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|Restoring NH’s Alcohol Fund|
|Published Tuesday, January 3, 2017|
New Hampshire remains in the grip of a relentless opioid epidemic. In 2015, 439 Granite Staters lost their lives to drug overdoses—and that number is projected to rise to almost 500 by the end of 2016, according to a report issued in June by the NH Drug Monitoring Initiative. That’s nearly three times the number of overdoses in 2012.
Results from a University of NH/WMUR poll conducted in July indicate that people continue to view the state’s substance misuse crisis as the number one issue facing our state. The evidence is clear: NH must take serious steps to turn the tide on this crisis.
Sixteen years ago, one step was taken to do just that. In 2000, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 153 to create the Alcohol Abuse Prevention and Treatment Fund (Alcohol Fund), which supports alcohol and drug prevention, treatment and recovery programs in NH. This should have made millions of dollars available to fight the current opioid epidemic.
However, the Alcohol Fund has not been funded in accordance with the law for 13 years. It’s hard not to wonder: If the Alcohol Fund been fully funded since its inception, would NH be in such an overwhelming crisis today? Would our state have lost millions of dollars to this epidemic, not to mention thousands of lives?
Facts and Figures
The Alcohol Fund, which by law should be financed with 5 percent of the gross profits from the sale of alcohol in the state each year, has been fully funded only once, in 2003. In all other years, the governor and/or legislature have suspended that RSA and transferred a substantial portion of the revenue from the Alcohol Fund to the General Fund. The Liquor Commission is already required by law to deposit all excess revenue into the General Fund. On average, 22 percent of alcohol sales revenue are sent to the General Fund to fund portions of the state budget.
During FY 2015, gross alcohol sales totaled $646.9 million, up 3.2 percent from $626.9 million in FY 2014. For comparison, gross alcohol sales in 2000, the year the Alcohol fund was created, were $293 million, according to the NH Liquor Commission.
In the 2016/2017 biennium, policymakers amended the fund’s formula allocating only 1.7 percent of gross profits for substance abuse treatment and prevention, instead of the intended 5 percent, sending the remainder to the General Fund to cover other state expenses. Instead of the $19 million dollars that could have been used to curb our current opioid crisis, only $6.6 million was originally appropriated for the biennium based on anticipated revenue. In the 2016 legislative session, policymakers passed Senate Bill 533 and allocated an additional $2.5 million from the
General Fund for prevention, treatment and recovery in 2017, bringing the total to $9.1 million.
Why Should Businesses Care?
In 2012, before the height of the current drug crisis, substance misuse cost NH nearly $2 billion per year, according to a 2014 report, “The Corrosive Effects of Alcohol and Drug Misuse on NH’s Workforce and Economy,” commissioned by New Futures. (New Futures will release an updated report in December.) That number includes not only health care, corrections, criminal justice and other costs, but also one that affects local businesses—lost worker productivity.
New Hampshire businesses are losing dollars in medical costs, workers’ compensation claims, employee absenteeism, turnover and productivity due to substance misuse.
Texas is the only other state in the nation where an individual in need of treatment is less likely to receive treatment than in NH, according to a 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, based on census data collected every 10 years.
Spending for treatment in NH is low compared to states with similarly sized populations, and even lower than states with half as many citizens, despite having a high or higher percentage of residents with substance use disorders, according to a 2011 report issued by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In recent years, the NH Legislature slashed state funding for community based, direct prevention services. Preventing substance misuse is both a public health priority and an economic one.
Evidence-informed prevention efforts are critical and are the most cost effective way to prevent a new generation of individuals from misusing substances.
It would take just an additional $10 million appropriated to the Alcohol Fund to meet the originally mandated rate.
Linda Saunders Paquette is executive director of New Futures Inc., a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization in Concord. For more information, visit new-futures.org/turn-the-tide.
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