Exactly How Different Are Maggie Hassan and Kelly Ayotte’s Plans to Combat the Opioid Crisis?

The opioid crisis is one of the most politicized issues in the New Hampshire Senate race. From ads and accusations to plans and programs, how to combat the crisis is a focal point of Democrat Gov. Maggie Hassan and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s campaigns.

Hassan outlined her plan on Thursday at a roundtable discussion on substance abuse at Nashua Community College. She made it clear that Congress needs to do its job.

“I will let you know that if Congress fails to act this year, I will work in the Senate to make emergency funding the very first bill the next Congress passes, and the next law the President signs,” she said.

That’s one of her first points in her 16-page plan that she released. She lists about 22 different actions she would take to fight the crisis and curb the number of overdose deaths each year.

But her plan isn’t too different from bills and measures that Ayotte has supported. Out of the 22 actions Hassan puts forward, more than half are also supported by Ayotte.

In a race where Hassan and Ayotte are trying to paint each other as an extreme candidate, the opioid issue, which is supposed to divide them, actually shows them in agreement on many ways to handle the crisis.

Throughout Hassan’s plan, she praises Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for leading the charge on securing more funding to fight opioids and improve substance abuse treatment. Hassan and Shaheen support the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA), which authorizes the government to award grants to address the opioid and heroin epidemic, but the bill has been criticized for offering programs, but no funding for them.

“While Governor Hassan appreciates the bipartisan acknowledgement of the heroin and opioid crisis in Congress, she shares Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s frustration that without funding, ‘Congress is offering a life preserver with no air in it,’” Hassan’s plan states.

Ayotte is also a cosponsor of CARA and she cosponsored Shaheen’s legislation in November granting $600 million in immediate funds to various government agencies tasked with research, intervention and substance abuse recovery. The bill has not made it to the Senate floor yet.

Hassan and Ayotte also agree on the use of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs and sharing prescription drug data across state lines. Hassan said she would work on legislation requiring the program nationwide, but Ayotte introduced a bipartisan bill authorizing funds for a grant for PDMPs in states.

Shaheen put forward a law that would address the growing drug caseloads at police forensic labs. In her plan, Hassan said she supports the law, while citing measures she took as governor to assist in alleviating the workload.

Ayotte’s Senate office confirmed that the senator also supports the bill.

“In October 2015, Senator Ayotte called on the Department of Justice to work with New Hampshire to reduce this backlog, and she is supportive of Senator Shaheen’s legislation,” said Lauren Zelt, Ayotte’s deputy communications director.

The bill was introduced in November 2015 and has yet to reach the Senate floor.

Another measure Hassan and Ayotte agree on is improvements to labeling of opioid-based medications.

Rep. Ann Kuster put forward a bill in June titled “Carl’s Law” to fight this issue. It was introduced on behalf of Carl Messinger, a Granite Stater, who died of a fentanyl overdose after he relapsed when he was prescribed an opiate medication while in recovery by a physician unaware of his history of addiction.

Shaheen introduced the same legislation in the Senate on Thursday.

“Appropriately labeling opiate-containing medication is a simple and necessary way to inform consumers of the risks,” she said in a statement. “Carl Messinger’s relapse and ultimate overdose could have been prevented by clear labeling on the cough medicine his doctor prescribed.”

Ayotte’s office said she supports Shaheen’s bill and has asked to be a cosponsor on it.

In Hassan’s plan, she too said she would support the opioid labeling legislation.

“In the Senate, she will continue to push the FDA to weigh the risk of drug-seeking behavior in the consideration of labels for opioid medications and to support Rep. Kuster’s strong advocacy in this area,” the plan states.

One area Hassan and Ayotte differ on handling the opioid crisis is on the expansion of Medicaid.

Ayotte has voted to phase out the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare in order to offer improved reforms that would broaden healthcare access, but Hassan signed into law an expansion of the program. Hassan says the Medicaid expansion helps families access health services.

“In the Senate, Governor Hassan will fight misguided efforts to repeal Medicaid expansion, which would take health care coverage away from tens of thousands of Granite State families and hinder their ability to access behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment services,” her plan states.

