- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Lawmakers agreed Wednesday to continue paying the state’s “drug czar” for six more months, even as some officials questioned whether he’s been effective in streamlining the state’s response to heroin and opioid abuse.

Gov. Maggie Hassan hired Jack Wozmak as the senior director of substance abuse and behavioral health in January, paid for with grant money from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation for the first year. The legislative fiscal committee, made up of representatives and senators, was voting Wednesday on whether to accept $112,500 from the foundation to cover the second six months of Wozmak’s appointment. Lawmakers remain unsure whether they’ll continue paying for the job when the grant ends.

It is Wozmak’s job to align and coordinate the state’s various efforts in substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery. During his first six months, he said he’s met with more than 140 stakeholders including doctors, families of addicts, state officials and others. New Hampshire saw more than 300 drug related deaths last year and ranks second to last nationwide in available treatment for addicts.

Although both political parties agree the state is facing a crisis, Republicans are questioning whether Wozmak is doing enough. Wozmak released more than 20 recommendations for tackling the crisis last week, including increasing the number of drug courts and expanding access to naloxone, an opioid antidote.

Republican Rep. Neal Kurk noted that none of the recommendations came with a price tag and there was no clear ranking of importance.

“If you come up with a list of recommendations, shouldn’t there be dollar signs attached to it?” Kurk asked.

Police chiefs across the state said they haven’t heard from Wozmak, prompting Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn to call for his resignation. At Wednesday’s meeting, Sanborn and others said they don’t believe Wozmak has effectively communicated his plans to law enforcement, lawmakers and others.

Wozmak said he is willing to provide lawmakers with regular updates on his work going forward.

“I’m certainly happy to respond in whatever forum is appropriate for you to keep appraised of this work,” he said.

Every committee member except Republican Rep. Ken Weyler eventually voted to accept the grant.

Hassan, a Democrat, praised the vote.

“The heroin and substance abuse crisis is the most pressing public health and safety challenge facing our state, and we all need to continue working together to strengthen prevention and education efforts and to expand access to treatment and recovery services,” she said in a statement.

The committee also approved a $2.5 million federal grant for the Department of Health and Human Services aimed at responding to the substance abuse problem after substantial debate. The state has been operating on a short-term spending plan at fiscal year 2015 levels since Hassan vetoed the budget in June, and the fiscal committee has the authority to approve emergency spending.

Members debated Wednesday whether they should be authorizing new spending while the state is operating without a budget. They denied or tabled several requests from the Department of Transportation because, Kurk said, they did not rise to the level of emergencies. For example, the committee rejected an additional $674,000 for equipment purchases.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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