OSSIPEE — A majority of Carroll County commissioners Wednesday refused to budge on their stance on medication-assisted treatment even after about 20 people showed up to try and change their minds, including a recovery coach from Conway who credits MAT for giving him a new lease on life.
Those seeking to speak to the commissioners, including representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, had to wait about five hours to do so because chairwoman Amanda Bevard (R-Ossipee) insisted that the group wait till public input at the end of the meeting, which started at 8:30 a.m.
At the first public input session, held at the beginning of the meeting, jail superintendent Jason Henry asked to have MAT placed on the agenda at 10 a.m. but he was rebuffed.
Henry said he spent the days leading up to Wednesday's meeting asking Bevard to put MAT on the agenda.
Since early October, a majority of the three commissioners, Bevard and Terry McCarthy (R-Conway), have opposed allowing opioid-addicted inmates to be introduced to medication-assisted treatment for fear that such treatment would only substitute one addiction for another.
Commissioner David Babson (R-Ossipee) has been staunchly in favor of MAT.
The ACLU had been scheduled to speak Oct. 30, but ACLU lawyer Henry Klementowicz was unexpectedly called into federal court and couldn't make it. Henry and Klementowicz attempted to be placed on the agenda Wednesday, but Bevard said the commissioners would be too busy with budget season.
The crowd arrived at about 10 a.m. It included representatives from the ACLU, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's office, U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas’ office, the Carroll County Coalition for Public Health, Dartmouth Hitchcock, Lakes Region General and Partnership for Public Health.
Rep. Susan Ticehurt (D-Tamworth) was at the meeting from the beginning.
After a brief break in the meeting at around 11:15 a.m., and before Register of Deeds Lisa Scott was to address the board about registry business, Babson asked if Bevard would be willing to make some time for public input.
"The polite thing to do would be to listen to these people,” Babson said.
But Bevard countered that some of the people aren’t county residents. She cited the public comment policy and read it aloud. She insisted it only allowed county residents the chance to speak. Bevard said she would open the meeting to public input after they finish their nonpublic session.
“I wish you would stop stonewalling this, but that’s my own opinion,” said Babson.
Bevard countered, “Everybody was notified and it was in the newspaper that we were doing budgets today. We will have public comment and we will have media comment at the end of our meeting as we always do. This meeting may run till 3 or 4 p.m. as many of our meetings do anyways.“
Babson insisted Bevard was stonewalling.
“I don‘t know what stonewalling means; that’s not with in my vocabulary,” said Bevard, adding she wanted to discuss the registry of deeds revenue with Scott.
Babson was unable to convince Bevard and McCarthy to allow the group to speak before the end of the meeting, which included a lengthy nonpublic session that ran from approximately 11:45 a.m. till about 2:45 p.m.
Bevard asked for an update from treasurer Joe Costello and then allowed the public to speak shortly before 3 p.m.
Fewer than half the people who were there at the beginning held out to the end.
Klementowicz said that Dr. Donald West, a doctor who specializes in addiction at Dartmouth-Hitchcock wished to speak but had to leave. Klementowicz relayed that West believes that MAT reduces the risk of relapses and saves lives.
Klementowicz went on to discuss some court cases that he said would make MAT mandatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (baring cruel and unusual punishment).
Jason Garrett, 33, of Conway, told the commissioners that Suboxone has helped him stay clean for 15 months. Garrett said he's been in and out of jail and prison since age 17. Now, he's got a "great job" at a hotel and is a "recovery coach" at Mount Washington Valley Supports Recovery Coalition and has reconnected with his family.
"If I had had the option of being into an MAT, probably the first time I was incarcerated, and had that help with my addictions, my trouble would have stopped," said Garrett. "There are so many people that I know, that have gotten released from the jail here, the prison, other jails in other counties throughout New Hampshire, who get out and haven't had any treatment — didn't get the option of an MAT — who are now dead."
Garrett said MAT along with counseling helps with the jail's mission of rehabilitating inmates. He said inmates who aren't rehabilitated hurt their families and the community.
Bevard congratulated Garrett on his continued recovery. Bevard said there will be a discussion on MAT policy at a future date
While the commissioners were in nonpublic session, the Sun spoke to attendees who gathered in the hall outside the meeting room.
Rockingham County Jail Superintendent Stephen Church told the Sun that MAT has been working well at his jail in Brentwood.
The Rockingham County Jail has been using MAT for a year.
“I’ve been in corrections for 30 years and for most of our careers we have haven’t treated people, and frankly, what we have done is nothing and we watch these people die,” said Church, adding MAT gives inmates a shot at turning their lives around.
At the end of the meeting, Henry said that there are several inmates already on MAT and asked the commissioners if they would want to stop him or not. He was providing it to inmates whether they have a prescription or not.
Henry has long said that he is obligated to provide MAT but the rub will be what happens when the bills for the medications come due.
"You're on your own on that one because commissioners have not made a statement," said Bevard. "Your policy was never approved."
Babson made a motion to continue the MAT treatment at the jail. It was voted down 2-1, with Babson in the minority.
"I have not had one person who has called me and disagreed with my voting," said McCarthy explaining that the constituents who called her oppose Henry's policy of introducing MAT to inmates.
McCarthy would only support allowing MAT to continue for inmates who have prescriptions from before they arrived at the jail.
Jail Program Director Jim Stoddard stressed that the inmates who get Suboxone are already addicted to opioids.
"As I'm watching this unfold, I am struck by the thinking that in our facility people are supportive of getting people the help they already have and not helping the people that need it," said Stoddard. "That makes no sense to me ... Those (the untreated) are the very people, that the statistics you will read about (say) are at an increased risk for dying upon release."
Ticehurst said whether one person needs this treatment or many do, it doesn’t matter. She also she said she didn’t understand Bevard and McCarthy's objections.
Bevard said there would be a discussion of the policy at a future date.