Pam Drake of Atkinson doesn’t remember watching her son die. She was too busy trying to revive him on the day her world changed in September 2014.
“No parent,” she said, “should be on top of their child performing CPR.” The officers who responded to her phone call were not trained in Narcon, the overdose recovery system, and her son died of “acute intoxication.”
It was also, she said, the first time she knew her son was an addict.
The House Finance Committee went on the road Monday night to hear the stories of Drake and other Granite State residents in testimony. A public hearing on the proposed state budget, HB 1-A, was held in the Derry Municipal Center Council chambers. The hearing focused mainly on funding for education and the Department of Health and Human Services, with a large contingent advocating for community mental health services, drug and alcohol treatment centers, and resources for the developmentally disabled.
Finance Committee Co-Chair Lynne Ober conducted the meeting. She said the representatives at the Derry meeting, including Republican Betsy McKinney of Londonderry, were half the Finance Committee; the other half was hearing concerns of constituents in North Conway.
The Council chambers were packed and Ober, citing fire concerns, requested that people withdraw to the hallway after giving their testimony. She asked speakers to limit their comments to two minutes and told them they could drop any written material in a box, to be reviewed by committee members.
John Sweeney of Derry represented a group called “Hope For New Hampshire Recovery.” He told the committee he is in recovery and hasn’t had a drink in 15 years. But he worked hard to get there, he said, noting, “It took a number of times before I found recovery.”
Sweeney said there was a lack of recovery support in the state. “Some of the money marked for recovery never gets there,” he said.
Marla Soucy, also of Derry, said she has two children and one son, now 5, needed early intervention services. Her family is on the “wait list” for an in-home support waiver, which would allow them to hire assistants to help with her son, and she urged the committee to fully fund this part of the budget.
Vic Topo, chief executive officer of the Center For Life Management, urged full funding for mental health services. “We have known for decades that one of the largest barriers for seeking treatment is lack of money,” Topo told the committee.
Kathleen Chambers of Londonderry said she works in peer support and since 2011 has been a member of an advocacy group for mental health issues. “I have read a lot of articles,” Chambers told the committee, “and it is widely believed that the current spending on mental health – law enforcement, homeless services, the emergency room, court – is inefficient. The funding should go to community-based mental health care and we would save money on these other services.”
Chester resident Christopher Moore-Bissing recalled the day six years ago when he attempted to end his life. “I owe my life,” he said, “to Chester Fire and Rescue.” The ambulance took him to Parkland Medical Center in Derry, from where he was airlifted to Boston. “I flatlined once in the ambulance and once in the helicopter,” Moore-Bissing said.
Prior to his suicide attempt and rescue, he had gone into a local hospital and told them he was suicidal. “They gave me a pamphlet for a men’s support group in Massachusetts,” Moore-Bissing said. “That was all the support I got.” He urged the committee to fully fund community mental health services.
There were success stories too, with Forrest Beaudoin-Friede, 18, of Temple saying he is graduating high school this spring. The young man with Down Syndrome urged the committee, “Keep investing in us. We matter.”