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Where They Stand: Solutions to N.H.'s Drug Crisis at Center of Race for Governor

New Hampshire’s gubernatorial primary is just a few days away, and the top issue for many voters is how to solve the state’s ongoing opioid crisis.

In response, the candidates -- both Republican and Democratic -- have talked about this topic repeatedly while on the campaign trail.

But though everyone vying for the corner office says the state's drug crisis will be a top priority if elected, there are key differences on how best to address it.

To explore the differing approaches proposed by the major gubernatorial candidates, explore the interactive below.

For a standalone interactive, click here (works best on mobile devices).


 One of the most controversial comments this election cycle came early on when Republican gubernatorial candidate and Executive Councilor Chris Sununu said this about the opioid epidemic:

“This is an absolute crisis across the state and we’ve had no leadership in Concord and no leadership at the local level. We need a completely different mindset to tackle this and take it head on,” Sununu said while filing for his candidacy at the State House in June.

His fellow gubernatorial candidate and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas quickly jumped on it — accusing Sununu of not understanding the work being done in cities like his.

"If you sell drugs to somebody and they die of an overdose, we are going to try you for murder and if you are convicted you are going to face life in prison without parole," Senator Jeanie Forrester said.

And other candidates have jumped on Senator Jeanie Forrester’s call for the National Guard to patrol the state’s borders.

The issue came up again this past week in the WMUR/Union-Leader debate when Forrester criticized Gatsas for not working with the National Guard to fight drugs.

“Quite honestly, I’m surprised that you would not want to use all the tools available as governor to make sure we end this crisis,” Forrester said.

Gatsas: “We’ve used every tool in the toolbox here in Manchester...”

Forrester: “I don’t think so...”

Gatsas: “And I think, Senator, when you talk about what we are going to do...”

Forrester: “What are you going to do?”

In terms of what they’re going to do, each of the Republican and Democratic candidates, except Sununu, has released a policy plan on this issue. Sununu says his is in the works.

But if you take the time to dig into them – what you’ll notice is their talking points tend to be the same from both parties…increase access to treatment, ramp up resources for law enforcement and more prevention in the classroom.

In Gatsas’ proposal, which appears to be the most specific, he points to programs in Manchester that he would take statewide. Such as “Granite Hammer,” which targets drug dealers, “Amber’s Place,” which offers temporary housing for addicts while they await treatment, and “Safe Stations,” a program that has used fire stations as a place where addicts can go to get 24/7 help.

"This is an absolute crisis across the state and we've had no leadership in Concord and no leadership at the local level. We need a completely different mindset to tackle this and take it head on," Chris Sununu said.

And when it comes to drug dealers Republican Forrester has repeatedly talked about law enforcement’s role:

”Drug dealers need to know and understand that in the state of New Hampshire we are going to have zero tolerance for drug dealers. That means if you sell drugs to somebody and they die of an overdose that we are going to try you for murder and if you are convicted you are going to face life in prison without parole,” she stressed in an interview earlier this summer.

Holding drug dealers accountable is something all the candidates are in agreement on but there are some differences between parties though – especially when it comes to insurance coverage.

The Democrats, like Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, believe the state’s expansion of Medicaid plays a key role in treatment.

“One of the most important things we have done as a state and something we have to continue is that we extended Medicaid healthcare coverage to now cover 50,000 of our fellow citizens that includes for the first time drug addiction and treatment support services. We have to make that permanent,” Van Ostern said during a radio debate last month.

But Republicans think the program should remain only if it includes work or volunteer requirements, something the federal government has rejected in the past. 

Credit Sara Plourde/NHPR
Here's the major candidates in New Hampshire's gubernatorial race. The Primary is next Tuesday, Sept. 13th.

And Democrat Steve Marchand has offered a solution no one else in the race has: legalizing marijuana.

“I think it will actually help with the heroin, opioid issue in that a lot of people who use prescription opioids that lead to fentanyl and heroin could not get on that train by avoiding using opioids in the first place,” Marchand said during an earlier debate.

The former mayor of Portsmouth also said legalization will bring in roughly $30 million annually as well as prevent people from having a criminal record because of marijuana possession, something many in the race support but through decriminalization not legalization.

That is except Republicans Forrester and Gatsas who believe loosening the state’s drug laws during an opioid crisis is terrible timing.

On the surface all of the major gubernatorial candidates have prioritized addressing the state’s opioid crisis, but whether voters will weigh these differences come Primary night we’ll see on Tuesday.

Sara has been a part of NHPR since 2011. Her work includes data visualizations, data journalism, original stories reported on the web, video, photos and illustrations. She is responsible for the station's visual style and print design, as well as the user experience of NHPR's digital platforms.
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