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Mar 29, 2017 2:42 PM

Trump picks Christie to lead efforts to fight drug crisis; no one from NH apparently at WH meeting

NH1.COM

CONCORD – President Donald Trump announced that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will take on a leading advisory role on a soon to be formed commission to help come up with ways the administration can fight the heroin and opioid epidemic.

New Hampshire’s two Democratic U.S. senators welcomed the President’s creation of the commission, but criticized Trump’s policies so far in battling the drug crisis.

The president made the announcement on Wednesday morning, as he and Christie convened a listening session at the White House that included Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, VA Secretary David Shulkin, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, drug policy experts and advocates, and a recovering addict.

But there appeared to be no one from New Hampshire taking part in the session at the White House, according to a list of participants provided to NH1 News by the White House. (see list below)

That’s worth noting because then-presidential candidates Trump and Christie often talked about the drug crisis during their many campaign stops in the Granite State in 2015 and 2016.

In an interview with NH1 News in Manchester in August of last year, Trump said “I promised the people of New Hampshire that I would stop the heroin from pouring in on the southern border. And I will stop it.”

“We’re going to stop this horrible poison from coming into New Hampshire. And for some reason New Hampshire talks about it more than anybody else. It’s a tremendous epidemic in New Hampshire. And we’re going to stop it. I made that promise. I said ‘you’re going to vote for me and we’re going to stop it. And we will get it stopped’,” Trump added.

Neither of New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, were asked to take part in the listening session.

Shaheen welcomed the President’s creation of the commission but criticized the Trump administration’s policies to battle the drug crisis.

“I welcome the establishment of this commission and am committed to working with the administration to battle the opioid epidemic,” Shaheen said in a statement provided to NH1 News.

“But this administration’s policies in regards to the opioid crisis are in desperate need of a course correction and I hope this commission will help facilitate a turnaround before New Hampshire’s efforts are severely undermined. There is a massive gulf between President Trump’s promises to tackle this crisis and the policies this administration has proposed during his first two months in office,” she added.

And Shaheen spotlighted that the “President just tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, ending Medicaid expansion, which would have taken away substance misuse and mental health treatment from thousands of Granite Staters. His administration has also proposed drastic budget cuts to many programs that New Hampshire depends on to fight this epidemic every day.”

A spokeswoman for Hassan told NH1 News that the senator brought up the opioid epidemic with administration officials on Tuesday night when she and other senators attended a social gathering at the White House.

And in a statement she said “I am encouraged that the White House is acknowledging the heroin, fentanyl, and opioid crisis and I am ready to work with the Trump Administration and members of Congress from both parties to support those on the front lines."

"But we need to see if this commission will be more than just window dressing, because the policies we’ve seen from this administration so far would dramatically impede our ability to combat this crisis," Hassan added.

The Corner Office told NH1 News that Gov. Chris Sununu doesn’t have a formal role with the commission. But they pointed to the surprise trip to New Hampshire earlier this month by Sessions. The U.S. attorney general spoke in front of thousands of middle and high school students gathered for a summit in Manchester to highlight the dangers of opioid addiction.

A spokesman for the governor said the Sununu and Sessions had a brief private conversation at the summit about ways to combat the drug epidemic.

James Vera, the governor’s advisor on addiction and behavioral health, told NH1 News the commission the President created “builds on a promise” that Trump made to battle the crisis.

“It’s really clear he wants to take action,” Vera said. “The commission is the first step towards that.”

At the listening session, Trump said "we want to help those who have become so badly addicted,"

In announcing Christie, Trump introduced the New Jersey governor as a "very effective guy.”

The President added that Christie will gather input from state and local government officials, law enforcement, medical professionals, and victims, to determine the best ways to tackle the epidemic.

