Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas is trying to open a new line of attack to battle the exploding heroin and opioid drug epidemic that’s overwhelmed the city, state and region. In a letter sent Friday, Gatsas asked New Hampshire Governor Margaret Wood Hassan to declare a “Public Health Emergency” to combat the “opioid epidemic.” He said it would help raise awareness of its “rapid and pervasive” reach into communities across the state. He wrote the epidemic is “challenging the city of Manchester such as no other event, man-made or natural, in recent memory.”
In asking Hassan to declare the emergency, Gatsas pointed to the success of the Public Health Emergency she declared when the Spice epidemic hit Manchester and Concord last summer and noted that such a declaration now would heighten awareness, prompt urgency and make additional resources available.
Gatsas said it was his understanding that the state had $2.5 million in federal funds it had to use by October 1, 2015 or lose. He asked the governor to apply a portion of those funds to start a drug court in Hillsborough North Superior Court District, which services Manchester and several surrounding towns. A drug court currently operates in the Hillsborough South Superior Court District with federal funds. On a 44 to 39 vote, the Hillsborough County Delegation voted against using $443,800 in surplus county funds to start a drug court in Hillsborough North, saying it would be irresponsible to spend surplus dollars. However, the delegation later went on to spend $1 million of the nearly $6 million surplus to reduce the tax rate.
Drug court provides addicts with an alternative sentencing program that requires drug treatment, drug testing and rehabilitation over an eighteen month period. Violation of the treatment plan causes the suspended jail sentence to be imposed, incarcerating the convict. Strafford, Rockingham and Belknap, Cheshire and Belknap counties all operate and fully fund such drug courts. They have proven to be very effective in enabling those who want to recover from their addictions to do so.
Gatsas underscored the deep anxiety people in Manchester and across the state are experiencing over the epidemic that has claimed nearly five hundred lives since the beginning of the year and stretched emergency response services to extreme limits by pointing to a recent forum hosted by the Manchester Police Department where some four hundred people were in attendance, many from outside the city. Among those in attendance were several who’d lost loved ones to heroin, Attorney General Joseph Foster, embattled Drug Czar Jack Wozmak, senators Andy Sanborn (R-Bedford), Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) and Lou D’Allesandro (D-Manchester) and several state representatives and aldermen.
Wrote the mayor as he closed his letter: “The structure of our emergency management system is such that when an emergency challenges the local community we look to the State for additional help as the next logical step. I believe at this point in time we are at that point and respectfully request that you declare a public health emergency consistent with RSA 21-P:53.”
To read the mayor’s letter to Gov. Hassan, click here.