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Price, Conway Visit New Hampshire to Reaffirm Trump’s Commitment to Ending Opioid Crisis

The latest stop in Tom Price’s opioid crisis listening tour brought the health and human services secretary to the New Hampshire State House on Wednesday. He wasn’t alone, though. Always near him was Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump. They were joined by Gov. Chris Sununu, state Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster of New Hampshire, among other treatment providers, law enforcement, first responders, and families who have been impacted by the substance abuse crisis.

The meeting in Concord only lasted about an hour and members of the press were not allowed to be in the Executive Council chambers where the listening session took place. Afterwards, Price and Conway went to Manchester Fire Department to learn about the city’s Safe Station program. Press were also kicked out at first, but were then invited back in.

At a press conference after the listening session, Price said solving the opioid crisis is a priority for the Trump administration and his visit was a chance to see how states are dealing with it at the ground level.

“The Department is all in, the President is all in,” he said. “He has such passion for this issue, because he knows the misery and the suffering that has occurred across this land, and wants to help, help solve it.”

Price points to the recent $3.1 million in funds — with more money on the way — being sent to New Hampshire as evidence of the administration’s commitment to getting more resources out into the field.

Yet, more funds are needed for the Granite State, which has the second-highest overdose deaths per capita in the country. Nearly 500 people have overdosed on drugs in 2016. New Futures, a nonprofit focused on the opioid crisis, released a report Monday that found substance misuse costs the state’s economy about $2.36 billion each year.

Sununu praised the White House for its “tremendous” effort in reaching out to the states to see what they think of certain policies and solutions to combat opioid misuse.

“This administration has provided a great philosophy in that they want to set a foundation and a platform for good policy out of Washington but they look to the states to implement it,” he said. “Unlike the previous administration where Washington was going to implement and control everything, they want the states to be the implementers.”

However, Democrats are blasting the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of the American Health Care Act, which would make major changes to Medicaid expansion. Democrats argue that the bill would weaken funding for federal programs to battle the drug epidemic.

Just before Price and Conway’s arrival, protesters staged a “die-in,” laying on the floor in the hallways of the State House, holding up signs that said, “Trump lied, I died” and “I died for a billionaire’s caviar.”

Democrats held their own press conference while Price and Conway met with New Hampshire leaders, criticizing Sununu for holding a closed-door meeting.

“New Hampshire won’t stand for a plan where premiums skyrocket, benefits shrink, and thousands are booted off [health care] coverage,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn.

Price said Trump is committed “to make certain that every individual has access to the kind of coverage that they want for themselves and for their family.”

“I think it’s important to step back and say is the Medicaid program the most appropriate program for every individual in that economic setting,” he added. “Is there a better way to provide coverage? Is there a better way to provide services? Whatever the answer to that is the president is committed and we’re committed to making certain every single American has a seamless transition.”

He vowed “that nobody falls through the cracks. That no rug is pulled out from anybody and that we make certain that the coverage and the care is available to every single American.”

Sununu said he had “some severe reservations” about the House’s health care bill, but he appreciates “the progress the House made.”

“We have to move that ball forward,” he said. I do have reservations in some areas when you look at the details. But people have to understand this is simply one part of the process. The Senate is going to go through their process. It shows that Congress isn’t stalled, not stagnated. They’re not going to do nothing. I think we’ve had eight years of a lot of do nothing. They’re doing something and they’re standing up for the American people.”

Conway said the opioid epidemic should be a bipartisan issue that Democrats and Republicans solve together.

“We look at this as a non-partisan issue in need of a bipartisan solution,” she said. “And we are working with people on both sides of the aisle in Washington and within each of the states to do exactly that.”

However, there are instances of disagreement between Republicans, especially on the American Health Care Act. It also appears that New Hampshire leaders and the White House aren’t always on the same page.

Several media outlets reported that the Trump administration was contemplating a 95 percent cut for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which houses the agency’s high-intensity drug trafficking program and drug-free communities support program. Officials dismissed the claims and reaffirmed Trump’s support for ending the opioid crisis. Sununu called the reports “very disconcerting.”

Price and Conway did not mention the national drug czar’s office during their visit. While New Hampshire is one of the hardest hit states of the drug epidemic, it appears an official from the state has not been invited to sit on the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, leaving many to question how committed Trump is to fulfilling his campaign promise.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is chairing the commission, and it was announced Wednesday that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island will also serve on the commission. Bertha Madras, a former deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, will also work on the commission, but no one from the Granite State.

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Synthetic Opioid Carfentanil Enters NH. What Is It and Where Does It Come From?

