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NH drug czar: No plans to leave job

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 27. 2015 9:04PM
John Wozmak, senior director for Substance Misuse and Behavioral Health, during an interview at the New Hampshire Union Leader on March 3. (David Lane/Union Leader File)

State drug czar John “Jack” Wozmak said public criticism over his first six months on the job won’t change the way he goes about doing it.

Wozmak responded Monday to recent complaints about his lack of communication with local law enforcement agencies and state lawmakers, who have questioned his methods in the battle against the heroin/opioid epidemic.

“The biggest criticism I get from law enforcement — and I don’t need to meet with all of them to hear this — is that when addicted people come to their attention, there’s nothing to do with them. There’s no place to take them or not enough places to take them,” Wozmak said.

He added: “I’m working with hospital providers, one by one, to encourage them to develop assessment centers and to expand the services that they offer.”

Wozmak’s plan is to have assessment and treatment centers all working under the same guidelines and standards in each of the state’s 13 public health regions. He also called for stronger prevention programs to be included in all New Hampshire schools.

“My primary job here is prevention, treatment and recovery,” Wozmak told the Union Leader. “Most of my efforts have involved looking at what is not being done in terms of prevention and treatment and being able to fill those gaps. The law enforcement that I have spoken to want me to work on prevention and treatment and that’s really what I do.”

Wozmak said he plans to continue his approach of working with hospitals, insurance companies and doctors to establish a statewide system to get help to those who need it and improve prevention and awareness programs.

Wozmak also said he has no plans to step down from the post.

“I’m going to continue to work hard,” Wozmak said, responding to a question about state Sen. Andy Sanborn’s call for him to resign or be replaced.

Sanborn, R-Bedford, issued a statement Monday calling for Wozmak to be replaced as senior behavioral health coordinator in New Hampshire. He cited a list of reasons that include an overall lack of results and failure to communicate with local law enforcement agencies.

“It’s time for the Hassan administration to replace him in this position and develop a better strategy to respond to the concerns of the local officials, health providers, and legislators who are fighting on the front lines of New Hampshire’s heroin epidemic,” Sanborn said.

Sanborn is a member of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, which is scheduled Wednesday to consider a request for grant money to fund Wozmak’s position.

Sanborn, who also chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said in a phone interview that he wasn’t sure how he would vote on Wednesday because he is in favor of the position, but opposed to the man currently holding it.

“I believe we need to have someone, but this pick from the governor is not it,” he said. “There is so much that we should be talking about and understanding and getting our arms around and this guy isn’t doing any of it.”

William Hinkle, a spokesman for Hassan, questioned the allegations made by Sanborn and noted that Wozmak’s work has been extensive.

“Combating the substance abuse crisis requires collaboration from stakeholders at all levels,” Hinkle said in a statement. “As law enforcement officials have made clear in their regular conversations with the governor, we cannot arrest our way out of this problem, which is why Wozmak’s work is primarily focused on strengthening prevention and education efforts and expanding access to treatment and recovery.”

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