LACONIA — Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady, United States Senator (N.Y.) and Secretary of State who is making her second bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, joined more than 200 people at a community forum to address substance abuse at the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region yesterday afternoon.
New Hampshire State Senator Andrew Hosmer, a Laconia Democrat, welcomed everyone to what he called "a round-table discussion" of the challenge of curbing the use of prescribed and illicit drugs, noting that last year overdoses of heroin and other opiates claimed more lives than traffic accidents in the state.
The club, housed in what was built as St. James Episcopal Church on North Main Street, was ringed by police. Everyone passed through a cordon of security, their bodies scanned and pockets emptied under the watchful eyes of officers of the United States Secret Service. A bank of television and video cameras, mounted on a raised dais toward the back of the hall aimed at a row of folding chairs beneath a large New Hampshire state flag hanging from the wall at the opposite end. As the hall filled, the heat rose steadily as the crowd, a smattering sporting the red T-shirts of the Stand-Up Laconia organization, awaited Clinton's arrival. Apart from a small fan at the rear of the hall, the air was still and soon stifling. Before long campaign aides scurried about distributing bottled water.
Clinton was introduced by Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont, which like New Hampshire has been ravaged and scarred by the rising numbers suffering from addiction and dying from overdoses. He recalled that Clinton, after campaigning in New Hampshire and Iowa, told him she often heard people tell her "I've lost my son, daughter, grandchild, father or mother to addiction" and declared "she listened".
It's been widely reported that Clinton became aware of the gravity of the scourge of substance abuse, especially heroin addiction, when, during a campaign stop in Keene, a woman told her of having to care for her grandson because of his mother's addiction. Within a month senior advisers to her campaign were approaching drug counselors, medical practitioners, law enforcement officers and political leaders in New Hampshire and Iowa with an eye to making the issue a major theme of her campaign. Tym Roark, who chairs Governor Maggie Hassan's Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and participated in those discussions, said "I sense they were surprised with the depth of the problem and how lacking we are with treatment access."
Earlier this month Clinton, writing in the New Hampshire Union Leader, outlined a 10-year plan with a $10-billion price tag to assist states address substance abuse. She proposed adding $2.5-billion to the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program and applying $7.5-billion to a program that would provide states with $4 for every $1 they invested in prevention and treatment efforts. In addition, she would ease restrictions on the authority of clinicians to prescribe medications like suboxone to treat addiction.
At the same time, Clinton would encourage law enforcement officials to divert non-violent offenders to treatment programs, replacing incarceration with rehabilitation. The costs spared, she believes will fund a significant share of the cost the plan.
Outlining her plan yesterday, Clinton acknowledged that "I didn't expect to talk so much about substance abuse," but quickly added that her commitment to addressing the challenge "started in the earliest days of this campaign." Noting that while the abuse of opiates, particularly heroin, has overshadowed the current crisis, she said that alcohol and prescription painkillers must not be overlooked She said that opiates "have been much too broadly prescribed," explaining that many of those who became addicted to medications turned to heroin, which is much less expensive and more easily obtained, to "accelerate this epidemic".
Then Clinton largely listened — for more than an hour. Police Chief Chris Adams and Officer Eric Adams spoke about the innovative program pursued by the department that steers addicts to treatment and recovery rather than court and jail. Defining addiction as a disease, Adams said that "these are people with a purpose in life and we in law enforcement can't look at them in any other way."
Jacqui Abikoff of Horizons Counseling Center in Gilford pointed to Jeff and Caitlyn, both recovering addicts, whose success she called "the first step in prevention for the next generation." Later Jeff remarked "I've lost more friends than I can count on the fingers of my two hands. I don't want to go to any more funerals."
Two mothers spoke passionately of the anguish of losing children to addiction for want of sufficient treatment facilities. Hosmer pointed out that there are approximately 100,000 people in New Hampshire with addictions requiring treatment, but there is capacity to treat only 6,000.
In closing, Clinton said that all she heard has "inspired us" and pledged herself to continuing to work to ensure that "every child has a chance to grow up and fulfill their dreams."