U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster: Friendship House expansion important step in opiod fight

In New Hampshire and across the country, we are facing a devastating opioid epidemic. Last year, opioid overdoses killed 65,000 Americans — more than car accidents, suicides and firearms combined. In New Hampshire, it’s likely that nearly 500 people died of overdoses in 2016, but we still don’t have the final number because of the large backlog of cases being analyzed. Our system is being overwhelmed at every level, especially in the North Country where resources are severely lacking. This is undeniably a public health crisis, and we need to be doing everything we can to strengthen prevention, treatment, and recovery services and strategies.

The expansion in progress at Bethlehem’s Friendship House is an important step forward in our fight to combat the opioid epidemic. Friendship House is the North Country’s only short-term residential and outpatient treatment center, and it provides critical counseling and support services to individuals who live in a traditionally underserved part of New Hampshire. Unfortunately, like many other treatment centers across the state, Friendship House is not always able to help every person who needs treatment due to a lack of available beds. This is one of the top concerns I hear from families across my district who have been impacted by the opioid crisis. In fact, New Hampshire’s per capita rate of addiction is among the worst in the country, yet our state ranks second to last in access to treatment. That is simply unacceptable, and potentially life threatening to those dealing with substance misuse. If we aren’t able to provide treatment to those struggling to get help and support, then more lives will be lost and more families will be shattered.

That’s why I am so thankful to Tri-County Community Action Program, North Country Health Consortium, and AHEAD, Inc. for coming together and setting up an arrangement to have AHEAD purchase Friendship House and lead the construction of a new building with 32 treatment beds. I’m also grateful to the Northern Border Regional Commission for providing $150,000 in funding to make this expansion possible, and proud to have written a letter in support of these funds last year. This project was truly a community effort, and it would not have become a reality were it not for many people and organizations stepping up to the plate to help.

The expansion will allow the Friendship House to treat more people who are in need of help and who otherwise may not have anywhere else to go. This not only is life changing (and potentially lifesaving) for the patients; it is life changing for their families, friends, colleagues, and communities as well. No one should have to suffer the pain of losing someone they care about to drug overdose, and when everyone is given the support they need to overcome adversity and live up to their potential, our communities and our economy are stronger and more productive as a result.

I am excited to witness the positive changes this re-development will bring to the North Country and New Hampshire as a whole, and proud to have supported the funding that made this possible. In addition to advocating for facilities like the Friendship House, I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address this epidemic. Residents of the North Country and people across the Granite State and around the country who have felt the devastating impacts of this crisis deserve nothing less.

(U.S. Congresswoman Annie Kuster represents N.H. Congressional District 2.)