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Apr 25, 2016 10:58 PM

Steinhauser: Kuster and Guinta team up again in fight against substance abuse

NH1 News Political Director

GOFFSTOWN – New Hampshire’s two U.S. House members say that the state’s acute opioid and heroin epidemic transcends politics.

Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster (2nd CD) and Republican Frank Guinta (1st CD) Monday held their second field hearing in the Granite State for their Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, which they co-founded last autumn.

“Since Rep. Guinta and I founded the Bipartisan Task Force, nearly 80 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have joined us and committed themselves to defeating this epidemic. In an era when bipartisanship can be hard to come by, this speaks volumes to the urgent and widespread nature of the challenge before us and those willing to come together,” Kuster told those gathered for the hearing at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

“Here in New Hampshire we’ve felt the devastating impact of addiction in our communities. Facing a perfect storm of high addition rates, we’re among the top in the country, and low access to treatment, sadly we’re near the bottom of the country,” Kuster added. “We’ve lost a record number of lives in recent years due to drug overdoses. We’re in the midst of a crisis of public health and public safety. Due to opioid misuse Granite Staters now face higher odds of dying from an overdose than a car accident.”

Guinta echoed Kuster comments, adding that “we have to make people understand it’s a national emergency, a national epidemic. And we’ve got to go after those drug dealers, those drug cartels, that are killing our friends and families.”

Kuster and Guinta, joined by GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine, heard testimony from witnesses law enforcement and judicial leaders such as New Hampshire Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau and James Vara, the state’s new senior director of Substance Abuse Misuse and Behavioral Health.

But some of the most emotional testimony came from Abi Lizotte, a heroin addict turned advocate for treatment for substance abuse. LIzotte, who found treatment when she was homeless and eight months pregnant, become the inspiration for Hope on Haven Hill, a treatment facility in Rochester for pregnant heroin and opioid abusers.

Lizotte told NH1 News that her message is “it’s not impossible to get into recovery, because I thought that it was. I had little to no hope for myself. I had to borrow hope from other people.”

“Removing the stigma around this only happens when people speak out about it,” she added.

Lizotte said testifying at the hearing was as much for her as it was for others.

“As much as this helps other people, it helps me just stay on the right path and remember where I came from and how I want to keep going down this road,” Lizotte said.

Kuster said testimony from Monday’s hearing was “so helpful. I always learn something new first of all and hearing directly from people in recovery can make a big difference in the stories we can share with our colleagues back in Washington.”

Guinta added that “what we’d like to see is everything we learn from road hearings to be incorporated into existing or new legislative efforts. There are a number of things we learned here today that we can fix legislatively.”

Last week Kuster, Guinta, and a dozen other task force members announced 15 bills they’re pushing through Congress. Some of the measures would reform opioid prescription practices, update Veterans’ Administration pain treatment procedures, encourage proper disposal of unused prescriptions, strengthen law enforcement at high-intensity drug trafficking areas, and push low-level offenders into treatment programs.

Guinta told NH1 News votes on the measures could start early next month.

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