READ THE WHITE HOUSE LIST OF THE LISTENING SESSION ATTENDEES:

Gov Chris Christie

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Secretary Betsy DeVos

Secretary David Shulkin

Secretary John F. Kelly

Dr. Don Wright, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Health, HHS

Charles “Chuck” Rosenberg, Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency

Richard Baum, Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

Mariano Rivera, Former New York Yankee and founder of the Mariano Rivera Foundation

Pam Bondi, Attorney General, Florida

Bertha Madras, Professor of Psychobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and former Deputy Director for Demand Reduction (prevention, treatment) in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

Pam Garozzo, Drug Awareness Advocate

AJ Solomon, Founder of Victory Bay Recovery Center

Vanessa Vitolo, Recovering Addict

READ SEN. SHAHEEN’S ENTIRE STATEMENT:

(Washington, DC)—Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) issued the following statement as President Trump prepares to announce a commission, led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, to recommend actions to address the opioid epidemic:

“I welcome the establishment of this commission and am committed to working with the administration to battle the opioid epidemic,” said Shaheen. “But this administration’s policies in regards to the opioid crisis are in desperate need of a course correction and I hope this commission will help facilitate a turnaround before New Hampshire’s efforts are severely undermined. There is a massive gulf between President Trump’s promises to tackle this crisis and the policies this administration has proposed during his first two months in office. The President just tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, ending Medicaid expansion, which would have taken away substance misuse and mental health treatment from thousands of Granite Staters. His administration has also proposed drastic budget cuts to many programs that New Hampshire depends on to fight this epidemic every day. This commission should immediately reevaluate these funding cuts and identify additional resources to help people on the frontlines in New Hampshire and other states who are doing heroic work to save lives. I also strongly encourage President Trump and Governor Christie to seek their counsel. President Trump made a promise to the Granite State to provide more treatment and end the opioid crisis, and he must keep that promise.”

READ SEN. HASSAN'S ENTIRE STATEMENT:

WASHINGTON – Senator Maggie Hassan released the following statement on the announcement of President Trump’s opioid commission:

“I am encouraged that the White House is acknowledging the heroin, fentanyl, and opioid crisis and I am ready to work with the Trump Administration and members of Congress from both parties to support those on the front lines. But we need to see if this commission will be more than just window dressing, because the policies we’ve seen from this administration so far would dramatically impede our ability to combat this crisis. Trumpcare would have repealed Medicaid expansion, and the President’s budget proposal would undermine efforts to strengthen our health care workforce and invest in biomedical research into how we address addiction. The Trump Administration also won’t commit to maintaining the requirement that insurance companies must cover essential health benefits like behavioral health and substance use disorder services. I’m focused on implementing a comprehensive, bipartisan approach to this crisis, including protecting Medicaid expansion, cracking down on the distribution of fentanyl, and strengthening treatment, prevention, and recovery efforts. I stand ready to work with President Trump if and when he is ready to pursue a comprehensive approach focused on both the supply and demand side to combat this crisis.”

READ REP. ANNIE KUSTER'S STATEMENT:

(Washington, DC) – Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02), the co-chair and co-founder of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, released the following statement on the executive order announced by President Trump creating a Commission to study and make suggestions for how to address the opioid addiction epidemic:

“It’s encouraging that the White House is taking proactive steps to address the opioid epidemic but there is much more to be done. We know that those on the frontlines of this crisis need support and I hope that one of the key findings of the President’s Commission will be the need to fully fund the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. We also know that there is not enough capacity for those seeking treatment, and I was pleased to see that part of the Commission’s mission will be to assess the availability of substance use treatment and recovery services. To that end, it’s critical that we maintain the support for substance use services that was established under the Affordable Care Act and expanded through Medicaid. If these provisions were to be repealed, the President’s Commission would find addressing this crisis exponentially more difficult. One important step that I would urge is the appointment of a Director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. That seat needs to be filled by someone who understands the scope of this issue and can lead an effective national strategy to curb this epidemic. I look forward to working with the Commission and discussing how the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force can be a productive partner in the House of Representatives to advance policies to address the opioid addiction crisis.”

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