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Jan 22, 2016 9:44 AM

Gov. Hassan says Medicaid expansion extension key to NH fight against opioid addiction

CONCORD - Governor Maggie Hassan says in order for more treatment programs to be available to Granite Staters battling drug addiction, "the single most important thing we can do is re-authorize our New Hampshire Health Protection Program."

The Governor made her push to extend what's commonly referred to as Medicaid expansion during her interview with NH1 Radio on Friday. The program is set to expire at the end of this year unless the legislature authorizes an extension. At issue is who pays for the more than 45,000 New Hampshire residents on the plan. Republican leaders in the legislature say they oppose any proposal that puts the burden on taxpayers.

Hassan says some health care providers are holding off on making capital investments in treatment programs until lawmakers decide whether to extend Medicaid expansion. She says extending the program affects other efforts to stem the drug crisis in New Hampshire, including adding drug courts around the state.

"If you send somebody to drug court, and one of the things the court tells them they must to is go get treatment and stay in treatment, if we don't have beds, the drug court system won't work," says Hassan.

The Governor signed two bills on Thursday intended to aid in the fight against opioid addiction in New Hampshire. The bills were the result of a bipartisan task force formed to examine the issue and recommend legislation for passage. Hassan says one of the most immediate impacts of the new legislation is the provision that makes fentanyl possession a crime on the same level of heroin possession. Overdose deaths from fentanyl surpassed heroin overdose deaths in 2015.

"We want to make sure that law enforcement, police, prosecutors, have the tools, and that dealers and supplies get the message-that you can't distribute fentanyl in New Hampshire," Hassan says.

The legislations' signing comes less that a week after the Governor's top official organizing the state's response to the opioid crisis stepped down. Jack Wozmak, commonly referred to as the state's "drug czar", had been criticized by Republican lawmakers for not meeting enough with local government officials and for moving too slowly on key issues.

Governor Hassan defended Wozmak's performance in the interview, saying "Jack has been working tirelessly day in and day out to help bring Granite Staters together to combat this crisis." She is actively searching for a replacement, and says the need for someone in the role is urgent, adding "This is an all hands on deck moment for our state. We need to make sure we're all working together."

Hassan is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte this fall in what's expected to be one of the most hotly contested Congressional races in the country. Thus far, outside of fundraising, her campaign has yet to publicly ramp up its operations. When asked if she's expecting to shift her focus to campaigning soon, the Governor says "My first focus each and every day until my last day in office as Governor will be the job of Governor of the State of New Hampshire"--but then quickly pivoted into criticism of Ayotte, saying "she's been standing special corporate interests in Washington and I've been standing with the people of New Hampshire".

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