Manchester’s Top Cop is in Washington DC preparing to testify before Congress about the opioid crisis in New Hampshire. We talked to him today about what he thinks he can offer lawmakers here and what he’s hoping to accomplish for New Hampshire.
WILLARD: “What was her addiction?”
JANET: “We were twins.”
WILLARD: “So, it was your sister? I’m sorry, I am really, really sorry. How are you coping?” JANET: “I’m not.”
That’s Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard having a painfully honest conversation with a heroin addict. 54-year-old Janet Maset can’t hold back the tears as she shares her struggles and the story of her twin sister who recently killed herself after a long battle with drugs.
“My best friend. My only family. I can’t even imagine how I feel because i don’t even know how I feel, because I won’t let myself feel,” says Janet. She adds,”People like us need help. They need to be there for us.”
“That’s the face of the crisis, It really is,” says Chief Willard. He adds, “Those politicians who don’t understand it? Those callous individuals that have that stigma that they push out as their narrative that, ‘Hey, it’s their life and they can do whatever they want with it. It’s their fault.’ They don’t know the Janet’s of our society.”
Willard often walks or drives the streets of his city, and talks to people like Janet, hoping to better understand what drives addiction.
“I’m just a knuckle-dragging police chief. I can’t solve it all on my own. I can tell you that much,” says Willard. He adds, “I partner with a lot of people, not just law enforcement agencies, but also social services, the fire department, the health department, because I really believe in collaborations. Using the resources that you have available to you.”
That’s why lawmakers in our nation’s capitol asked him to fly into DC and testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. They want to know what Willard’s learned on the front lines and through his extensive research.
“I was kind of overwhelmed, a little intimidated even,” says Willard. He adds, ”I realized just the gravity of what they’re asking me to do. I just don’t want to let anybody down. I want to be able to go in there and give a perspective and represent our citizens and state well.”
As you can see, this piece was a long time in the making. Many hours on the streets with the Chief Willard and the Manchester PD and many conversations with the people at the core of the crisis. Coming up… the hearing.
Willard Goes to Washington Part 2: The Hearing
Manchester’s Police Chief Nick Willard in Washington DC testifying before Congress about the opioid crisis in New Hampshire. We take you inside the hearing to show you how Willard—and other New Hampshire leaders— are campaigning for federal help.
Everyone inside the hearing—Lawmakers, law enforcement, medical experts and victim’s families—in today’s hearing all know that there is a problem. The goal—to come to a consensus on why it’s so bad and how the federal government should support – i.e. – fund law enforcement and public health programs across the country to finally get a grip on the crisis.
“At today’s hearing the committee hopes to learn more about this terrible epidemic,” says Senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee.
That’s why the Senate Judiciary Committee turned to New Hampshire leaders for guidance.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” says U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire, (R).
“We are losing more than one person a day,” says U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire, (D).
“We are dealing with the throws of human tragedy everyday, but it’s still a wonderful state,” says Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard.
Senators Ayotte and Shaheen, along with and Chief Willard all making it clear: The statistics in NH are staggering. Willard breaks down the numbers for the Queen City.
2013: 14 fatal overdoses. 30% heroin and 7% a combination of heroin+fentanyl
2014: 19 fatal overdoses, 22% heroin. 22% heroin +fentanyl and 21% fentanyl alone
2015: 69 fatal overdoses, 33% fentanyl, 26 % fentanyl + cocaine, and 9% fentanyl +heroin.
“We’re finding the vast majority of folks who are suffering from this disease won’t hurt you, they’ll hurt themselves,” says Governor Peter Schumlin, Vermont (D).
Governor Schumlin from neighboring Vermont arguing that the epidemic stems from a decades-long evolution of how people treat pain. Most of the committee and speakers—agreed.
“The FDA, pharma industry the dirty docs, we don’t have to go to the border here to see the source of opioids,” says Senator Dick Durbin, Illinois (D).
“What we haven’t really talked about is medical schools. It is my understanding that most medical schools don’t have any courses on prescribing medication and recognizing drug abuse.,” says Shaheen.
“When New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, the three states in the prescription of the top five pain medications and —per capita—those same three states are the top of five for heroin abuse, I don’t know what methodology they just but it’s certainly not common sense,” says Willard.
Once addicted, Willard argues that the steady of supply of drugs like heroin and fentanyl from outside the US are hampering police efforts.
“So the addiction pool—I agree—needs to shrink because we need to lessen the demand, but the supply most urgently needs to be reduced with great interdiction effort,” says Willard. He adds, “I will say it—our border is a sieve.”
He’s hoping the federal government will fund law enforcement initiatives—like Operation Granite Hammer—to finally get a grip on the crisis.
The hearing lasted an unexpected four hours, with the majority of the Senators on the committee absent. I asked Willard if he still thought his testimony would drive any change.
All I can do is hope so,” says Willard. He adds, “The more we talk about it, the quicker we’ll have change. We just need people to get behind what that change is going to be.”
So, what’s next? Senator Ayotte hopes the committee votes out—The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act—that would go to the senate floor and hopefully become national legislation that would help communities in nh and across the country.