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Jun 15, 2016 11:15 PM

Gatsas says fighting drug epidemic 'will be my top priority'

NH1 News Political Director

NASHUA – Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas says “it’s clear that this epidemic’s a crisis and it requires strong leadership and serious approach from our next governor.”

The Republican gubernatorial candidate made that comment on Wednesday as he traveled to the Gate City to unveil his “comprehensive plan to combat the fentanyl, heroin, and opioid epidemic.”

Four hundred and twenty eight people in New Hampshire died of drug overdoses last year, with Manchester the epicenter of a crisis that impacts the entire state.

“As governor, just as I have as mayor of Manchester, fighting this epidemic for the citizens of New Hampshire will be my top priority,” Gatsas vowed. “Manchester’s been on the front lines, and we’ve been leading from the very beginning.”

Gatsas said that “my first act as governor will be to declare that this fentanyl epidemic is a public health emergency.”

And he said he “will look to legislation to limit first time opioid prescriptions not to exceed seven days.”

Gatsas said that “K through 12 preventive education program is a necessity. I will not let it be an unfunded mandate. I will create public-private partnerships.”

The mayor also touted his Safe Station program, which opens the firehouses in the state’s largest city to drug addicts in need of immediate help. Gatsas called for “a statewide expansion of the Safe Station program.”

“Since May 4th, 140 people were helped. And not all of those people are from Manchester.”

He also highlighted a related program, called Police Partners.

“For communities that want to roll out a program similar to the Police Partners, as governor I will help them do that. I will work to create synergies with the Safe Station program,” Gatsas said.

The mayor’s plan also calls for the creation of “the position of the governor’s advocate for treatment and recovery for service providers. This position will be created within the budgetary confines of the current compliment of the office of the governor. This person will advocate for the treatment and recovery community looking into expanded services in the state.”

And Gatsas wants a “regional expansion of Amber’s Place. This is a 24-7 facility that local officials have identified as a necessity to begin the process of recovery.”

When it comes to drug sentencing, Gatsas said “if you are caught dealing fentanyl the charge is attempted murder. If you can be linked to an overdose death, the charge is murder without the possibly of parole.”

And he said he’d push “for higher bails for drug dealers. At a minimum we must make sentences for dealers proportionate to what they benefit for from the sale of the drugs.”

Later, asked by NH1 News why he unveiled his plan in Nashua when Manchester is in the drug epidemic spotlight, Gatsas said “I think this has got to be a story we talk about throughout the entire state of New Hampshire.”

“We’re making sure the entire state hears our message,” he added.

On Tuesday Gatsas stood behind Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan at the Hillsborough County Superior Court as she signed into law a statewide expansion of the drug courts, which help those battling addiction access treatment and recovery services.

Asked by NH1 News if Hassan’s doing a good job in fighting the drug epidemic, Gatsas said “there’s no reason why there should be such a long time delay between the time the funds are allocated until they’re on the street. My understand it could be another 60 to 90 days before they hit the street. I say they should be out there in 30 days because we have to help people immediately.”

Hassan is challenging Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte this year rather than run for a third term for the Corner Office. With Hassan not running for re-election, it’s a wide open battle for governor, with Gatsas one of seven major candidates bidding to succeed Hassan.

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