Council to take up substance abuse, mental health money

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The state’s Executive Council will vote on a number of state contracts Wednesday to implement parts of New Hampshire’s mental health and substance abuse treatment and prevention efforts.

The five-member council works alongside Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, to approve all large state contracts and agency appointments. The contracts up for consideration this week would open a mental health mobile crisis unit in Concord, continue efforts to combat alcohol and drug abuse on college campuses and improve community mental health programs.

New Hampshire is working to implement a settlement with the federal government over inadequate mental health services as well as attempting to combat the state’s growing heroin and prescription drug abuse problem.

“There’s no question that we need to continue to support, and frankly do more, when it comes to substance abuse issues and addiction issues in New Hampshire,” said Democratic Councilor Colin Van Ostern of Concord.

As the council meets Wednesday, lawmakers will be voting on their plan for the next two-year state budget that increases funding in both areas. Hassan, however, is expected to veto the budget and lawmakers are likely to introduce a short-term spending plan that keeps the government running at current funding levels. Hassan’s spokesman William Hinkle said the short-term budget plan could jeopardize the state’s ability to pay for contracts approved by the council.

On the drug prevention side, councilors will vote on whether to extend contracts aimed at curbing drug and alcohol abuse on college campuses and in middle and high schools. One contract calls for spending on prevention programs at Keene State College and Franklin Pierce University, while another addresses drug and alcohol abuse at secondary school districts including Portsmouth, Newport and Concord.

Other efforts include spending an additional $108,000 to provide professional training around prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery support and providing money to continue running the website drugfreenh.org.

Another contract calls for spending $4.3 million to open a mental health “mobile crisis” unit run by Riverbend Community Mental Health in Concord. The initiative is part of the mental health settlement, which puts a focus on community supports over putting people in institutional care.

The Concord unit will be the first of three mobile crisis units and is set to include two community apartments and teams of people who can immediately respond to crisis situations. A second contract allows the state to spend $5.4 million for community-based mental health care provided by 10 local agencies ranging from Manchester to Conway

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