Clinton camp aims to address drug abuse

Last modified: 6/1/2015 11:42:56 PM
Several people working to address substance abuse in New Hampshire spoke last Thursday with senior officials from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, offering their perspectives on the toll of the drug epidemic here and what kind of policy measures might address the issue on a national level.

The call came a little more than a month after Clinton, during a roundtable in Keene, signaled plans to address substance abuse as part of her campaign and as other presidential contenders are also speaking out on the issue.

Ann O’Leary and Maya Harris, senior campaign policy advisers, participated in recent calls with groups in New Hampshire and in Iowa to talk about substance abuse.

The New Hampshire call included: Tym Rourke, chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Prevention, Treatment and Recovery; Linda Saunders Paquette, executive director of New Futures; Abigail Shockley, executive director of New Hampshire Alcohol and Other Drug Service Providers Association; Cheryle Pacapelli, executive director of Hope for New Hampshire Recovery; Christopher Adams, Laconia police chief and Kriss Blevens, a recovery advocate whose stepdaughter died of a heroin overdose.

Several people who participated in that call said they were glad that addressing substance abuse is becoming a part of the conversation on the presidential campaign trail.

“I’m absolutely thrilled that they’re even talking about it, because usually it’s never even on the radar,” Pacapelli said.

Pacapelli, Saunders Paquette and Rourke said they all called attention to the challenges faced in New Hampshire – the need for more recovery services and the challenges of funding treatment in general, among other concerns. The importance of parity in insurance coverage for substance abuse treatment was also stressed, they said.

“This is a national public health crisis, and it’s critical that the candidates consider this and what their political approaches to this public health crisis will be,” Saunders Paquette said.

When Clinton came to Keene for her first visit to New Hampshire after announcing her second campaign for president, she was intending to spend the afternoon at a roundtable talking about small-business issues.

Instead, the conversation took a different turn when one of the employees at the company that served as the site of the campaign event mentioned that she was caring for her 5-year-old grandson because his mother had been affected by “the growing drug problem in our area.” The employee, Pamela Livengood, pointed out the limitations facing people who need help and asked for Clinton’s thoughts on the issue.

Clinton, in response, told Livengood that she’d heard similar stories in other states. She also signaled a desire to focus more on substance abuse and mental health in the future on her campaign.

“I am really concerned because, Pamela, what you just told me I’m hearing from a lot of people,” Clinton said. “There is a hidden epidemic. The drug abuse problem – whether it’s pills, or meth, or heroin – is not as visible as, you know, 30 years ago when there were all kinds of gangs and violence. This is a quiet epidemic, and it is striking in small towns and rural areas as much as any big cities.”

Clinton’s not the only presidential candidate who has articulated an interest in addressing substance misuse.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who hasn’t formally announced his candidacy for president but who’s taken steps toward a bid, visited The Farnum Center in Manchester during a recent trip to New Hampshire. At the drug and alcohol treatment facility, Christie, a Republican, spoke of his own connections to addiction. As reported by National Public Radio, Christie recounted how a friend from law school became addicted to prescription painkillers after a back injury.

“One Sunday morning,” Christie said, “I got a phone call that they found him in a hotel room with an empty bottle of Percocet and a bottle of vodka. And he was gone.”

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, in an interview with the Monitor in Concord last month, said, “The one issue I’ve been most successful and least successful at tackling as an executive is drug abuse and the death that it causes.” As mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland, O’Malley said he tried to implement measures to more effectively track data related to addiction and drug treatment programs. Still, he said, the state struggled to prevent fatalities, and eventually “we had to change our strategic goal from expanding drug treatment to reducing overdose deaths, as an acknowledgement that we were losing.”

Looking forward, Rourke and others on the call said they’re optimistic that the momentum will continue building to address this issue on a national level.

“I hope, in all honesty, that’s not the last call I get,” Rourke said. “This is a nonpartisan issue. Given the damage this issue is doing in our state and as our state is the first-in-the-nation primary . . . I hope other presidential candidates take notice.”

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of several call participants’ names and to reflect that Manchester Police Patrolman’s Association President Ken Chamberlain was not involved in the call, as originally indicated by the Clinton campaign.

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)

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