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Chessy Prout, opioid experts, Trump critic invited to State of the Union address

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    U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster thanks Chessy Prout for speaking out during "Voices for Change: A Conversation about ending sexual violence in NH," a panel discussion at University of New Hampshire Law School, in Concord on Monday, April 17, 2017. Prout and Kuster were among the panelists. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

For the Monitor
Published: 1/29/2018 6:44:22 PM

As President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, two Granite Staters who are leaders in the fight against the heroin and opioid epidemic will be watching the speech from the gallery as guests of New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators.

Also witnessing the address in person, as guests of the state’s two congresswomen, will be an activist aiding sexual assault survivors and the leading ethics lawyer during the Obama administration turned vocal Trump critic.

In dozens of campaign stops in New Hampshire during the marathon 2016 president election cycle, Trump vowed to take action to end the drug epidemic if elected to the White House.

The crisis hits home in the Granite State, which ranks third in the country in the number of opioid-related deaths per capita behind West Virginia and Ohio, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, Trump reportedly referred to the Granite State as a “drug-infested den” during a phone call with the president of Mexico.

The president in October declared the drug crisis a public health emergency, a move that Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan described as a positive step. But the state’s two Democratic senators, who have repeatedly pushed for more federal aid and action for New Hampshire, urged more action and follow-through from the Trump administration.

“When it comes to the opioid crisis, for example, we have long heard the president pay lip service to this crisis, yet we haven’t seen his administration take real action to match the urgency of this crisis,” Hassan told the Monitor on Monday. “I hope the president will use this speech to finally take a leadership role in calling for additional funding to support those on the front lines of this crisis, and more importantly, that his administration will actually back these words up.”

Hassan invited McKenzie Harrington-Bacote of Plymouth as her guest of honor. Harrington-Bacote focuses on preventing substance use among students as program administrator for the Laconia School District’s office of school wellness.

Hassan said she’s “inspired” by Harrington-Bacote’s efforts to help Laconia’s schools become a model statewide for “supporting students impacted by the substance misuse crisis.”

The Laconia School District used federal grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to hire mental health clinicians, a drug and alcohol counselor, social workers, and a health and wellness training coordinator.

Shaheen invited Jeanne Moser of East Kingston as her guest for the State of the Union address. Moser’s son Adam died in 2015 from a fentanyl overdose.

“We lost nearly 500 Granite Staters to this crisis in 2016,” Shaheen said. “We cannot wait any longer. The administration and Congress owe Jeanne, and every family affected by this public health emergency, swift and decisive action.”

Moser and her husband, Jim, founded the “Zero Left” campaign to increase awareness about the deadly risks of prescription drug abuse. They joined the president in October for his opioid epidemic declaration, and Jim Moser teamed up with Shaheen and the Concord Police Department for National Drug Take Back Day a few days later.

Shaheen said she’ll be wearing a purple ribbon, and she encouraged other attendees to do so as well, to bring awareness to opioid and substance use disorders.

Rep. Annie Kuster, a co-founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, told the Monitor she’s “hopeful that the president will lay out a real plan to tackle the opioid epidemic.”

“The opioid epidemic will not be resolved with lip service,” she added.

But the three-term Democrat invited a guest that highlights another issue she’s tackled in Congress: sexual assault and harassment.

Kuster, who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District, is inviting sexual assault survivor Chessy Prout as her guest. Prout was a freshman in the spring of 2014 at the St. Paul’s School in Concord when she was sexually assaulted by then-senior Owen Labrie as part of a springtime ritual at the school known as the “Senior Salute.”

Since going public for the first time on NBC’s Today show, Prout has been at the forefront of a growing national movement to end sexual violence. Her #IHaveTheRightTo social media campaign has gained traction around the world with millions of survivors and supporters proclaiming their rights and hopes for a better future. Prout has also completed a memoir scheduled for release in March.

“I’ve been inspired by the incredible strength and courage of Chessy as she has grown into a strong advocate on behalf of survivors of sexual assault and harassment,” Kuster said.

“The conversation about sexual harassment and assault in our nation is long overdue, but through the efforts of Chessy and the #MeToo movement it is finally gaining steam.”

Kuster has long fought for the rights of victims and survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

In 2016, Kuster took to the floor of the House to say she had been a victim of sexual assault a young congressional staffer nearly four decades ago.

She described it in greater detail in a follow up interview with the Monitor.

Kuster said the State of the Union presented an opportunity to highlight the issue yet again.

“This is an issue that is deeply personal to me and I’m excited to host Chessy to signal that this national movement will continue to grow and succeed,” Kuster said.

For her part, Prout said she was proud to join the congresswoman as her guest, calling Kuster “a fierce champion for survivors.”

“I am honored to be her guest while showing support of survivors of sexual assault by wearing all black,” Prout said.

New Hampshire’s other U.S. House member, Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, announced Monday that she’s inviting government ethics expert Norm Eisen as her guest of honor.

Eisen, a co-founder and current board chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, was the ‘ethics czar’ in President Barack Obama’s White House from 2009 to 2011 before serving as U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.

The retiring four-term congresswoman in the state’s 1st District said she’s “always admired Ambassador Eisen’s outstanding public service.”

Eisen, who’s been an outspoken critic of the current president’s conflicts of interest and potential ethics violations, said that Shea-Porter “is a leader in fighting for government ethics, transparency, and the rule of law.”

Shea-Porter has also been a vocal critic of the President, and has joined efforts by a group of other House Democrats to impeach Trump.

(Staff writer Alyssa Dandrea contributed to this report.)


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