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Trump May Soon Announce Plans To Combat Opioid Crisis

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump is revisiting a campaign promise today while he's visiting New Hampshire. The president is going to talk about the opioid crisis. It is a problem he promised to help solve while he was campaigning in that state in 2016. The Trump administration has not done much about the crisis so far, though the president outlined a broad approach in a speech earlier this month.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The only way to solve the drug problem is through toughness. When you catch a drug dealer, you got to - you got to put him away for a long time.

GREENE: Not just put him away, the president also pointed out that China executes its drug dealers, so we are likely to hear a hard-line approach in this speech today. And among those listening will be David Mara. He's a former police chief who has been appointed by New Hampshire's governor as the state's drug czar, and he joins us this morning. Thanks for taking the time. We appreciate it.

DAVID MARA: Thank you, glad to be here.

GREENE: I saw one report from New Hampshire Public Radio that in one county in your state, 90 percent of calls to police are related to opioids. How severe is this crisis?

MARA: Well, proportionately, New Hampshire was hit hard. A lot of different states in the region were as well. But we had 485 overdose deaths in 2016. And if you look at that in proportion to our population, which is roughly about 1.35 million, it is a big problem.

GREENE: Is there something specific that you hope to hear from the president today that can at least begin to bring those numbers down and help people?

MARA: Well, it's not just the president I'm looking forward to hearing. I'm looking forward to what is going to happen later this month as far as funding goes. That is what the - that is what we're looking at, funding. The last round of funding for this problem nationwide was based on population as opposed to proportion to the problem. So we're looking at funding and that is - that is the way that we are hoping to be able to build capacity to be able to treat people and treat the disease of addiction.

GREENE: You're saying that states that are hit the hardest should at least have a chance to get more money. It shouldn't just be based on the population of states.

MARA: Exactly.

GREENE: What would you do with more money?

MARA: Again, we have - what we would do is we'd fill the gaps that we've identified. We know that we need transitional housing. We know that we need more recovery peer support groups. We know that we need to be able to provide people with an environment where they feel comfortable coming in to get treatment. And there's a stigma involved with this. We need to educate and do more prevention as well. We need to stop the next generation for getting caught up in this trap of addiction with opioids.

GREENE: I heard you just say that one of the keys is for people to feel comfortable coming in. I listen to some of the things the president says. He talks about how important it is in terms of law enforcement, in terms of potentially, you know, the death penalty for dealers. Is there a way to talk tough like that without causing people who might be using to go back into the shadows and fear coming in and getting treatment?

MARA: In New Hampshire, when we talk about enforcement, we're talking about stiff penalties. We're talking about the people that are peddling this poison. We're talking about the people that are bringing in quantities of fentanyl into the state and causing these deaths. We have drug courts in every single one of our counties except one, and we're working on that. And if somebody has committed a crime, a drug-related crime, that is not a danger to community or is not that severe, we're more interested in getting involved in drug court getting them treatment as opposed to incarcerating them.

GREENE: So you think there's a way to be tough on the people who are perpetuating this crisis without causing people who need treatment to worry about coming out into the open.

MARA: Yes. Enforcement's one part of the whole picture. It's prevention, it's treatment, it's recovery. And enforcement is necessary because, like I said, fentanyl is what's causing all these deaths. People do not know what they're putting into their bodies.

GREENE: All right. David Mara is a former police chief who now serves as New Hampshire's drug czar. And President Trump will be visiting that state today. Thanks so much.

MARA: Thank you, glad to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.