New Hampshire Governor Clashed With Trump Over Opioid Policy, Sources Say

By Paul Gaita 04/20/18

Governor Chris Sununu reportedly did not want Trump use New Hampshire as a "prop" to roll out unspecified drug policy initiatives.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu Photo via YouTube

Reports have surfaced that claim New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu clashed with White House staffers over President Donald Trump's visit to the Granite State in March 2018, where he announced his plans to combat the national opioid crisis.

According to sources quoted by CBS News, Sununu was reportedly resistant to Trump's visit, which he allegedly viewed as "[using] the state as a prop" to support drug policy initiatives with no clear specifics.

The clash is supposed to have occurred during a meeting with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), where Sununu's request for funding for proposed drug plans was refused by the agency's then-acting director, Rich Baum.

According to the CBS News report, sources stated that Sununu met with the ONDCP in January 2018 to propose drug policy strategies that he had introduced in New Hampshire to combat its opioid crisis, including a needle exchange program and $50 million in funding from state hospitals to support the New Hampshire Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Fund.

Sources with knowledge of the meeting say that Sununu suggested that these proposals could be implemented on a national level. Said sources then stated that Baum found the proposals encouraging, but added that there was no available funding to states for such policies.

At this point, Sununu and Baum were reportedly joined in the meeting by Katy Talento, a health policy adviser to the Domestic Policy Council, who informed the governor that President Trump would announce his plans for the opioid crisis in New Hampshire.

When asked by Sununu what the president intended to propose, Baum and Talento reportedly did not provide an answer, which prompted the governor to state that Trump could not come "with an empty bag and use the state as a prop."

He allegedly added that in August 2017, Trump had told Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto that New Hampshire was a "drug-infested den" during a phone call.

CBS News reports that sources described Talento's response to the governor's statements as "clearly unhappy," because if Sununu did not want the visit to happen, she would have to revise the president's schedule.

Ultimately, Trump did travel to New Hampshire to unveil his drug policies; during that speech, he also announced that his administration had secured at least $6 billion in funding for the opioid crisis—"the most money ever" spent on that issue, according to the president.

However, as CBS News noted, how the money will be spent—and how much New Hampshire will receive—remains unspecified.

Talento did not respond to a request from CBS News about the alleged statements made during the meeting, and Sununu's spokesperson, Ben Vihstadt, said that the governor "does not discuss details of private meetings."

However, he did add that Sununu "remains committed to tackling this crisis head-on, and will never fail to speak up to ensure that New Hampshire always has a seat at the table, because lives are at stake."

A December 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that New Hampshire and Ohio have the second-highest rates of drug overdose deaths, while West Virginia leads the nation in that regard.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.