Republican Senator Says Drug Czar Must Resign

Jul 27, 2015

John Wozmak at a recent Executive Council meeting.
Credit Josh Rogers/NHPR

Sen. Andy Sanborn has called for New Hampshire's so-called "drug czar" to resign, two days before a legislative committee will decide whether to extend the official's contract.

John "Jack" Wozmak was appointed senior director of Substance Misuse and Behavioral Health  by Gov. Maggie Hassan in January, in an effort to help combat the state's opioid addiction crisis. But six months into the job, Wozmak has come under fire from Republicans who have accused him of ignoring the needs of law enforcement in the state's largest cities.

In a statement, Sanborn, a Republican from Bedford, echoed those criticisms. He said police officers from Manchester, Concord, Salem and Nashua, have "come forward" to complain that Wozmak failed to reach out and offer assistance. Sanborn is the first elected official in the state to call for Wozmak's resignation.

"Wr. Wozmak's lack of communication with local officials and all those working so hard to solve this issue is extremely troubling and unacceptable," Sanborn said. 

In response, Wozmak told the New Hampshire Union Leader he has no plans to step down

With Hassan and House and Senate Republicans locked in a battle over a new budget, Wozmak's performance - and his $95,900 annual salary - have become political issues. 

Two weeks ago, Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, a Republican, criticized Wozmak for failing to meet with Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas. He also accused Wozmak and Hassan of not having a plan in place for a $12 million federal grant related to substance abuse treatment.

Wozmak addressed some of the criticism when he went before the Council last week to lay out a 22-point plan for dealing with the state's growing substance abuse problem.

Today, Sanborn called those recommendations "a stale set of retreaded talking points" assembled without input from police, treatment providers and legislators

Hassan spokesman William Hinkle said in a statement that Wozmak met with more than 100 stakeholders, including law enforcement officials, to develop the plan. Wozmak's job, Hinkel said, is "primarily focused" on prevention, education and expanding access to treatment and recovery programs.

"The Senior Director’s role is not to duplicate ongoing efforts," Hinkle said. "His role is to help meet unfilled needs, address gaps in areas that may not fall into one state agency’s purview, and to coordinate broad efforts. That is what his initial recommendations and work have focused particularly looking at treatment and prevention, which all the experts agree is critical to addressing this epidemic."

Wozmak’s intitial six-month assignment was paid for with a grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Hassan put additional funding for Wozmak in her 2016-17 budget proposal, but the Republican-controlled Legislature rejected that item in the governor's spending plan. 

Later this week, the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee is scheduled to take up a request from the Department of Health and Human Services to accept a $112,500 grant from the foundation to pay Wozmak's salary and related expenses through December 2015.

Meanwhile, a month after vetoing the budget approved by lawmakers, Hassan presented a "compromise" plan last week that proposed an additional $5.7 million for substance abuse treatment.

Hassan's proposal did not include funding for Medicaid expansion past 2016, although she did urge lawmakers to reauthorize the expansion next year.

Hinkle said expanding Medicaid expansion is "the single most important step" to increasing access to treatment.

"Governor Hassan is committed to working with legislators from both parties, state officials, municipalities, health care providers, and law enforcement and public safety officials to strengthen efforts to address this crisis," he said.