Granite State pushes back at Trump calling NH a 'drug-infested den' | New Hampshire
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Granite State pushes back at Trump calling NH a 'drug-infested den'

By DAN TUOHY
New Hampshire Union Leader

August 03. 2017 2:43PM
President Donald Trump speaks by phone with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington on January 28. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
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President Donald Trump said he “won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den,” a comment that outraged Granite Staters but led one GOP supporter to say his remark was on the money.

The President made the claim in a phone call with Mexico’s president in January. The Washington Post first reported the exchange, based on a classified transcript it obtained.

“We have a massive drug problem where kids are becoming addicted to drugs because the drugs are being sold for less money than candy,” Trump told Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, before calling New Hampshire “a drug-infested den.”

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, demanded the President apologize. She said the comment was “a gross misrepresentation of New Hampshire” and the drug epidemic.

“The President is wrong,” said Gov. Chris Sununu, R-Newfields. “It’s disappointing his mischaracterization of this epidemic ignores the great things this state has to offer.”

But one of Trump’s longtime New Hampshire supporters argues the President was spot on in his assessment.

“I think he’s right. He called it what it was,” said State Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry.

Baldasaro cited drug fatalities, nearly 500 in 2016, as evidence.

“If that don’t constitute a ‘drug-infested’ place I don’t know what is,” he said.

The White House on Thursday directed a reporter to a statement by Richard Baum, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. 

“This epidemic has hit New Hampshire harder than many other states and the President saw this on the campaign trail when he met parents and visited communities devastated by opioid addiction,” Baum said. “This is why he’s made addressing the opioid epidemic a top priority. We’re going to keep working hard to turn this crisis around in New Hampshire and across the country.”

Trump did not win New Hampshire on Nov. 8, 2016. Democrat Hillary Clinton won the state. Trump did win the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary.

Former GOP national committeeman Tom Rath was quick to blast Trump for his comment. While the state has a serious problem with opioid abuse, “calling it ‘a drug-infested den’ is outrageous,” Rath wrote on Twitter. “Sad!”
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Eric Spofford, CEO of Granite Recovery Centers, agreed.

“We cannot deny that New Hampshire has a severe opioid addiction crisis going on, but to call our beautiful state a drug-infested den is a real mischaracterization,” he said. “It also feeds into the stigma around addictions, and indicates this issue is isolated to New Hampshire. It’s not just a problem here. This is a problem across the U.S.”

GOP national committeewoman Juliana Bergeron said Republicans and Democrats should put aside politics in fighting the drug problem. Still, she said, “That’s a pretty poor choice of words.”

U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, accused Trump of failing to understand the drug crisis in New Hampshire, and nationwide.

“No, Mr. President, you’re wrong about New Hampshire — but you have failed to help us fight the opioid crisis,” Shea-Porter said. “We need recovery facilities now. Stop attacking health care and make the investments you promised.”

Trump often spoke of the heroin, opioid, and fentanyl problem while campaigning in New Hampshire. A week before the 2016 election, he convened a round-table discussion in Manchester with treatment and recovery experts.

U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, accused Trump of “insulting people in the throes of addiction.” She responded that the President’s proposed policies, such as repealing Obamacare, would hurt efforts to combat opioid and drug abuse.

The President issued an executive order in March to create a commission on drug addiction and the opioid crisis. The commission issued a preliminary report Monday, including calling on Trump to declare a national emergency. A final report is due by Oct. 1.

Making headway

Sununu, the state Legislature, and the congressional delegation have worked on the drug crisis, and pushed to make inroads in terms of prevention, education, treatment, recovery, and law enforcement drug interdiction.

In his statement in response to Trump, Sununu said New Hampshire is already seeing positive signs of declining rates of drug overdoses and fatalities.

The governor acknowledged the drug scourge had gripped the Granite State.

“We have doubled our resources to support prevention, treatment, and recovery; dedicated millions to law enforcement efforts to keep drugs out of our state, increased the availability of naloxone, and are rebuilding our prevention programs for our kids,” he said.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas said the city and state have led on the public health crisis. He said communities in other states have looked to New Hampshire for “best practices,” such as the city’s Safe Station program at fire stations. Support and resources are still needed, because the crisis remains, he said.

“People are dying and families are being torn apart by this horrible epidemic,” Gatsas said. “The President has an opportunity before him with the request for an emergency declaration by the Presidential Commission on Addiction and Opioid Abuse. As I stated in my letter to him, this is absolutely necessary and I hope that he sees fit to make that declaration rather than mischaracterize a state that has been at the forefront of addressing this crisis."

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, said Trump’s remarks show how little he appreciates and understands the drug epidemic. She asked for the White House to apologize.

“I’m appalled by President Trump’s ignorant and insulting comments about New Hampshire,” Kuster said in a statement. “At a time when we need to be working together to address the opioid epidemic, Mr. Trump is making disparaging remarks about New Hampshire to foreign leaders while promoting policies at home that will hurt our response to the substance misuse crisis, including efforts to roll back access to health care for thousands of Granite Staters.”

dtuohy@unionleader.com


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