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Addicts aren’t hardcore criminals; they have hardcore health issues

On Thursday, the N.H. Senate is scheduled to vote on a Medicaid expansion bill that would expand coverage , including for mental health and substance abuse issues, to about 50,000 low-income residents. After much negotiation, Senate Republicans are expected to support the bill, and it is expected to then gain approval in the N.H. House of Representatives, which had already backed similar measures.

For Paul Koutroubas of Antrim, the date of this week’s vote is especially significant, as he describes in the following essay:

On March 6, 2013, I overdosed on cocaine and crystal meth. I was rushed to the emergency room where my heart stopped. You’re reading this because it started again. I entered treatment for my addiction and have since been in recovery. March 6, 2014 will be my one-ear anniversary for sobriety. Also on March 6, 2014, the New Hampshire State Senate will be voting on whether or not to expand insurance access to thousands of citizens with substance abuse disorders like myself. Please do.

The recovery community needs more access to appropriate substance abuse treatment in New Hampshire, otherwise we’re going to continue treating people in emergency rooms when they’re in crisis — which is far more expensive. For every dollar federal and state governments spend on prevention and treatment, $59.83 is spent “shoveling up the wreckage” of substance abuse and addiction. Let’s stop paying for wreckage and invest in prevention and treatment services.

I was at work when I overdosed. Although mine was an issue of crystal meth and cocaine, excessive alcohol consumption alone costs the state of New Hampshire $1.15 billion each year — an estimated $756.5 million in lost worker productivity.

New Hampshire has an opportunity on March 6 to increase access to treatment for thousands of people in recovery before they become criminals, debtors or fatal statistics. Drug addicts aren’t hardcore criminals; they have hardcore health issues. People who are detoxing need medical attention until that poison comes out of their system. This shouldn’t be looked at as a criminal justice issue but rather the underlying issue of access to health care.

I know somebody who had gotten out of jail and was working at her sobriety. She had a job and an apartment and was working to get her kids back. She failed her urinary analysis and now she’s back in jail. She was doing so well and overnight lost everything gained in those years. Unlike a diabetic relapse, support for the New Hampshire recovery community looks like the inside of a jail cell. Over 90 percent of parole revocations in our state are due to condition violations involving parolees who used drugs or alcohol. Let’s stop paying for incarceration: many in the newly covered population are on probation, parole, or participating in drug or mental health courts.

Cost is delay and delay is death for somebody fighting addiction. Sometimes we don’t have time to wait — that monkey is on our shoulder and the circus is right behind it. It is estimated that nearly one in 10 New Hampshire citizens — 113,000 people — need treatment for alcohol and other drug disorders. Only 6,000 per year receive needed treatment through state funded programs. I’m urging the State Senate to expand access to treatment and give thousands of residents in New Hampshire a fighting chance at beating their substance abuse disorder. Let’s prevent more people like me from overdosing.

Paul Koutroubas lives in Antrim.

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