The National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, is bringing together lawmakers, health providers, academics, and other national leaders to figure out what can be done to curb the abuse of opioids. New Hampshire Congressman Frank Guinta spoker earlier today at the summit as part of a panel of lawmakers dealing with drug abuse in their states, and he joined All Things Considered to talk about it.
NHPR: What is the message you're trying to bring to this national convention of people talking about the drug crisis?
Guinta: Well, as chairman of the bipartisan task force on heroin and opioid abuse, which now we have 70 members of congress, my goal is to try to find the most relevant solutions, and to pass legislation that is going to as quickly as possible favorably impact those who are addicted to heroin, and to address the opioid prescription crisis that we're having, not just in New Hampshire but around the country. So, this summit is gaining national recognition as the summit that I think a lot of good ideas come from different parts of the country. We can utilize that information to implement the legislative solutions that we're trying to implement in Washington.
What most relevant solution (to the drug crisis) remains to be done by Congress and can it be done politically?
The reality is you need two focuses here. One is we've got to cut the supply. We've got to go after the drug lords, the drug dealers, and use the full extent of the law to pu them in jail and to reduce the amount of heroin that's coming into the country. As a result of that meeting I'm going to the southern border next week to see what the challenges are, what the obstacles are, and to see what we can do differently. But then on the demand side, the medical side, we need additional drug and recovery courts - we did pass money last year for that - so we want to focus in on that area. And then finally, the third component is dealing with some of the administrative rules and decisions that have been made short of legislative requirements but things like CDC rule changes, FDA rule changes, Medicare approval changes that need to be addressed. Those are areas where we can have some profound impact, whether it's through legislation or applying pressure to the appropriate agency to change the previous common practices that are no longer productive and working for those who are abusing heroin.
This is an election year, you have primary challengers. How will you differentiate yourself from your opponents in the area of drug abuse?
Well look, my focus is doing the job that I was elected to do. And the most important thing that I can do is focus on leading as the chairman of the task force that I am leading on this issue and making sure that being a new member of the budget committee, that I work with the appropriations committee to get the proper resources to New Hampshire and to the country. The reality is, I'm doing that now. And I will continue to focus on that obgligation and responsibility because I think it's the most critical. This isn't about politics, this is about policy, and what best policies I can contribute and bring to solve this crisis.
Congressman, in light of your censure by the FEC last year over some campaign contributions you received, how are you going to convince voters and donors that you should be reelected?
Well it's very simple. First of all this was a settlement, and the settlement has three requirements. One, I pay a fine for not properly disclosing a personal asset, paying that asset back to myself which I've done and redisclosing that it is my personal asset. I've done that. You know, I said five years ago this was a mistake in how I reported it and we have now settled the matter with the FEC. So if people want to ask the question I'll answer it just as I've answered it to you, but the reality I think after five years of people utilizing this as a political tool, as I've seen in the past and I think as we'll see in the future, people want to talk about policy and want to talk about the things that I can impact for the state of New Hampshire and for those people who are struggling in our state. That's what I have done over this term and that's what I'll continue to focus on.
New Hampshire voted for Donald Trump in the GOP Primary. Will you support Donald Trump if he's the GOP nominee for president?
You know I've said that I'll support the nominee of the Republican party. We're going through a presidential primary process that I think is very unique because of the frustration that people have with the challenges that our nation has had economically and the leadership style that has been presented by this president. I very much respect the primary process, and I think we ought to let that process continue.
So you don't believe as some other Republicans have said that Donald Trump would be very bad for the country?
I look at it very differently. I think there's an opportunity to reach out to those voters who have voted for the first time, or who are dormant voters who decided to vote because they saw inspiration in something that Donald Trump said. So, any time you bring more people to the table - and I would argue on the other side of the aisle with Bernie Sanders - any time you're bringing more people to the table to engage in the political process in voting, in utilizing that privilege, I think it's a good thing for the country.