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Candidates Need Answers to New Hampshire's Heroin Crisis

Ayotte gave a floor speech Tuesday about her home state's battle against heroin addiction. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It's hard to get through a political event in New Hampshire these days without someone mentioning heroin.  

The Granite State's problem with opiate addictions has been leading news, and 2016 presidential candidates should be prepared to weigh in.  

Asked for his views about legalizing marijuana during the Voter's First Forum Monday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he understood states were working through that debate. He opposed recreational marijuana legalization, but quickly pivoted to the heroin issue.  

"You talk about New Hampshire for a moment. One of the stories that has not been as reported nationally is the fact that many of the people who today are dependent on heroin is because they became dependent on prescription opiates,"  Rubio said Monday. "And when it became difficult to acquire prescription opiates through the pharmacy system, they unfortunately became hooked on opium and heroin in the streets as a result of it."  

Rubio and two other senators appeared at the Manchester, N.H., forum remotely from Capitol Hill with the Senate conducting business Monday evening, and so CQ Roll Call asked the others — Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky — about the addiction issues draining resources in New Hampshire and elsewhere.  

Paul pointed to his support for legislation led by Democratic Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts to increase access to buprenorphine, which is used in treating heroin addicts. That measure would, in some cases, eliminate the statutory cap on the number of patients to whom a provider may dispense methadone for the course of treatment referred to as replacement therapy.  

"I think it's difficult, but one of the bills that I've supported is Markey's bill," Paul told CQ Roll Call. "Not very many people want to treat addicts anyway, so I have a bill that would take off the limits, and I think that would help some with addiction."  

Cruz said its a serious issue.  

"Look, there is no doubt that drug and alcohol addiction can be a terrible scourge. It is a scourge many families have dealt with. It is a scourge I've dealt with in my own family," Cruz said in a brief interview. "I think dealing with the challenges of drug and alcohol addiction and treatment and rehabilitation are primarily questions for state and local officials and health care professionals, but it is a rising problem that needs to be dealt with, and dealt with seriously."  

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., took the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon to tell personal stories about lives lost due to the heroin use and abuse in her home state. Ayotte said that in the city of Manchester alone, there have been more than 27,000 grams seized in 2015, a terrifying increase from the more than 1,300 grams in all of the past calendar year.  

"While local and state partners are driving many solutions to ad­dress this epidemic, there are also roles for the federal government to play. In the Senate, I'm working across party lines to address this crisis in three key areas: making sure first responders have the tools they need, improving pre­vention and treatment, and boost­ing anti-drug trafficking efforts," Ayotte wrote in an opinion piece for the Nashua Telegraph.  

Ayotte highlighted a series of legislative proposals and efforts to get more resources from the Department of Health and Human Services.  

On Monday, two top New Hampshire Democrats sought to tie the heroin scourge by tying it into the broader debate over the federal budget, as a standoff looms in September over domestic discretionary spending levels.  

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan joined in the Lakes Region to call for federal and state budgetary negotiations.  

“Responding to this crisis requires an investment in prevention, treatment and recovery programs that have proven to work," said Shaheen. "Its imperative that we have bipartisan cooperation in Concord and Washington to make the resources available for programs tackling the heroin crisis. Today, I'm calling on my Republican colleagues in the Senate to begin negotiations on our federal and state budgets and work with us to find the funds needed for programs to address this threat to the Granite State’s health and wellbeing."  

Hassan has long been viewed as the most formidable potential Democratic challenger to Ayotte in 2016, should she decide to run. But, having vetoed the state's Republican-backed budget plan, Hassan has deferred any announcements about political plans until the state's budgetary situation is in order. With presidential hopefuls running all over the state, the New Hampshire Senate contest may be getting less attention, but the race is rated Leans Republican by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call, without knowing Hassan's decision.  

"I have presented a fiscally responsible, compromise budget proposal that includes $5.9 million in additional funds for prevention and treatment over the Committee of Conference budget, including the funding necessary to move forward with a drug court in Manchester," Hassan said Monday.  

Clarification 9:44 a.m. 

This story has been updated to clarify that the bill introduced by Markey is focused on addressing the availability of buprenorphine, also known as suboxone, in treating addiction.

Related:
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