The mayor of New Hampshire’s largest city said that Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan’s inaction helped produce a record-setting number of heroin related deaths.
Sixty people overdosed on opioids leading to 14 deaths in February, the single-deadliest month on record in the Granite State. Republican Mayor Ted Gatsas told WMUR that Hassan "needs to step up" and address the deadly epidemic years in the making.
"We're off to a record pace and not a record that I even want to think about or talk about because we're losing lives. And I think it's important that somebody needs to step up and start challenging this at the top," Gatsas said.
Gatsas has been a long-time critic of Hassan’s handling of the heroin crisis in the state. The Democrat vetoed a budget in June that would have significantly boosted drug program spending and denied Gatsas’ request for $2.5 million in August to establish a drug court to address the problem.
The Hassan administration accused Gatsas of not advocating for public policy changes to address drugs despite his previous request.
"If Mayor Gatsas would like to be a constructive part of the process, we would welcome his advocacy, which we have yet to see, on the public policy steps that would actually help stem the tide of this epidemic," Hassan spokesman William Hinkle told WMUR.
Hassan, who did not return a request for comment, has made dealing with the heroin crisis a priority since declaring her Senate campaign in October. She called for a significant boost in state spending to address it in her February State of the State address. However, she has yet to replace her drug czar after he stepped down in January.
Critics said that Hassan has failed to address the health crisis by stonewalling spending on the issue and failing to find a top official to lead the fight.
"Weeks after Hassan’s first drug czar Jack Wozmak resigned after exhibiting a troubling pattern of ineptitude and ineffectiveness, she has failed to fill the job," New Hampshire Republican Party chairman Jennifer Horn said in a release. "Given the seriousness of New Hampshire’s substance abuse crisis, Governor Hassan should have already replaced Mr. Wozmak with a competent person who could have produced better results. Granite Staters expect state government to be well-managed, and it’s clear that Governor Hassan’s focus on her distracting United States Senate campaign is hindering her ability to address this emergency."
Other conservative critics told the Washington Free Beacon that Hassan’s campaign has distracted her from governing. Derek Dufresne, spokesman for Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, told the Washington Free Beacon that the governor has put "her career ahead of the people of New Hampshire"
"As the numbers of Granite Staters who are suffering increases here at home, simultaneously, Governor Maggie Hassan’s focus on getting herself to Washington has heightened as well," Dufresne said. "Her inability to understand how daunting New Hampshire’s heroin epidemic has become is baffling, but regrettably it is not a new development."
Amelia Chassé, spokesman for the conservative research group America Rising, said that Hassan is more focused on attacking officials such as Gatsas than working with local leaders to fight heroin.
"Governor Hassan has been ignoring input from officials on the front lines of the drug crisis for months and launching partisan political attacks against anyone who questions her ineffective strategy," she said in a release.
New Hampshire’s plight has attracted national attention. President Barack Obama proposed $1.1 billion in additional spending in February centered on battling opioid and heroin addiction.