New Hampshire became the latest state to have three residents die of overdoses from one of the most deadly opioid drugs in the world, adding to the growing list of communities nationwide trying to handle the crisis. Gov. Chris Sununu and public health officials announced last week that for the first time in the Granite State, the synthetic opioid carfentanil was found in the bloodstream of three people who died from overdoses in March.

Two of the deaths were in Manchester, and the third was in Meredith. The substance is so potent that it’s not intended for human consumption. It’s 100 times more potent than fentanyl and is commonly used to tranquilize elephants.

“Unfortunately, today is the first day that we’ve been able to confirm this,” Sununu said at a Tuesday press conference. “And worse yet, I think we all understand that it is likely not the last day that we talk about this issue.”

New Hampshire is the first New England state to have confirmed deaths from carfentanil and its effects are being felt by many key players in the opioid crisis, including public health officials, first responders, and treatment and recovery providers.

While these are the first confirmed cases in New Hampshire, the rise in carfentanil overdoses has been happening throughout the United States over the last few months. At least 96 heroin users overdosed in one devastating week in August in just one Ohio county, with several of the overdoses linked to carfentanil. In September, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a nationwide warning about the powerful opioid.

Tom Pifer, forensic lab director for the N.H. State Police, said the drug was developed in the mid-1970s by a pharmaceutical company, but was never made public due to its high potency.

It takes just two milligrams of carfentanil to knock out a 2,000-pound African elephant. When veterinarians or zookeepers do that, they wear gloves and face masks to prevent exposure to the drug because a dose the size of a grain of salt could kill a person. A dose may even be lethal when absorbed through the skin or potentially through inhalation. That’s why the state asked law enforcement and first responders to stop field testing drugs. The problem is that users might not know they are even taking the drug since dealers have been cutting heroin with fentanyl or carfentanil to give it a boost and stretch their supply further.

“You cannot tell the difference between heroin and fentanyl and certainly not fentanyl and carfentanil,” Pifer told New Hampshire Public Radio. “You are literally rolling the dice with any sort of dosage unit you’re purchasing on the street.”

It’s not only incredibly powerful, but it’s also incredibly resistant to naloxone — also known as Narcan, the opioid antidote that can save someone’s life from a heroin overdose. A typical overdose requires one or two shots to work, but when a dosage is laced with carfentanil, it could require six or more shots to be effective — if it works at all.

Even though there is an abundant supply of Narcan in states battling the opioid crisis, an increase in carfentanil overdoses could deplete the antidote supply fairly quickly and drain money from states who need to purchase more. With drug overdose deaths rising, state crime labs could also see a backlog of cases to investigate. In New Hampshire, there are thousands of cases dating back from 2015 that have yet to be investigated.

A criticism in New Hampshire of government officials is that funding from the state and federal government to tackle the crisis has been slow to come out.

Congress signed the 21st Century Act in December, which would provide more funding to states for the opioid crisis. In April, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said $485 million in grants would soon be administered to states. It’s not clear exactly when that would happen.

New Hampshire is ranked as the second hardest hit state in the opioid crisis based on per capita deaths. Yet, it’s only supposed to receive $3 million out of the $485 million promised to states since the formula is based on total mortality. Shaheen is urging Trump’s administration to revise the funding formula for next year.

The other Democratic senator from New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan, and Shaheen wrote in a letter last week to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price that the formula should be re-tooled. Officials have indicated that they will review the formula and the two senators were optimistic after their meeting with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is heading President Donald Trump’s national opioid commission.

In March, Trump created The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis with Christie at its helm to start fulfilling his campaign promise to end the opioid crisis.

Trump promised the people of New Hampshire that he would build a wall between the U.S.-Mexico border to curb the opioid crisis and stop the flow of drugs into the area.

“New Hampshire has a tremendous drug epidemic,” he said in October. “I am going to create borders. No drugs are coming in. We’re going to build a wall. You know what I’m talking about. You have confidence in me. Believe me, I will solve the problem. They will stop coming to New Hampshire. They will stop coming to our country.”

While heroin supplies mostly come from Mexico, synthetic opioids, like fentanyl and carfentanil, are believed to originate in China. Even though it’s illegal there, secret labs in the country manufacture the drug before shipping it to the United States. People can order it online, and it’s shipped through the U.S. Postal Service before it makes its way into the local heroin supply.

It’s still not immediately clear how the drug made it into New Hampshire. It’s likely that either someone bought it online, or it was purchased in another state and then followed the traditional route of heroin and fentanyl into the Granite State, which is from major distribution centers like Philadelphia and New York and then through Massachusetts.

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