House adds $10 million for public health to budget

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BOSTON (WWLP) – House lawmakers approved an amendment late Wednesday afternoon adding nearly $10 million to public health programs in the fiscal 2015 state budget being debated, including $2.3 million for dental health for the developmentally disabled and $4 million for the Massachusetts Hospital School, a Canton facility that provides various medical and rehabilitative services to children and young adults with multiple disabilities.

Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, co-chair of the Public Health Committee, said it is the strongest budget in the past six years for public health initiatives, with an emphasis on substance abuse treatment and increases to the number of detox beds available statewide.

The Ways and Means budget already included an additional $1.3 million to add 64 detox beds to reduce the number of people diverted to correctional facilities because of a lack of beds. Rep. Randy Hunt, a Republican from Sandwich, had a proposal included in the public health amendment that makes the Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention a permanent entity.

The agency was created as part of Gov. Deval Patrick’s executive order in 2008. Hunt also was successful in getting his House colleagues to include in the budget an addiction services commission that would look at treatment for nonviolent drug-addicted criminal offenders.

“In Massachusetts we have the fewest opportunities for drug court diversion in the entire United States. We are going to change that program, and we are going to add to it,” Hunt said, noting that the budget includes funding for five new drug courts. The public health amendment passed unanimously.

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