After Promising to Solve Opioid Crisis, N.H. Advocates Waiting for Trump to Reach Out

Aug 4, 2017

Donald Trump held a roundtable event in New Hampshire focused on the state's drug problem on Oct. 31, 2016.
Credit Reuters

While she might not agree with the President’s description of New Hampshire as a “drug-infested den” — as far as Kriss Blevens is concerned, his sentiment is spot-on.

“How he said it, maybe isn’t how a majority of us would communicate," Blevens said. "But what he said is true. We are in a state of emergency.”

Two years ago, Blevens (in a co-written op-ed) publicly called on officials to declare a state of emergency over the crisis – a step she thinks is still needed.

Like a majority of New Hampshire voters, Blevens isn’t a registered Republican or Democrat. She’s a makeup artist based in Manchester, who threw herself into fighting the state’s opioid crisis after losing her stepdaughter, Amber, to a heroin overdose in 2014.

“There were one, two, three people who were in crisis today – two of which I was trying to get into detox and treatment,” Blevens said, after wrapping up a day at her Manchester studio. “It’s a typical day to weave the opioid crisis into a makeup studio – which might sound bizarre, but this is my life.”

As a political makeup artist, Blevens came face to face – literally – with almost all presidential candidates who campaigned in New Hampshire. She used her makeup chair as a platform to educate politicians, including now-President Trump, about addiction. And that’s part of what got her a seat at a roundtable with Trump, just days before the election.

The roundtable was cut short for time, and Blevens didn’t get to weigh in publicly. But she did make a point of approaching Trump afterwards to share her story.

“I did get an opportunity right after it to go up to him and make eye contact and tell him that I had written everything down on a special message,” Blevens recalled. “He took that piece of paper and he said I will read it. He folded it up and put it in his breast pocket, and I have to believe that he read it.”

Joe Hannon, a former Republican lawmaker who sat on a special state task force to tackle opioid issues, was also at that roundtable – sitting right next to Trump at the time.

“He did promise he would talk with us, the people who were there,” Hannon recalled. “He said he’d invite us to a very special place – I assume that was the White House.”

As seen in a video of that New Hampshire roundtable, Trump did allude to just such an invitation a few times at the conclusion of that conversation.

"We’ll meet at a really important place, and we’ll get something done," Trump said at the time. A few moments later, he added, "If we get there, we’re going to have the same group meet, and you’re going to teach me some more, and we’re going to get something done so we can take care of the problem."

Thus far, Hannon said he and others are still waiting for that follow-up call. (“I’m available for meetings anytime, Mr. President,” he added.)

Trump made lots of promises to New Hampshire. The night of the primary, his victory speech even included a nod to the issue.

“It’s a huge problem in New Hampshire. It’s a huge problem all over our country," Trump said at the time, to great applause. "We're going to have borders again, and we’re going to work with you people to help you solve that very big problem, and we’ll get it done."

For all his talk of New Hampshire’s opioid problems on the campaign trail, Trump hasn’t given the state as much attention since taking office.

He did send his Health and Human Services Secretary and other top advisers to the state earlier this year as part of a "listening tour" on the issue.

But no one from New Hampshire has a seat on the White House commission to combat the opioid crisis he launched earlier this year. The state was also left out of a newly launched pilot program from the Department of Justice to investigate opioid fraud and abuse.

Hannon said he does believe Trump’s interest in the state’s opioid crisis was genuine, but he’s still waiting to make an assessment of whether he’s doing enough to follow through on his campaign pledges to tackle the issue.

And as for the “drug-infested den” comments? They were disappointing, Hannon said – but, “I’m a little less concerned with a poor choice of words, in a private conversation than I am with people using the issue on both sides of the aisle for political reasons.”

New Futures President Linda Saunders Paquette, who leads one of the state’s largest drug prevention advocacy groups, says her organization has repeatedly offered its resources to the Trump team – on the campaign trail and during his time in office. So far, she said, no one has taken them up on those offers.

“New Hampshire should play a more prominent role,” Saunders Paquette said, “because we have important experiences to share – experiences that I think could inform federal policy when it comes to addressing this crisis.”

Blevens also says she’d like to see the administration approach the issue with greater urgency – and with more of an eye toward local advocates who are willing to lend a hand, if asked.

“We’re all sitting here ready to serve, and ready to be called upon,” she said.

It’s going to take everyone working together – not bickering over soundbites, she says – to solve this problem.