- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Efforts to combat New Hampshire’s heroin and opioid abuse problems have become embroiled in the budget battle between Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan and Republican lawmakers.

The debate will play out Wednesday when a legislative committee must decide whether to accept $112,500 in grant money to continue paying Hassan’s senior director for substance misuse and behavioral health, known as the “drug czar.”

Hassan appointed Jack Wozmak to fill the position in January. The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation has agreed to fund the position for the first year, but some lawmakers question whether he has been effective.

Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn is calling for Wozmak to resign after news outlets quoted police chiefs who said they have not met with him since he’s been on the job. Wozmak says he does not plan to step down.

Wozmak is tasked with coordinating the state’s drug prevention, treatment and recovery efforts. The New Hampshire Hospital Association, advocacy group New Futures and Manchester’s police chief all wrote letters to the committee urging them to accept the grant.

New Hampshire had more than 300 drug-related deaths last year, prompting a call for greater action statewide. But an increase in funding has been stalled as Hassan and lawmakers wrangle over the state budget. Both sides are now charging the other with holding up the state’s ability to save lives.

“It can’t be solved if it becomes a partisan thing,” said Dick Ober, president of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. “But that said, I think we are witnessing people’s deep, deep concern and frustration with a really serious problem facing virtually every community.”

Wozmak said he’s met with nearly 150 people, including doctors, business owners and parents of addicts to discuss the issue. Hassan’s office released more than 20 recommendations last week, ranging from expanding drug courts to increasing the availability of naloxone, known as Narcan, an overdose antidote.

Wozmak said he hopes to organize an education program in November with doctors and hospitals around prescribing opioids. He said law enforcement has talked to him about the need to increase detox options.

“I will continue to work on prevention, treatment and recovery, pedal to the medal, full speed ahead because this is work that must be done,” he said.

Police Chief Brad Osgood of Concord said he recently became aware that Wozmak’s position existed and that the two were scheduled to meet Tuesday. Osgood said he believes law enforcement and others fighting the heroin crisis on the ground should have a strong say in the state’s efforts to halt the problem. Finding solutions may be easier if people put politics aside, he said.

“I think at the end of the day we’ve got to get rid of the nonsense and tackle this as a societal issue,” he said.


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