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Amid Political Jostling, Lawmakers Approve Funding For N.H.'s Drug Czar

Paige Sutherland/NHPR
Jack Wozmak, the state's drug czar, (right) attended the fiscal committee meeting on Wednesday.

Lawmakers Wednesday approved a $112,500 grant to fund the state's so-called "drug czar" through December, providing some stability to what has been a politically contentious issue in recent weeks.

  The position, held by John "Jack" Wozmak, will continue to be funded by a grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, a driving force behind the committee's decision.

"The fact that it is grant money and not state money, I am going to support this,” said Senate Finance Chair Jeanie Forrester. But like many Republicans, Forrester questioned the effectiveness of the position.

Funding for Wozmak's position has lately become more of a political issue than a health issue, with some Republicans accusing Wozmak of failing to communicate with local officials. On Monday Sen. Andy Sanborn demanded that Wozmak, who was appointed to the position by Hassan in January, step down.

During the hearing, Sanborn again brought up his concerns with Wozmak, adding that the coordinated effort this position is designed to provide does not seem to be working.

"Have we seen anything that would lead us to believe that we have seen an effective use of one person trying to create something?” Sanborn asked.

But Wozmak disagreed. He told the committee that he has talked to more than 140 stakeholders in the state and is making a difference. Wozmak specifically pointed out his work in crafting a statewide standard for prescribing opioids, which he expects to release soon. Currently, roughly 12,000 people are licensed to prescribe opioids in the state.

Wozmak told the committee that his position is “not only necessary but essential,” adding that state agencies often lack the staff or the resources to do his work.

Last week Wozmak released more than twenty recommendations on how to better address New Hampshire's opioid epidemic.

House Finance Chair Neal Kurk said lawmakers will continue to discuss whether this position should be funded in the next biennium. But for the moment, Kurk said, "This is what we have to work with now, and I think we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we were to eliminate effectively the position by defunding it.”

Wozmak's position was one of dozens of items brought forward to the Legislative Fiscal Committee Wednesday. Most involved shifting around state money to deal with the ongoing budget stalemate.

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