MANCHESTER, NH — President Trump is coming to Manchester on Monday, where he is expected to announce his administration’s multi-level policy plan to combat the national opioid epidemic.
Trump is expected to stop at Manchester Community College in the afternoon, with an impromptu stop on the way at Manchester’s Central Fire Station, which is not being promoted as a public event. A demonstration by those who feel Trump has failed to match his campaign promises on addressing the drug crisis, is also planned to coincide with the fire house stop, which is also the city’s main entry to Safe Station, an open door to anyone seeking recovery from addiction.
According to the White House, Trump’s plan calls for tougher sentencing and the death penalty for drug dealers, as well as “aggressive prosecution” of criminally-negligent doctors, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies that break the law.
It also calls for expanded access to treatment facilities.
“The Department of Justice will seek the death penalty against drug traffickers when it’s appropriate under current law,” said Andrew Bremberg, director of Trump’s Domestic Policy Council, during a White House press briefing Saturday.
Other policy points are expected to come from the culmination of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which was convened by Trump and headed by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. That commission submitted a 125-page report in November of 2017 including more than 50 recommendations.
The report does not mention the death penalty, although it does call for “enhanced penalties,” especially for those trafficking fentanyl, a synthetic and deadlier iteration of opioid, which has supplanted heroin in causing the most overdose deaths.
Other recommendations include a national drug prevention educational campaign, block grant federal funding for all states for “life-saving programs,” and establishing drug courts in each of the country’s 93 federal district courts.
“We are recommending that a drug court be established in every one of the 93 federal district courts in America. It is working in our states and can work in our federal system to help treat those who need it and lower the federal prison population. For many people, being arrested and sent to a drug court is what saved their lives, allowed them to get treatment, and gave them a second chance.”
It also stressed the importance of reducing stigma around addiction and reducing existing barriers to treatment through the proposed social media/education blitz:
“This campaign, including aggressive television and social media outreach, must focus on telling our children of the dangers of these drugs and addiction, and on removing stigma as a barrier to treatment by emphasizing that addiction is not a moral failing, but rather a chronic brain disease with evidence-based treatment options. People need to be aware of the health risks associated with opioid use, and they must stop being afraid or ashamed of seeking help when facing their addiction. Today, only 10.6 percent of youth and adults who need treatment for a substance use disorder receive that treatment. This is unacceptable. Too many people who could be helped are falling through the cracks and losing their lives as a result.”
What to expect from the Manchester stop
Trump is scheduled to appear at Manchester Community College with the First Lady at about 2:30 p.m. That is the only official stop, according to organizers.
Susan Markievitz, a mother from Derry who lost her son Chad to a heroin overdose nearly four years ago, has been invited to attend the Trump event at MCC as part of a contingency of those representing families who’ve lost loved ones to the drug scourge.
Markievitz was interviewed over the weekend by an NBC news crew in advance of the event. She says she is not sure whether she will get to speak with Trump directly, but looks forward to the opportunity to advocate for families. Markievitz and Lisa Gagne Walsh run a support group for families who’ve lost loved ones, Lighting the Path for Support, that meets twice monthly at the Marion Gerrish Center in Derry.
According to a post Sunday night by local outreach for the homeless, 1269 Cafe, access to their outreach will be limited Monday due to planned street closures in advance of a stop by Trump at Manchester’s Central Station. A White House spokesman did not confirm this stop as part of the President’s official itinerary, however several sources confirmed that Trump is expected to swing by Safe Station on his way to the community college event.
Trump gave recognition to the city’s innovative approach to treatment access, which provides an open door to those seeking help, during a televised speech in October.
A “Tell President Trump No More Broken Promises” protest has been organized via social media by an ad hoc collective of people in recovery, families of loss and recovery, and social activists based in New Hampshire for Veteran’s Park at 1 p.m., about a block away from Central Fire Station, on Merrimack Street.
Organizers say they are gathering to send a “strong message” to the President that “the resources for accessible and evidence-based prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction” he promised during his presidential campaign are long overdue.
From the group’s Facebook event post:
“President Trump’s visit to New Hampshire on Monday highlights just how little he has done to help fight the opioid epidemic since his 2016 campaign visits, when he won votes on NH’s No. 1 issue, and since his administration’s Public Health Emergency Crisis declaration in October 2017, after which he cut Medicaid expansion and his own drug advisory agency (the ONDCP) in his budget proposals. We can’t fix our addiction crises by ignoring the expertise of advocates and field professionals. We can’t quarantine addiction in private jails and prisons. And Capital punishment for drug crimes is an offensive and absurd proposal for issues that need humane treatment above all else.”
The NH Medical Examiner’s office is still working through a backlog of toxicology test results, but projects a total of about 476 drug overdose deaths for 2017, 365 of those due to heroin, fentanyl or other opioids.