The Opioid Crisis Collides With Politics in New Hampshire

In a high-stakes Senate contest, Kelly Ayotte and Maggie Hassan are both eager to take credit for fighting an epidemic.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte
AP Photo/Jim Cole
May 12, 2016, 8 p.m.

New Hamp­shire has be­come a mi­cro­cosm of the opioid epi­dem­ic—both on the ground, as the state’s drug-over­dose fatal­ity rate is es­pe­cially high, and on the cam­paign trail, where du­el­ing Sen­ate can­did­ates are scram­bling to ad­dress the prob­lem and take cred­it for try­ing to fix it.

The pre­scrip­tion paink­iller and heroin epi­dem­ic has hit Amer­ica on a na­tion­al scale. Ad­voc­ates on the ground and in Wash­ing­ton are mo­bil­iz­ing, and Con­gress is com­batting it with le­gis­la­tion. Talk of the epi­dem­ic has seeped in­to cam­paigns at all levels—mul­tiple pres­id­en­tial hope­fuls spoke out in New Hamp­shire on the im­pact of ad­dic­tion on their loved ones.

The top­ic has been par­tic­u­larly sa­li­ent in tough Sen­ate races, such as the con­test between Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Gov. Mag­gie Has­san in New Hamp­shire, where nearly 45 per­cent of adults cite drug ab­use as the state’s top prob­lem.

Tra­di­tion­ally known for plaguing low-in­come, urb­an areas, this re­cent crisis has seen the drug spread to sub­urb­an and rur­al Amer­ica. A high per­cent­age of new users are white—as is 94 per­cent of New Hamp­shire’s pop­u­la­tion—and it’s one of five states with the highest rates of drug-over­dose fatal­it­ies. From 2013 to 2014, the rate of over­dose deaths in­creased 73.5 per­cent in the state, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

So how much has Ayotte done from her Sen­ate perch to com­bat the prob­lem? De­pends whom you ask.

The Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee has ac­cused Ayotte of dis­tort­ing her re­cord on sub­stance ab­use; mean­while, the con­ser­vat­ive non­profit One Na­tion launched a more-than-$1 mil­lion ad buy show­cas­ing the Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or’s bi­par­tis­an work on it.

Ayotte’s pro­ponents point to a lengthy list of ac­tions: She was one of the ori­gin­al co­spon­sors of the Sen­ate’s Com­pre­hens­ive Ad­dic­tion and Re­cov­ery Act, a bi­par­tis­an bill that passed the up­per cham­ber in a sweep­ing 94 to 1 vote. She was one of a hand­ful of Re­pub­lic­ans to sup­port get­ting past a pro­ced­ur­al hurdle to provide $600 mil­lion in emer­gency fund­ing for the opioid epi­dem­ic, an amend­ment offered by her Demo­crat­ic New Hamp­shire col­league. And Ayotte has in­tro­duced and sponsored sev­er­al bills fo­cused on pre­ven­tion, edu­ca­tion, treat­ment, and re­cov­ery.  

“Kelly has been work­ing with loc­al stake­hold­ers and mem­bers of both parties for the past few years on mul­tiple pro­pos­als to ad­dress the opioid-ab­use epi­dem­ic,” Ayotte cam­paign spokes­wo­man Liz John­son wrote in an email. She ad­ded: “Our cam­paign will con­tin­ue to high­light Kelly’s lead­er­ship in bring­ing people to­geth­er to find solu­tions that will help save lives.”

The DSCC sent out a press re­lease in Janu­ary at­tack­ing Ayotte’s “reck­less re­cord,” say­ing she “sup­por­ted the Ry­an budget that threatened ma­jor cuts to sub­stance-ab­use pro­grams, voted to re­peal man­dated cov­er­age of sub­stance-ab­use treat­ment and to end Medi­caid ex­pan­sion in New Hamp­shire.”

