Hooksett, N.H., Feb. 4 – In 2014, more than 300 people in New Hampshire died from drug overdose, many due to the spike in heroin use throughout the state. This was the topic at the “New Hampshire Roundtable Discussion on Addiction and the Heroin Epidemic” sponsored by The Addiction Policy Forum. Sen. Ted Cruz addressed the crowd and then joined a roundtable discussion including a representative for former Secretary Hillary Clinton. Key stakeholders from law enforcement, prevention, treatment and recovery as well as families affected by addiction made up the rest of the roundtable.
“Drug addiction is a disease. Alcohol addiction is a disease; it is a vicious disease,” Cruz said. “You see a terrible accident on the freeway, you think about the people who lost their lives, you mourn for those, and yet even more were killed in drug overdoses, every one of which could have been, and should have been prevented.”
Addiction affects 23.2 million Americans — of whom only about 10 percent are receiving the treatment they need. Cruz spoke at length about his late sister’s struggle with drug addiction, ultimately ending in a fatal overdose. He also discussed his father’s addiction to alcohol and its effect on his family.
“Faith and a relationship with God can be a powerful, powerful element of turning that around,” Cruz said, using his father’s story as an example of hope and redemption. “It’s why the church plays such an important role. Those programs are what we need more and more of – helping people get back on their feet, free them from addiction.”
The presidential hopeful also said securing the country’s borders could “make a real difference” in keeping drugs out. “If you look at what is happening right now, on our borders, it is an absolute disgrace.”
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, representing Clinton, outlined her five-point plan focusing on criminal justice reform, treatment, additional resources for rescue workers to save lives, an enhanced database to track pill shopping, and removing stigma surrounding the disease.
“We need to finally take this battle on, this disease on, and treat it as a disease and not a crime,” Shumlin said. “When you’re busted when you bottomed out, when the lights are blue flashing, that’s the most likely time we have to move someone from denial to treatment.”
Vermont has third-party assessors in every county who determine whether a drug addict is a threat to others. Those who go into treatment, Shumlin said, “never see a criminal record” or courtroom.
Clinton’s plan would ensure that states like New Hampshire receive a 20/80 match in federal funds to treat people with drug addiction like they have any other disease and help remove the waiting list for people waiting for treatment. Clinton’s 20/80 match proposal gives states resources to buy rescue kits to help addicts on the streets.
“Let’s change the attitude about the disease,” Shumlin concluded. “Let’s get rid of the stigma and let’s work together on prevention, so we can stop the flow in.”
Earlier this month, The Addiction Policy Forum held a day-long public forum where several presidential candidates including former Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. Chris Christie, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, and Gov. John Kasich spoke at length on the topic.