A sharp increase in heroin overdoses over the last 18 months and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary are placing the issue squarely in front of the nation as candidates barnstorm the state. At town halls, in diners and at house parties, candidates of both parties are hearing tales from anguished voters about drug addiction in their families, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The White House hopefuls are repeatedly grilled about their approach to fighting drug abuse. “If they didn’t get it before they started campaigning, they certainly get it now,” said Tim Soucy, director of Manchester’s Public Health Department. “We’ve always had heroin and opioid addiction issues, but it has really exploded. It’s so cheap and so readily available.”
The presidential candidates have placed a far greater emphasis on rehabilitation than punishment. This is a departure from nearly a half-century’s approach, starting with President Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs” and through the 1990s, when the number of people imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses skyrocketed. State governments began turning to rehabilitation during the first decade of the new millennium, but the federal government only recently began shifting its focus. The state attorney general told a legislative task force this month that New Hampshire was on pace this year to see a record of more than 400 overdose deaths related to heroin and opioids — double the number two years ago. In Manchester ,the state’s largest city, with 110,000 residents, paramedics this year have responded to nearly 700 overdose calls, with 85 deaths. Mayor Ted Gatsas raises the crisis with every candidate he meets. “It’s the first thing we have a conversation about,” Gatsas said. “If there was any one item that was killing people at the rate that this is doing, people would be outraged.”