Despite their stances on Medicaid, overall, Ayotte and Hassan have similar plans on combatting the opioid crisis, yet it is still a highly politicized issue.

Hassan has faced extensive criticism during her time as governor for her handling of the crisis. Earlier this year, critics say she took too long to replace a state drug czar who had performed poorly in the job. And while Hassan is calling for more federal money to come into New Hampshire, her office was unaware of a $12 million grant the state had received to help stem the crisis.

More than 430 people died from drug overdoses last year in New Hampshire, and the state medical examiner’s office is expecting the number to near 500 in 2016.

“It’s a very emotional kind of thing for families and communities to deal with,” said Dean Spiliotes, civics scholar at Southern New Hampshire University. “It’s interesting because there is agreement over the problem and other kinds of things in their plans, but the big issue has been getting money.”

Outside spending groups have also been making the opioid crisis a central issue in the Senate campaigns rather than the campaigns themselves.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee released three television ads that criticize Hassan’s “mismanagement” of the opioid crisis. Hassan called the ads “false,” “disgusting,” and “trash.” Ayotte also called for the group to take the ads down, which they didn’t.

“It’s now more of a question of blaming who didn’t do anything quick enough,” Spiliotes said. “The government is responsible for handling the crisis, so it’s inherently political. It’s not ideological and everyone agrees that it’s a problem, with some differences on how to fund it. It’s more who is not doing enough and who is dropping the ball.”

Author: Kyle Plantz

Kyle Plantz is a reporter with NH Journal.

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  • bobsr

    Frank Guinta, Congressional Chairman of the Federal Drug Taskforce stated in a channel 9 interview earlier this summer that the “Feds are interdicting only 3% of all the drugs coming over the Southern Border illegally.” 3% !!!

    If YOU were achieving 3% effectiveness at YOUR JOB, you would be fired!

    So where is the ACTION from our current Congressional Delegation to bring this to the front page? Where is the discussion about this? I thought this is why we had elections! This bunch of dumb New England Yankees sit here and expects those on the Southern Border to do their job and enforce the laws. Silly us. They are NOT DOING IT and Congress apparently doesn’t care.

    Jeanie Forrester suggests using the NH National Guard to start enforcing the drug laws on our OWN NH BORDER. If the Feds are only catching 3% of all the illegal drugs, seems like a good pilot program to me. That’s the REAL NH way. Identify the problem and FIX IT! NO ONE who was ever in the Military would believe we could only interdict 3% of the incoming illegal drugs at any border. A SERIOUS PROBLEM needs a SERIOUS IMMEDIATE SOLUTION. Stop the “hand wringing.” STOP THE DRUG FLOWS at ALL LEVELS (It’s not just at the border)..

    No President would put the US Military on the Southern Border. They could stop almost ALL of it if they WANTED TO. Clearly after 40 years the only conclusion can be that those in charge DO NOT WANT TO STOP the drugs (or illegals for that matter) from coming in. My conclusion is that the pay offs have to go right to the top. When it makes no sense, look behind the curtain. No other conclusion is possible.

    My Army guys in Vietnam in the 1960′s could stop this all in a month at the Southern Border if we really wanted to today.And I’m sure the NH National guard could do plenty as well to stop it, based on whatever plan they come with.

    I’m tired of reading articles that say they know all about the distribution logistics, how it is getting here, who the major players are, ET AL. THEY KNOW ALL THIS but will not make any major push to stop it. They leave it to the local police and others who are trying, but in many cases are under funded and appear to be both literally and figuratively “out gunned.” And many will say “judges let them all go anyway.”
    If so, get it on the front page.Stop the BS and spin.

    Millions of dollars for TREATMENT coming, to develop a new industry to employ thousands. But NOTHING to stop the 97% of the drugs (and illegals!) coming in at the border. As I said, isn’t that why we have elections? Get them ALL on the record!

    Jeanie Forrester seems to be the only one that gets it.

    There is no other possible explanation for failure to take bold and immediate action to stop the drug flows that have it available in virtually every city and town in NH (as the previous NH drig Czar stated was the case). He apparently was fired for making the facts known, so they shot the messenger.