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Trump to pitch opioid plans during Manchester visit

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 18. 2018 9:54AM
President Donald Trump is seen speaking at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego last week. On Monday, he'll be in Manchester, where he's scheduled to speak at Manchester Community College and expected to visit a fire station. (San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

MANCHESTER - President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump will travel to Manchester on Monday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and several Cabinet members to discuss what White House sources label a "significant plan" to address the opioid crisis in New Hampshire and across the country.

Trump is expected to pull back the curtain on the policy during remarks at Manchester Community College around 2:40 p.m. Monday. The President also is expected to visit Manchester Central Fire Station on Merrimack Street later that day, though White House sources could not confirm that portion of Trump's itinerary for security reasons.

While White House officials declined to discuss specific details of Trump's planned announcement, the President is expected to highlight three major fronts in his policy rollout - prevention and education, treatment and recovery, and law enforcement and interdiction.

"President Trump is tackling all three issues simultaneously and not sequentially because they are all equally important to combating this crisis," said Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to the President. "The opioid crisis is very tricky. It does not always begin in a back alley with a needle in your vein. It does not always arrive at your doorstep from the southern border. It is too often in your home's medicine cabinet with a label bearing your local pharmacy and family doctor."

Conway will accompany the Trumps to Manchester, the couple's first trip to the Granite State since attending a rally at the SNHU Arena on Nov. 7, 2016, the night before the general election.

On Friday in Washington, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump is traveling to New Hampshire "to further enforce the administration's commitment to combating the opioid crisis."

"As the President said in his State of the Union address, this 'administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need, for those who have been hurt so terribly. The struggle will be long and it will be difficult, but - as Americans always do - in the end, we will succeed. We will prevail,'?" Sanders said, quoting Trump.

Several news outlets reported late last week that the Trump administration is considering allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty for drug dealers, while also reviewing other tough, punishment options for dealers.

Asked Friday about the reports, a White House source declined comment, saying only, "We don't comment on alleged drafts of leaked documents."

After the Trumps' visit, Cabinet officials will be deployed across more than 15 states to "provide and address solutions to this nationwide crisis," according to a White House source.

Last year, Trump called New Hampshire a "drug-infested den" during a phone call with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, according to a transcript of the conversation released by the Washington Post.

Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan, who will attend Monday's policy discussion, said he doesn't have any "inside knowledge" of what the President intends to announce. The White House Opioid Summit earlier this month included a video featuring Goonan discussing the city's Safe Station program, which transformed the Queen City's 10 fire stations into intake centers, where addicts can head for help without fear of being arrested.

The President referenced Safe Station during an appearance on national television in October, then invited Goonan to attend a news conference in Washington, D.C.

"I have no idea what he's going to say," said Goonan. "I know what I hope he says - I hope I hear some reference to funding."

According to Goonan, as of this month, Safe Station has helped an estimated 3,300 people from across New Hampshire and other states.

Gov. Chris Sununu is scheduled to welcome Trump, along with Brig. Gen. David Mikolaities, Adjutant General of the New Hampshire National Guard, when Air Force One lands Monday afternoon at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. Sununu will also attend Trump's appearance at Manchester Community College.

"Governor Sununu looks forward to welcoming the President to New Hampshire on Monday to highlight New Hampshire's innovative solutions to the opioid crisis," Sununu spokesman Benjamin Vihstadt said in a statement provided to the New Hampshire Sunday News.

"In the past 12 months, the state has doubled the alcohol fund by adding $7 million for treatment and recovery services, created the first youth drug treatment center in New Hampshire ... and increased funding for a drug interdiction program to disrupt the supply chain that brings drugs into our state."

"Governor Sununu hopes the President will acknowledge that states impacted the most by the opioid crisis should receive assistance proportionate to the size of the problem, enabling New Hampshire to tackle this crisis head-on," Vihstadt added.

Trump pledged to address opioid abuse during his 2016 campaign, and unveiled the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis a year ago, charged with developing ways lawmakers can address the issue.

The panel issued its final list of recommendations in November, urging Congress to immediately appropriate funding to implement its proposals, which included calls for federal officials to develop a national multimedia campaign highlighting the dangers of opioid abuse, providing better addiction prevention education to students and providing state governments with federal funding support more quickly and effectively.

The panel also urged the Trump administration and congressional leaders to "block grant federal funding for opioid-related and (substance use disorder)-related activities to the states."

White House officials declined to comment late last week whether any of the commission's recommendations would be included in Monday's policy announcement.

According to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics issued in December, more than 63,600 people in the United States died as a result of drug overdoses in 2016, 66 percent of which were suspected opioid overdoses.

New Hampshire has been one of the hardest-hit states in the national opioid crisis, reporting the third-highest rate of deaths from drug overdoses in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2016, 485 people died from overdoses in New Hampshire; 424 cases were related to opioids, according to data from the state medical examiner's office. The statistics for 2017, while still being finalized, are projected to come in at 476 deaths, according to state officials.

Despite millions of dollars invested by the state, there have been setbacks in available treatment and recovery options.

In late December, state officials stepped in to appoint a financial receiver for Manchester's failing Serenity Place. The Executive Council also spent $180,000 to cover payroll, money that one councilor predicted New Hampshire would never get back. The decades-old addiction treatment program had become the therapy provider for drug users who showed up at Safe Station. Serenity Place's collapse is still under investigation.

Last month, Hope for New Hampshire Recovery, the state's largest drug recovery provider, announced most of its centers would close due to a lack of funds.

Earlier this month, the Executive Council approved a $600,000 federal grant that will permit the program to keep open its offices in Manchester, Berlin and Franklin. Concord and Claremont satellite centers will still close.

Trump's appearance at MCC is an invitation-only event, with more than 250 community members, law enforcement officials, first responders and local families affected by the opioid crisis expected to attend.

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