Footing The Bill: Should States That Profit From Alcohol Sales Pay For Substance Abuse Programs?


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Should a portion of profits from liquor sales be earmarked to help prevent substance abuse and addiction? That was the question before a New Hampshire State Senate Committee last week, as citizens who struggle with substance abuse voiced their support for the measure. On the table is the restoration of a 2000 law that set aside 5 percent of profits from state liquor sales, diverting the funds to programs–like Franklin’s Farnum Center–designed to help New Hampshire citizens avoid and recover from substance abuse.

Conor O’Keefe, one citizen in recovery, told the Committee that, although some addicts don’t want help, “there are [other]addicts that can’t afford sober living and they are forced into the streets and they will die.”

Two years ago, New Hampshire amended the 2000 law, adjusting the original 5 percent of profits down to 1.7 percent, slashing the amount of state funds recovery programs could count on by 66 percent. Passing the new measure would result in an increase of $6.4 million in the state’s annual substance abuse fund.

According to Ned Gordon, the Bristol Republican who introduced the 2000 bill, alcohol is still the state’s deadliest drug, but a sharp increase in opioid fatalities has created a serious impetus to fund recovery programs, meaning New Hampshire needs “more resources going to prevention and recovery. Unless you provide the funding you won’t have the capacity to do it.”

Tym Rourke, chairman of the governor’s commission on substance abuse, says the increased funding would most likely be used to pay for substance abuse prevention programs, housing for those in recovery, and services for young adults.

John Burns, who manages multiple treatment programs, compared attempts to improve New Hampshire’s substance abuse situation to trying to “drain a lake with a Dixie Cup.” He sees positive results from prevention and recovery programs  but insists more money is necessary to continue improving on those results.

Senate President Chuck Morse, who was instrumental in the 2015 measure to scale the fund back from 5 percent of annual profits to 1.7 percent, expressed concern that this attempt to increase funding may put the entire program in jeopardy in the future, asking if legislators were “setting ourselves up to reducing it to zero again” if the program becomes insolvent.  Morse insists that the program was scaled back two years ago because 1.7 percent was a level that could actually be met in subsequent budgets.