“These are sen­at­ors who have had an en­tire term to move on this is­sue,” DSCC spokes­wo­man Lauren Pas­sa­lac­qua told Na­tion­al Journ­al, “and it’s in­ter­est­ing that it took a couple months be­fore Novem­ber for them to act on something that’s been build­ing for a really long time and when they haven’t ne­ces­sar­ily taken every step they could have to either pre­vent the crisis or ad­dress the crisis, and I think that’s something voters will have to con­sider.”

The is­sue has also seeped in­to state polit­ics, and that’s where Has­san comes in. She’s served as a Demo­crat­ic gov­ernor for three years in a state where Re­pub­lic­ans won con­trol of the le­gis­lature in 2014. Her pro­ponents note that Has­san pushed to pass and then reau­thor­ize the state’s Medi­caid ex­pan­sion. She helped ex­pand ac­cess to the opioid over­dose-re­versal drug. And she called for a spe­cial ses­sion to com­bat the epi­dem­ic, which res­ul­ted in the pas­sage of two bi­par­tis­an bills.

But Ry­an Wil­li­ams, an ad­visor to the New Hamp­shire Re­pub­lic­an Party, called the spe­cial ses­sion “es­sen­tially win­dow dress­ing.” He ad­ded: “She does not have a good re­cord on the is­sue. She was asleep at the switch [for] a num­ber of months as the crisis spiraled out of con­trol.”

Has­san caught flack in tele­vi­sion and di­git­al ads from a con­ser­vat­ive-is­sue ad­vocacy group, Cit­izens for a Strong New Hamp­shire. It ac­cused Has­san of “hold­ing new fund­ing for drug pre­ven­tion, treat­ment, and re­cov­ery host­age” a few months after the gov­ernor ve­toed the Re­pub­lic­an le­gis­lature’s budget. The ad re­ceived cri­ti­cism from Pro­fes­sion­al Fire Fight­ers of New Hamp­shire; The Nashua Tele­graph and; nat­ur­ally, the New Hamp­shire Demo­crat­ic Party, which called it “a base­less at­tack ad politi­ciz­ing New Hamp­shire’s heroin epi­dem­ic.”

“Gov­ernor Has­san has been clear that the sub­stance-ab­use epi­dem­ic is the num­ber one pub­lic health and safety chal­lenge fa­cing our state,” Has­san cam­paign spokes­man Aaron Jac­obs wrote in an email, “and she has taken a com­pre­hens­ive ap­proach to com­bat­ing this crisis that in­cludes sup­port­ing law en­force­ment while strength­en­ing pre­ven­tion, treat­ment, and re­cov­ery ef­forts.”

At­tack­ing an op­pon­ent’s re­cord on such a sens­it­ive is­sue can be tricky, and could come with a back­lash. Both can­did­ates have been “sound­ing the alarm” on the opioid epi­dem­ic for years, an ed­it­or­i­al from the Keene Sen­tinel said, and us­ing it for polit­ic­al gain is “shame­ful.”

What We're Following See More »
FEDERAL JUDGE WON'T BLOCK SUBPOENA OF BANK RECORDS
Trump Loses in Court Again
1 days ago
THE LATEST
SAYS HE CAN'T DO IT WHILE INVESTIGATIONS CONTINUE
Trump Pulls the Plug on Infrastructure
1 days ago
THE LATEST
ADMINISTRATION IS 0-FOR-1 ON STONEWALLING THIS WEEK
Parties Go to Court Today Over Trump Banking Records
1 days ago
THE LATEST
ARRIVAL UNDER "EXTREME SECRECY"
Tillerson Talking to House Foreign Affairs
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was spotted entering a congressional office building on Tuesday morning for what a committee aide told The Daily Beast was a meeting with the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs committee and relevant staff about his time working in the Trump administration. ... Tillerson’s arrival at the Capitol was handled with extreme secrecy. No media advisories or press releases were sent out announcing his appearance. And he took a little noticed route into the building in order to avoid being seen by members of the media."

Source:
DEMAND DOCUMENTS AND TESTIMONY
House Subpoenas Hope Hicks, Annie Donaldson
2 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login