New Hampshire drug czar: Addiction dragging state’s economy down

This article shows how drug use in an area can impact more than the individual and their families and friends.  The local economy and small businesses are having to cope with lower productivity due to ‘functioning’ drug dependents in the workforce.    NDPA

New Hampshire drug czar: Addiction dragging state’s economy down

Providing more treatment and recovery options for drug addicts is as much about the addicts as it is about helping spur the state’s economy, said the state’s new drug czar.

“For me, it’s all about the money,” said John G. “Jack” Wozmak, senior director for substance misuse and behavioral health.  Wozmak was appointed in January by Gov. Maggie Hassan. The position is funded by a grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Wozmak spent nearly a decade as the administrator of the Beech Hill substance abuse treatment facility in Dublin, and since 1998 had been the Cheshire County administrator.

“With a broad range of experience dealing with substance misuse through his roles in the public sector and in private substance abuse treatment, Jack will help strengthen our efforts to improve the health and safety of Granite Staters, and I thank him for his commitment to serving the people of New Hampshire, as well the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation for making his position possible,” Hassan said in a statement.

Wozmak’s task: Get a host of agencies and organizations to work together to reduce the state’s drug abuse, particularly heroin addiction.  Wozmak takes the post at a time when heroin overdoses and deaths are at an all-time high in New Hampshire. The Centers for Disease Control reports that New Hampshire is among 28 states that saw big increases in heroin deaths.

But Wozmak said drug addiction is more than the headline-generating heroin overdoses and drug-related burglaries and robberies that dominate the news.
“Yes, the number of heroin deaths is doubling (from the previous year). But that’s just the tip of the iceberg” of the state’s drug epidemic, he said.

Functioning addicts

The underlying problem – and what the drug czar said will help him get more money for treatment and prevention efforts from state legislators – is the thousands of drug abusers who do not necessarily overdose but drive up costs for employers, he said.
“You don’t hear about the day-to-day drug exposure that companies have because it’s all below the surface, like an iceberg,” he said.

Employers see everything from diminished production to having to overstaff or pay overtime to cover for employees addicted to drugs who miss work, he said. This hurts profit and, in turn, decreases the state’s revenue from business profits taxes. He said estimates from the state’s hospitality sector indicate that as many as 20 percent of that field’s employees may have drug addiction issues.

“I want to increase jobs and this is getting in the way,” he said. “It’s just interfering with productivity. It’s interfering with the economy.”  Wozmak said the drug problem as been exacerbated by a myriad of issues, including budget cuts for treatment programs, along with insurance companies cutting or capping policy coverage for substance abuse treatment.

In the 1980s, he said, the state had more than 600 beds at six private centers providing treatment for substance abuse. After all the cuts by insurance companies, the state now has 62 beds available, he said.

Further, the state ranks second-to-last – after Texas – in providing treatment for drug addiction and has the lowest rate in the country – 6 percent – of people who get treatment for their addictions.  “We have decimated the system of treatment and recovery, and we have to rebuild it,” he said. “Imagine the outrage if diabetes were treated this way.”

More money

Hassan has proposed more than tripling the state’s spending for the Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Recovery in her proposed two-year budget, from a total of nearly $2.9 million in the 2014-15 budget, to nearly $9.6 million in 2016-17.

The way to convince legislators that the funding is necessary is by appealing to their desire for job growth in a state that has had anemic population growth, Wozmak said.  To get population and job growth, he said, the state has to make its work force healthier and the best way to do that is to reduce drug addiction.

“If you ran on a platform of job growth, you have to deal with this issue,” he said. “If (job growth is) not going to be from people moving here, then you have to improve the work force that’s here.  “If you’re not looking to take care of this problem, then you’re falling down on your promise,” he said. “If you want to create jobs, you have to make the work force more viable.”

Wozmak said the problem can be solved. He said his role includes getting the affected parties – including law enforcement, public resources, private or nonprofit organizations, charities and treatment facilities – working together. He said a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires insurers to cover substance abuse again should help spur private investment in treatment and recovery facilities.

“There is no easy answer, but I believe there are many opportunities to make the change now on a variety of levels and a myriad of fronts,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of success.”  He said getting help from the state’s medical professionals will also be key, as most heroin addicts, he said, start with addictions to prescription painkillers. He said medical professionals are “not the sole source” of the issue, but could be involved in changing the way pain is managed to help prevent addictions.

“None of them wanted to become addicts,” he said.

– See more at:    8th March 2015

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