Sununu Finds Himself in Cross-Border Fight With Massachusetts Officials on Opioid Crisis

Mar 2, 2017

Governor Chris Sununu is getting attention for his recent claims that the city of Lawrence, Mass., is the main source of fentanyl hitting New Hampshire.

Critics accuse Sununu of pointing fingers – saying it’s not going to solve the state’s drug crisis.

Gov. Sununu has been talking a lot about Lawrence, Massachusetts this week. Here he is during an address at St. Anselm College Wednesday.

“Eighty-five percent of fentanyl in this state is coming straight out of Lawrence Massachusetts. Guess what? We are going in," Sununu said. "We are going to get tough on these guys, and I want to scare every dealer that wants to come across that border.”

He said much the same thing in an interview with Boston Herald Radio later that day.

“They have undocumented drug dealers that are dealing these drugs, they are getting arrested, they are being given bail by judges – I can’t understand how they are getting bail by the way with the judges in Massachusetts,” Sununu said when asked about sanctuary cities, which Lawrence is.

Sununu’s criticism of his neighbor isn’t going without response.

"The problem is we have a society-wide addiction problem and a society-wide problem with people who want to sell drugs and we should work together to fix them," said Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera.

The Mayor of Lawrence Daniel Rivera immediately pushed back on Sununu’s claims - saying cross-border criticism isn’t helpful in the fight against drugs.

“These borders have been here forever, when we were colonies, but the drugs don’t identify those borders, the users don’t identify those borders. So, I refuse to say the real problem is X," Rivera said in a press conference Thursday. "No, the problem is we have a society-wide addiction problem and a society-wide problem with people who want to sell drugs and we should work together to fix them.”

Rivera wasn’t the only one to fight back against Sununu’s remarks. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker told reporters that such rhetoric is counterproductive.

“But I do view this as a problem that affects us all and I think singling out a single community or a single state is just not accurate,” Baker said.

Since his earlier comments Sununu has been quiet. He made no public appearances Thursday and Rivera said it took several calls to get Sununu on the phone.

Whether Lawrence is in fact supplying 85 percent of New Hampshire’s fentanyl supply as Sununu alleged – is difficult to confirm. The local Drug Enforcement Agency could not be reached. And the Governor’s Office declined to provide evidence supporting his statistics.

But New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster says he wouldn’t be surprised if that number checked out.

“I think Governor Sununu’s comments are on target – a tremendous amount of the supply of heroin and fentanyl does make its way from Lawrence up to New Hampshire,” Foster said.

Lawrence Mayor Rivera says the city’s law enforcement is working fiercely to cut down on the supply – adding that he’s hired 23 more police officers to help do so. But he said reducing the demand through increased treatment options is another factor in this fight.

"I think Governor Sununu's comments are on target - a tremendous amount of the supply of heroin and fentanyl does make its way from Lawrence up to New Hampshire," said N.H. Attorney General Joseph Foster.

“And I bet him 100 bucks that he could probably use more long-term beds," Riveria said. "I’m not talking spin-cycle, not talking 3 day, 4 day, 5 days. I’m talking long-term treatment, that’s the only way we are going to beat this thing. I don’t care how many people you put in jail.”

Tym Rourke, who chairs the Governor’s Commission on Drugs and Alcohol, agrees. Although enforcement is part of the part – it’s not a silver bullet.

“Like many public health issues – the substance abuse epidemic is like a balloon, if you squeeze one end of it, it is just going to grow somewhere else.”

Sununu has added more state dollars for prevention and treatment in his recent budget proposal as well as ten additional state troopers to handle drug trafficking.

And Sununu and Rivera did finally get on the phone Thursday afternoon. In a statement, Sununu said he looks forward to working on cross-border solutions.