To Save Lives, We Must Act Now

New Hampshire is a state that combines rugged individualism with a strong sense of community. It’s what I often call our all-hands-on-deck approach, where we come together, pitch-in, and help our friends and neighbors when they need it.

Right now, we see this approach each and every day, with those on the front lines of our state’s devastating substance misuse crisis — law enforcement officials, medical professionals, and citizens in every corner of our state — working together to try to turn the tide of this deadly epidemic.

The heroin, opioid, and fentanyl crisis is the most pressing public health and safety challenge facing New Hampshire. This epidemic takes a massive toll on our communities, our workforce, and our economy. And I know that it is ravaging states all across our nation too.

This crisis does not discriminate. It affects people in every community and from all walks of life. In 2016 alone, roughly 500 people in New Hampshire lost their lives as a result of this epidemic.

And the spread of synthetic drugs like fentanyl is dramatically increasing the number of lives lost — killing people faster and with smaller amounts. Last year, more than 70% of confirmed New Hampshire drug deaths involved fentanyl. Lives are at stake, and every member of this body must come together and put partisan politics aside to get results for our people.

Everywhere I go, I hear stories from those who have been affected by this crisis. I hear inspiring stories from those in recovery, working to put their lives back together. And I hear tragic stories from siblings, parents, and friends who know the pain of having a loved one taken from them far too soon. These stories — all of these stories — are critical in breaking down the stigma of addiction and pushing for solutions.

Instead of simply writing in an obituary that a loved one died “suddenly,” more and more families — including the family of one of my son’s high school classmates — are speaking out and telling the painful stories of addiction and loss.

Last year, at the annual Easter Egg Hunt I hosted as the Governor of New Hampshire, I was approached by a woman on our State House lawn who was carrying a baby. She pulled me aside and said that the little boy she was holding was not her son, but her grandson. And that his mother had died from an overdose just one month earlier. She was there on the day before Easter as we celebrated our spring ritual of renewal and hope, sharing that pain with me, so that we could move forward to help others in her situation.

On Monday, I met with a man named Phil from Laconia, who is now in recovery. Phil said that over a year-and-a-half ago, he had lost his home and nearly everything because of his substance use disorder. Now — thanks in part to the fact that he was able to gain coverage through Medicaid expansion — Phil is substance free. He’s gone on to become a recovery coach, and he helped found a recovery center in Laconia, where he works to help others with the same challenges that he had.

We can never thank those in recovery and the families who have lost loved ones enough for speaking out about this issue — and for working tirelessly and courageously to try to prevent others from suffering as they have.

But while thanking them is appropriate, it is not enough. The bravery of survivors and those in recovery needs to be marked by our constant vigilance and urgent action.

I am grateful to the Senators who have been true leaders on this issue — especially Senator Jeanne Shaheen who has fought tirelessly to secure funding to combat this crisis and help the people of our state.

Passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act was an important step, as was the 21st Century Cures Act, which included some funding to fight the opioid epidemic. But the Cures Act will not provide enough funding for our state, and I will continue fighting alongside Senator Jeanne Shaheen to ensure that the federal government provides New Hampshire with the resources that we need.

I am pleased that there has been bipartisan support for combating this crisis here in the Senate. But we must continue to work together — at all levels of government and with those on the front lines — to battle this crisis.

During my time as Governor of New Hampshire, Republicans and Democrats put our differences aside and came together to pass — and reauthorize — the New Hampshire Health Protection Program, also known as Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid expansion is providing quality, affordable health coverage to over 50,000 Granite Staters, including coverage for behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment. And thousands of people have received addiction treatment after gaining coverage through the Medicaid expansion program in New Hampshire.

What is clear, and what I hear from people in recovery centers all across my state, is that lives are being changed — and saved — as a result of Medicaid expansion. My guest for the President’s Address last month, Ashley, is living proof of the positive impact of Medicaid expansion.

And it’s not just New Hampshire. Republican governors and some of my Republican colleagues in the Senate have made clear just how critical Medicaid expansion is to their states. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has found, 2.8 million people with substance use disorders, including 220,000 with opioid disorders, have coverage under the Affordable Care Act. That is real and essential progress, but we know that we have far more work to do.

I am committed to working with members of both parties here in the Senate to continue building on these efforts. What we cannot afford to do, however, is to allow a partisan agenda to pull us backward.

I am extremely concerned about the effect that legislation introduced by House Republicans last week — also known as Trumpcare — would have on our efforts to combat substance misuse. Make no mistake — this legislation would end Medicaid expansion, which experts have said is the most important tool available to fight the substance use crisis.

This plan also cuts and caps the traditional Medicaid program, which means states will be forced to either raise taxes or cut eligibility and services. As a former Governor, I know full well the impact that decisions in Washington can have on our communities.

To pull the rug out from millions of people across the country who are seeking a lifeline from the throes of addiction is unconscionable. And we cannot let that happen.

In addition to making the substance misuse crisis worse, Trumpcare would affect countless others across New Hampshire and America — from individuals who buy their own insurance who would see their premiums skyrocket, to older Americans who would now be forced to pay an age tax, and women and families who would be hurt by the provision defunding Planned Parenthood.

We know that there is more work to do to improve and build on the Affordable Care Act, but this Trumpcare bill is not the answer. And I am working with my colleagues to fight against this legislation.

Furthermore, I’m working on additional legislation that would help combat this substance misuse crisis. I joined Senator Rob Portman in introducing the STOP Act — bipartisan legislation that would help stop dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil from being shipped through our borders to drug traffickers here in the United States.

I also joined a bipartisan group of colleagues led by Senator Amy Klobuchar to introduce the SALTS Act — which would empower law enforcement to crack down on synthetic substances and better prosecute drug traffickers.

And I joined Senator Manchin, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and several of our colleagues to re-introduce the LifeBOAT Act — which would establish a permanent funding stream to provide and expand access to substance misuse treatment.

These are essential steps that we need to take now, and I will also continue evaluating additional legislative steps to support treatment, prevention, recovery, and law enforcement efforts.

We know that the road ahead will not be easy. The scourge of addiction requires us at times to change the way we have always done things, at a quicker pace than is sometimes comfortable. But that can never be an excuse for inaction.

Every day, I am reminded of the stories of those like the grandmother I met at the Easter Egg hunt, of Phil and Ashley, and the thousands in my state who continue to feel the impacts of a crisis that is taking far too many lives.

By making their voices heard, citizens in New Hampshire are breaking through the stigma of addiction and in turn helping others seek the recovery and treatment they need. It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that they have access to those services.

And we must all continue to speak up and fight for those who are voiceless and those who continue to struggle. We must reach out, and work toward policies that can truly make a difference. Because often — when we reach out, people reach back.

But if we are silent or if we allow the rug to be pulled out from under those seeking help — this epidemic will only get worse.

I am going to continue to fight to make progress. And I am willing to work with anyone to help those struggling get the treatment that they need and to support all of the dedicated professionals on the front lines of battling this crisis.

We will have to continue to fight together — each and every one of us, every single day — to build on our efforts to combat this crisis. And by working together we can — and will — stem and turn the tide.

This is the official Medium account of U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.