In surprise visit, Sessions tells NH students education, enforcement will turn tide in opioid fight
MANCHESTER – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a surprise trip to New Hampshire on Tuesday, to speak in front of thousands of middle and high school students gathered for a summit to highlight the dangers of opioid addiction.
“I want you to know that what is happening here today is not an ordinary event in my opinion. It’s a special thing. That’s why I cleared my schedule today to be with you,” the attorney general said as he spoke at the first New Hampshire Youth Summit on Opioid Awareness, which was held at the Southern New Hampshire University Arena.
Organizers of the event kept Session’s appearance under wraps until he took to the stage at the arena in downtown Manchester.
"We need to stop the thugs and gangs that use violence and extortion to move their products," Sessions declared.
And he touted that “the President has issued an executive order to the Department of Justice to dismantle these organizations and gangs. We’re going after them. Of that you can be sure.”
Presidential candidate Donald Trump spent many days on the campaign trail in the Granite State the past two years, and he often brought up New Hampshire’s acute heroin and opioid epidemic, vowing to combat the crisis if elected to the White House.
But the White House told NH1 News that the President did not ask or direct Sessions to attend the conference. A spokeswoman for the attorney general told NH1 News that Sessions came up just for the speech and was “back in the office (in Washington) for meetings early this afternoon.”
Sessions told the thousands of students gathered in the arena that “having 120 people in our country die every day from drug overdoses cannot continue.”
And he added that “we are going to focus on prescription drug abuse. I believe we have way too much pain medication being prescribed in American today and it leads to heroin addiction.”
The summit was designed to educate the students about the dangers of opioid addiction while promoting the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. The keynote speaker was Jeff Allison, a New England native and former Miami Marlins pitcher, who shared his personal story of addiction and recovery.
Sessions pointed back to his days as a federal prosecutor during a previous drug crisis that afflicted the country, telling the crowd that “the most effective solution in the 1980s and early ‘90s – when, for example, we saw a dramatic decline in teen drug use – was this prevention campaign, what you’re doing today. People began to stop using drugs. Drug use was no longer cool or acceptable. Crime fell dramatically, and addiction fell too.”
“We can do this again. We have proven that education and telling people the terrible truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices. Drug use will fall. Lives will be saved. That’s what has excited me about your leadership and your participation at this Youth Summit,” Sessions added.
Sununu’s message to students: ‘We need you’
Sessions also gave a shout out to New Hampshire’s first Republican governor in a dozen years, saying of Chris Sununu “he and I have gotten to know each other. He’s got so much energy and so much drive. He just inspires me to be around him.”
Speaking to the crowd minutes later, the governor said “I’m a dad. I’ve got an 11 year old, a 12 year old, I’ve got a 4 year old. We’re dealing with this like a family, just like a lot of the other families are out there.”
The governor highlighted the state’s efforts, saying “we’ve made huge strides in the past 18 months. What we’re doing on prevention, on recovery, we’ve made a lot of headway. But this is really the turning point. I don’t know if you guys realize, this is the beginning of a national effort. A national effort that’s going to encompass local voices.
Sununu, who’s calling for increased resources in the state’s next two-year budget to battle the drug epidemic, declared that what “we’re going to do in the next few weeks is we’re going to roll out something this state has never seen in terms of a prevention plan.”
But the governor confessed that “let me tell you I don’t have all the answers. The other elected officials in Concord don’t have all the answers. We need you. We’re going to put together a new advisory group .”
And Sununu told the students that “you’re words are going to have tremendous weight.”
He said they are “empowered to be part of the solution” by telling officials what’s working and not working in the fight against the drug crisis.
“This is a fight that can and has to be won. It begins with prevention,” Sununu declared.