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Democratic Senator Urges Trump To 'Do More Than Talk' On Opioid Crisis


For more on the opioid crisis and the president's plan, we're going to talk to Senator Maggie Hassan. She's the new Democratic senator from New Hampshire, a state where, as we just heard, many people are struggling with opioid addiction and overdoses. Maggie Hassan was governor of New Hampshire until last fall. Senator Hassan, welcome to the show.

MAGGIE HASSAN: Thanks for having me.

MCEVERS: As we just heard, President Trump is expected to assemble a commission on opioids headed up by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. What are you hearing from the White House about what this commission will do?

HASSAN: Well, first of all, I'm very encouraged that the White House is recognizing that the heroin, opioid and fentanyl crisis that we're facing is - at least in New Hampshire, and I think it's safe to say countrywide - our most pressing public health and public safety challenge. The concern I have - and I stand ready, as I know members of both parties in the Senate and the House do - to work with anybody to come together and continue to address this epidemic, turn the tide on it and beat it.

But the concern I have is that while it's good that they had this discussion and listening session at the White House, this is a really, really urgent problem. And it needs more than talk. It needs real action. And some of what the White House has proposed in the failed health care bill would have really rolled back our efforts to get people into treatment to help them with recovery. And so we need to come together and act and do more than talk.

MCEVERS: Well, what would you propose? I mean, what can the federal government do to tackle this problem?

HASSAN: Well, certainly - I've already joined legislators in both parties, senators in both parties, on three different bills. The LifeBOAT Act, which would establish a funding stream for treatment. Making sure that we do more to stop the importation of fentanyl into the country, that's the STOP Act that Senator Portman is spearheading. And then the SALT Act also gives us tools to combat the synthetic fentanyls that are coming into our country and causing destruction and death.

But we also know, for instance, that Congress came together in the last session and passed the Cures Act. We need all of the money that was authorized and appropriated in the Cures Act to get out the door to communities that are waiting for it. We need to come together and continue to make sure that we have a strong Medicaid program. In my state, where we have bipartisan Medicaid expansion, thousands of people got their treatment because of Medicaid expansion...


HASSAN: ...One of whom I brought to the president's address to Congress.

MCEVERS: It sounds like there is a lot of bipartisan support for addressing this problem. Does that mean that you are willing to work with the president to come up with a solution?

HASSAN: Well, you know, the president and first lady were kind enough to invite senators to the White House last night for a reception. And I spent some of my time there talking with White House staff about my eagerness to work with them. One of the things that governors around the country have been doing for the last several years is rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on this in a bipartisan way. There are lots of best practices out there.

What I know is that we can't roll back Medicaid expansion. We can't eliminate the essential health benefit requirements of the Affordable Care Act which tells insurance companies that they have to cover substance misuse treatment. That's been a really critical component of our capacity to build up treatment. And more than anything, we have to listen to people who have themselves overcome addiction and are in recovery. We have to listen to the families who have been so brave. People are talking about this every day. Everywhere I go in New Hampshire, people from all walks of life ask me for help with is.

MCEVERS: Right. It sounds like that's exactly what President Trump was doing today. What do you think about the person we just heard in Tam's piece saying, you know, the president has yet to appoint a drug czar? Does that need to happen?

HASSAN: Well, we certainly need to have a coordinated effort. The good news is there is lots of work that's already been done. And what I would urge the White House to do is talk with people on the front lines, not only people in our states, law enforcement. In New Hampshire, we have safe stations, program firefighters who help people get their care.

MCEVERS: OK. Senator Maggie Hassan, thank you so much.

HASSAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LITTLE PEOPLE SONG, "EITHEROR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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