PORTSMOUTH -- An optimistic Gov. Chris Sununu predicted New Hampshire -- which was one of the first states to grapple with the heroin and opioid epidemic -- will be one of the first states to emerge from the crisis.
The governor made his comments in an address Tuesday to the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce. Sununu also highlighted the state’s economy, saying it is “flying high,” and touted his administration’s accomplishments the past 15 months, saying “we’ve gotten a huge agenda done.”
Sununu spoke the morning after President Donald Trump returned to New Hampshire, for the first time since the eve of the 2016 election, to announce a wide ranging plan to combat the drug crisis.
“We are on the frontlines of the opioid crisis,” Sununu acknowledged. “We were one of the first ones into this crisis but we’re nimble. We’re trying new programs that other people aren’t even thinking of. We are going to be one of the first ones to come out of it.”
Emphasizing education, the governor stressed that “at the end of the day this only gets solved with prevention. It only gets solved if people are saying no in the first place.”
“Our prevention programs were not nearly where they needed to be. They’re not and they’re still not. We’re getting much better. We have a huge program we’re about to release for the schools come September,” Sununu said.
“We have a new program we’re putting out so every sixth- to 12th-grader has some basic core curriculum, if you will, in terms of drug prevention,” he added.
The governor also shined a spotlight on the recovery friendly workplaces. That’s an initiative launched by the state at the beginning of the month that empowers businesses and workplaces that sign up to provide support for employees battling addiction by directing them to treatment and recovery facilities are in their communities.
“It’s an idea I literally came up with in the shower when I was running Waterville (Valley resort),” Sununu said.
He said New Hampshire’s the “only place in the country that you have this right now. And already four other states have contacted us. It’s going to go national in a matter of months.”
Sununu also praised Jim and Jeanne Moser of East Kingston, whose son Adam became addicted to prescription pills he found in their kitchen cabinet and eventually died from a fentanyl overdose. The couple was called on stage with Trump during Monday’s event at Manchester Community College.
“I talk about Jim and Jeanne a lot. They spend a lot of time with the president,” Sununu said. “God bless them. They have been out there relentlessly, daily, talking about what happened with Adam. And it’s simply because they know they want to help. .. They don’t want another person to fall through that path.”
Sununu gave a shoutout to Rochester’s Hope on Haven Hill as emphasized the importance of opening treatment and recovery centers across the state.
“When you have those better points of access out in the communities, you’re just going to get more people to come in earlier and often to get that help they need. Keep them with their families,” he said.
Sununu told the audience that the state’s making progress in battling the drug crisis. He said that “this year we’re going to see the death rate fall, very slightly, but for the first time in years the death rate on opioids is going to fall. One is still too many. We know that. But the fact is we are starting to turn the tide a little bit here.”
During his opioid plan announcement, Trump praised Sununu for the lowering of the state’s death rate, saying New Hampshire’s “one of the few bright spots where the numbers are actually going down. And that’s a tremendous achievement. Thank you Chris.”
Sununu praised the new federal tax cut law, which was the only major legislative achievement last year by Trump and the Republican-led Congress.
“I think the Trump tax bill, I mean it’s phenomenal. It’s absolutely phenomenal,” he declared. “We have hundreds of millions of dollars being reinvested in the Seacoast by companies right now because of that Trump tax plan. That’s a reality. There’s no denying that.”
Sununu told the business friendly chamber audience that the state’s “economy’s flying high. We have 2.6 percent unemployment.”
But he acknowledged that “we do have a workforce problem.”
He said his administration is “making investments to drive workforce, making investments to make sure are being the place where young people especially want to live, work and raise their family.”
The governor highlighted that “we managed the heck out of government in the first six months of my administration. We saved a lot of money. And instead of creating more government programs, what did we do? We sent it right back. We sent a check to every city and town in this state for roads and bridges. Thirty-five million dollars was sent back to every community. That had never been done before.”
And he touted that “we’ve gotten more major legislation in this state passed in one year than any other governor in the past two decades. I’m very proud of that.”
In opening up to questions from the audience, Sununu was immediately asked about the Coakley Landfill, the Seacoast superfund site in North Hampton and Greenland. Cleanup of the site and cancer concerns stemming from toxic water runoff are top issues with many Seacoast residents.
The Republican governor praised Democratic Rye state representative and congressional candidate Mindi Messmer, who’s led the charge to clean up the landfill and raise alarms over the Seacoast cancer cluster.
“She’s really been on the front lines of this. I’ve had her in my office quite a few times,” he said.
And Sununu warned that “we have a small problem. And if we don’t address it, it will become a crisis.”