Drug Abuse Is a Primary Issue in NH

NH voters have surprised candidates with their concern about drug abuse
Illustration by peter noonan

Many people associated the 1992 presidential election with the phrase from Bill Clinton’s top political strategist: It’s the economy, stupid.

But it wasn’t always the economy in that campaign. As Clinton tells it, his campaign only became aware about how big of an issue the economy was because of what he saw and heard while campaigning in the New Hampshire primary.

In 2016 the New Hampshire primary might be putting another issue on the national agenda: opiate drug abuse.

The first question that perceived Republican frontrunner Jeb Bush was asked at his first town hall event was about the issue. He said he was surprised to hear the issue come up again and again on the campaign trail. He later learned that a campaign staffer’s brother died from an overdose.

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton notes that a question about opiate addiction was also the first question she was asked when she began campaigning for president in the state. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, a Republican candidate, used to never talk about her daughter dying from a drug overdose, but she does so now. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is now holding events solely highlighting the issue and what he has done in his state to address the problem.

During the 1992 campaign, Clinton and others came to a New Hampshire that had just had seven major banks close. There were empty storefronts in downtowns. The unemployment rate in the state was 7.4 percent. Back then, Bill Clinton began telling voters that he could “feel your pain.” In 2015, it was Hillary Clinton who hugged a grandmother in Rochester whose daughter was addicted to drugs and lost custody of her children, whom she was now raising.

In New Hampshire there has been a spike in overdose deaths and in arrests over the last two years, much of it related to heroin. In 2014, more New Hampshire residents died from overdoses than from highway accidents.

Of course, the problem is not just limited to the Granite State. Next door in Vermont, the problem was so dire that last year their governor devoted his entire State of the State address to the issue. In Massachusetts, the state government set up a special task force on opiate addiction. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that overdose deaths quadrupled between 2002 and 2013.

Polling shows that other concerns will likely sway how voters in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state will vote in February. Topping the list most of this year has been the economy and foreign policy.

Yet something like bringing the opiate epidemic (to use Gov. Maggie Hassan’s term) to the forefront in the national conversation is exactly why the New Hampshire primary matters.

The issue is not polling off the charts, but it is a big national problem that is both deeply personal and leads to other societal problems. It is an important conversation that we should have nationally and the Granite State is forcing this to happen.  


Categories: Politics