5 percent of the gross profits from the sale of alcohol should go to the fund.
The fund kicked in for the biennium in 2003 and was fully funded in that budget. However, every year since then, either the governor or the Legislature suspended the 5 percent funding and transferred revenue from the Alcohol Fund to the General Fund. The Legislature has appropriated only a small amount of general funds in subsequent years, significantly less than the 5 percent mandated by law, for prevention and treatment.
“The Legislature was very forward thinking back then to create this fund,” Frey said. “Unlike other problems where there isn’t a plan already in place, this fund is operational, and we need to respect the integrity of it and not redirect those funds for other purposes.”
The 2016-2017 state budget allocated only 1.7 percent of gross profits to the Alcohol Fund, instead of the 5 percent. The total amount appropriated to the Alcohol Fund for the biennium was $6.6 million, instead of the $19 million had it been fully funded. The Legislature also passed a bill this session allocating an additional $2.5 million from the General Fund for prevention, treatment and recovery in 2017, bringing the total to $9.1 million.
New Futures believes this fund is crucial to combatting the opioid crisis, by having an allocated source of funds for the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment to pull from and allocate to communities who need it.
This is a belief that many gubernatorial candidates — Democrats and Republicans alike — also agree on.
Colin Van Ostern, Democratic candidate, includes a section on his website to fight the opioid crisis by increasing money to the fund.
“As Governor, Colin will work to fully fund New Hampshire’s Alcohol Fund…for the first time in state history,” his website states.
Frank Edelblut, one of the Republican candidates and state representative from Hillsborough, said he would be “happy to look at the options and go through the legislative process.”
“It really needs to be at the original rate and it should be used as it was intended,” he said in an interview with NH Journal.
Jeanie Forrester, Republican candidate and state senator from Meredith, has also spoken about fully funding the Alcohol Fund. She includes it in her drug and opioid crisis plan on her website.
“Jeanie has always had the position that the state needs to fully fund the Drug and Alcohol Fund,” said Michael Dennehy, campaign senior advisor for Forrester, “and anything less is negligent and a disservice to the everyone committed to fighting the drug epidemic.”