Negron, Kuster talk drug abuse

Staff photo by adam Urquhart Nashua resident Steve Negron is the Republican nominee for New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District. Tuesday, he sits at Revive Recovery Center.

NASHUA – Whether they are opioids such as fentanyl, heroin and oxycodone – or stimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine – drugs are wrecking so much havoc in New Hampshire that congressional candidate Steve Negron said the Granite State faces a “war.”

Negron’s opponent, U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., also acknowledges the severity and urgency of the problem.

“As I’ve met with community leaders in New Hampshire, we know that that substance misuse goes beyond opioids and that’s why we need to be nimble, so we can respond to emerging issues such as methamphetamines,” Kuster said Tuesday via email.

Kuster continues fighting for funding down in Washington, D.C., adding that she believes pharmaceutical companies need to be held accountable for their role in fueling the opioid epidemic.

Kuster is seeking re-election to New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes about two-thirds of the state in terms of geography. Negron, a Nashua resident, won the right to challenge her under the Republican banner. Voters will make their choice on Nov. 6.

Tuesday, Negron participated in a roundtable discussion at Revive Recovery Center, where he and stakeholders in the area discussed some of the critical issues associated with the ongoing opioid epidemic. The discussion highlighted both what seems to be working and what need still needs to be done. While there’s still much work left to do, he believes that it is crucial for our elected officials to keep this issue at the forefront during the next Congress in order to find real solutions that will save lives.

“This is really a war, one person at a time, and there’s no silver bullet,” Negron said.

In understanding that recovery is unique to the individual setting forth on his or her own journey to sobriety, Negron listened as those working on the frontlines discussed their roles in the battle.

“We sometimes don’t get a full appreciation of all the work that everybody is doing at this level,” Negron said in referring to those community stakeholders sitting before him. “We just think that something happens magically, and it isn’t. It’s a lot of effort by everybody in this room’s part.”

Negron said if officials have to go to the federal government and fight for money that we need to have a clear understanding of where the money is going and how it is being used.

Revive Recovery Center Director Nikki Casey discussed some of the issues and areas where work could be done to help improve this ongoing situation, citing limited housing, limited jobs for young people in New Hampshire, and how it’s not an easy state to be a young entrepreneur.

“You take the basic pieces of the living, the employment, then you put a very disappointing health care system on top of it, and you create the perfect storm in this state,” Casey said.

Casey said the $44 million in federal funding coming to the state is mostly for MAT (medically assisted treatment). This is a problem, she said, because this does not provide care for those addicted to methamphetamine.

“So, we’re going to pour all this money into the state to treat something, but then there’s something else on the rise, and the majority of that money is not covering the basics,” Casey said. “If you can’t address the basics, you’re not going to get to the root problem.”

Wendy LeBlanc is the vice president of the Southern New Hampshire HIV/AIDS Task Force.

“What I think is, if you get elected, the very most important thing I think any of our leaders can do is help to reduce stigma regarding substance use disorder, and particular understanding the various treatments and spectrum of recovery,” LeBlanc told Negron.

“Nobody goes from zero to heroin because they’re feeling good about themselves,” Casey added. “There are things that get you to that place.”

Nashua Fire Chief Brian Rhodes said those struggling with addiction don’t want to talk to a guy in a suit or a guy wearing a uniform. He said that individual is going to want to talk to somebody who has lived it and walked the walk, so to speak, and can directly relate to the situation.

Furthermore, Police Chief Andrew Lavoie said he can’t fix a person’s addiction by arresting them and sending them off to prison.

“What I do know is when you come out of prison, 99 percent of you do the exact same thing,” Lavoie said. “So, we need to fix them anyway we can. We need to help them, and I know for a fact I don’t know how to do that, but I like to think I’m smart enough to jump on board with everybody that does.”

Negron said he does not believe anyone is immune to this epidemic and that it can hit anyone, any place at any time.

“If you don’t get to the person that’s actually implementing, then you never get ground truth,” Negron said.

Negron said if he is successful in defeating Kuster in November, he said he will participate in many more discussions.

“We have to get our arms around this,” he added.

Kuster, however, believes her record supports her re-election bid.

“As the founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Heroin and Opioid Task Force, I’ve worked to bring 105 Republicans and Democrats together to address this issue that is impacting communities across our state and the country,” Kuster said Tuesday via email. “I’ve brought individuals on the frontlines of this crisis such as Nashua Fire Chief Brian Rhodes, Ross Cunningham Superintendent of the Merrimack County Department of Corrections, health care professionals, as well as families impacted by the crisis to Washington to educate my colleagues about the innovative solutions being spearheaded in New Hampshire and around the country.”

Kuster believes the Safe Stations program in Nashua is making a real difference and said New Hampshire can help lead the entire country out of the substance abuse crisis. However, to do so, she said the state needs additional federal resources, something for which she hopes to continue fighting.

Adam Urquhart can be reached at 594-1206, or aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.