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Embattled drug czar resigns

State House Bureau

January 15. 2016 10:18PM


CONCORD — The state’s controversial drug czar Jack Wozmak resigned Friday, effective at the end of his term on Feb. 1.

Wozmak, who was the Cheshire County Administrator before taking the drug czar’s position a year ago, said in his resignation letter, “I am proud of what we accomplished together on behalf of the people of New Hampshire,” but did not say why he resigned and could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.

Wozmak came under fire last summer from Manchester and Nashua officials for what they claim is his lack of outreach, particularly to law enforcement. Their cause was taken up by Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, and Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, who called for Wozmak to resign or Hassan to replace him.

On Friday Sununu said he believes the state can head in a new direction with Wozmak’s resignation.

“I am pleased to see the state will be moving in a new direction with the hope of providing revitalized leadership in such a critical area of need as substance abuse issues are to the state of New Hampshire,” said Sununu, who is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. “I look forward to working with the governor to find a suitable replacement and taking real steps in curbing this crisis which has gone unchecked for too long.”

As the criticism mounted last summer, Wozmak released a list of 22 recommendations based on the state’s two-year-old plan to combat substance abuse in the state. His critics called it too little, too late.

On Friday Gov. Maggie Hassan, who has defended Wozmak and the job he has done, listed some of his accomplishments, including bringing a nationally recognized provider training program to the state, encouraging providers to expand treatment services, working with pharmacies to increase access to Narcan and with schools on youth prevention and education efforts.

“For the past year, Jack Wozmak has worked tirelessly to strengthen the state’s response to the heroin and opioid crisis,” Hassan said. “Many of his initial recommendations issued last summer are reflected in measures that the legislature will take up this year and that have broad, bipartisan support, including the expedited legislation that the Senate approved (Thursday).”

During the legislative task force meetings at the end of last year on the opioid crisis, Wozmak touted what the state had already done to begin addressing the heroin and opioid crisis, but House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, said Wozmak did not appear to have the desire and fire to tackle the job.

Several treatment providers said there is no coordination or database of what treatment and recovery services are available in different regions in the state, something the drug czar was supposed to explore.

Last fall the president of the N.H. Medical Society, Dr. Lukas Kolm, called for greater leadership from the state on the addiction epidemic and said Wozmak failed to reach out to physicians before proposing emergency rules that would have restricted prescription writing for opioids.

“Given the seriousness of New Hampshire’s substance abuse crisis, Gov. Hassan should have already replaced Mr. Wozmak with a competent person who could have done a better job,” said state GOP chairman Jennifer Horn.

The position has been funded by a grant from the N.H. Charitable Trust Foundation, although there is money in the two-year budget for the position which is in the governor’s office and not a state agency.

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