Addiction Forum In New Hampshire Presents Vastly Different Bipartisan Approaches To The Opioid Epidemic

By John Lavitt 02/05/16

The New Hampshire addiction forum attempted to tackle the hot button opiate epidemic but left many important questions unasked. 

Addiction Forum In New Hampshire Presents Vastly Different Bipartisan Approaches To The Opioid Epidemic
Ted Cruz briefly participated in the discussion. Photo via Shutterstock

When I first heard about the New Hampshire Roundtable on Addiction and the Heroin Epidemic, the prospect of covering such an event in a state ravaged by the epidemic was intriguing. Upon learning the only actual candidate to be present would be Republican Senator Ted Cruz, my enthusiasm was dampened. Further discovering that pharmaceutical giant Alkermes, the maker of prescription painkillers like Zohydro, was a co-sponsor, I became a true skeptic. 

As this abridged chronological account shows, my skepticism was both right and wrong. The forum revealed vastly different bipartisan approaches to the problem at hand. It was not really a roundtable; just as the back-and-forth was getting underway, Senator Cruz excused himself and left, putting an end to the televised proceedings that was sponsored by his campaign and duly focused on his presence. Here are some of the highlights from the event.

In the beginning, Jessica Nickel, the executive director of the Addiction Policy Forum, introduced Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont who spoke to the gathered crowd at the Emmanuel Baptist Church. Standing in as a surrogate for the Clinton Campaign, Shumlin detailed Hillary Clinton’s $10 billion plan to fight addiction by focusing on treatment support for the states. 

Governor Shumlin expressed his conviction in Clinton’s plan when he said, “I can’t remember having a presidential candidate who has more compassion, more heart and more intelligence to address problems like addiction than Hillary Clinton.” 

After presenting Clinton’s funding plan to help the states overcome the opioid epidemic, Shumlin was confronted by a parishioner claiming addiction is not a disease, but a sin. The only thing proper in a church is a faith-based solution. Governor Shumlin expressed his support of faith-based programs as part of the solution to the problem, but not as the only answer. 

Reverend Eric Davis, the church’s pastor, took to the podium, agreeing with Governor Shumlin. He stated his belief that faith could cooperate with medicine and counseling. Davis wanted to remove the stigma and put a face to addiction; the addicted need to be humanized. 

In a spiritual take on the crisis, the reverend explained, “The rules of God are there to keep us from harming ourselves. God knows we are all broken people. Jesus Christ is about compassion and about the love for the person who is broken. That includes the heroin addict.”

Later, a stockbroker junkie in long-term recovery introduced Senator Cruz, the Republican winner of the Iowa Caucuses. The presidential candidate talked about how drugs are destroying lives nationwide. In New Hampshire, 48% of the people in the state personally know someone who has abused heroin. 

Senator Cruz described how alcohol and addiction problems plagued his older sister Miriam; she died from an accidental prescription painkiller overdose. Yet, he does not offer viable solutions to the greater problem. He doesn’t believe the federal government should get involved. It is the job of families and communities, churches and charities. He co-opts Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, claiming they would refuse public funds. 

Since the 12-step programs won’t take any money, according to the Senator’s interpretation, no federal funds should be given for prevention and treatment support. Instead, Senator Cruz would like to secure the borders with Mexico. Would securing the borders have saved his sister from alcoholism and prescription painkiller addiction? 

The Republican candidate’s focus on the drug cartels supersedes other ways to address the opioid epidemic and the rash of overdose deaths as detailed in the Clinton plan. Why is Senator Cruz and his Republican colleagues so squarely fixed on the Mexican borders and law enforcement? Why not focus on funding prevention and treatment as well? Hopefully, these questions will be asked both in New Hampshire and in the ongoing campaign as well.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.