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Opioid Crisis Is Top Issue As Voters Head To The Polls In New Hampshire


In New Hampshire's largest city, it's not unusual for first responders to now get calls for more than a hundred overdoses a month. Manchester, N.H., has recently seen record-breaking numbers in both overdoses and deaths. For many people voting tomorrow in local elections, the opioid crisis is their biggest concern. New Hampshire Public Radio's Paige Sutherland has more from Manchester.

PAIGE SUTHERLAND, BYLINE: It was a hot autumn day in downtown when I stopped by the city's last farmers market of the season to catch up with some voters. Our conversations that day tended to land on the same topic - the opioid crisis.

MELODY WYMAN: I know people who have been affected by it. So I mean, I know people who have died, and I know people who are having problems.

SUTHERLAND: That's Melody Wyman, an 18-year resident of Manchester. I heard something similar from Corinna Cartier.

CORINNA CARTIER: I lost my son to the disease. My son's been dead three years. He was 25.

SUTHERLAND: For Daniel McGarth, it's a little less personal but still weighs heavy on his mind.

DANIEL MCGARTH: We have a gardener, and every time he comes once a week, he's always picking up needles.

SUTHERLAND: It's difficult finding anyone in the city who doesn't have some connection to this crisis, but that's not surprising. According to Andy Smith, who runs the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, more than 50 percent of voters in the city think the drug crisis is the No. 1 issue, and it's held that top spot for three years now.

ANDY SMITH: Any candidate is going to get asked about it both from the reporters, but they're going to get asked about it from the voters themselves while they're on the stump, at debates. You know, this is a central issue. It's a very important issue, and they better have a well-thought-out plan to deal with it.

SUTHERLAND: One candidate for mayor has drafted a detailed 12-point plan on how to tackle this epidemic. A candidate for city alderman proposes jail time for anyone who overdoses. Meanwhile, the current mayor, who's seeking a fifth term, touts the progress he's made on the front lines, pointing to a program where the city's fire stations help addicts find treatment. But not everyone in the city thinks enough progress has been made. At the farmers market, voters called for more prevention in schools, larger efforts to get drug dealers off the streets and more prevention options.

Forty-six-year-old Corinna Cartier is a former heroin addict. She's lived in Manchester her entire life and has been in recovery for three years now. Cartier says city officials keep saying we can't arrest our way out of this, but she claims that's what they're doing.

CARTIER: They locked everybody up about a year and a half ago, and now everybody's getting let out. And now look; the spike's happening again. And I called it because everybody that got a year and a half is still sick and suffering because you didn't really do anything about the problem.

SUTHERLAND: What's really lacking, she says, is access to medication-assisted treatment and detox.

CARTIER: We don't need a bed. We don't need a fire station and someone to talk to because your average sick and suffering addict on the street needs a place to go where they don't have to use anymore but they're not going to get sick.

SUTHERLAND: But voters like Susan Labrie don't think politicians can solve the problem.

SUSAN LABRIE: It's not going to be solved by government. It's going to be solved by the people that are intimately involved in the crisis - the people taking the drugs and the people who are charged with the responsibility for those people. It starts in the home.

SUTHERLAND: Whether government can solve it or not, the opioid epidemic will likely remain an issue on the campaign trail in New Hampshire even in the next presidential election in 2020. For NPR News, I'm Paige Sutherland in Manchester, N.H.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHLOHMO'S "WEN UUU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Paige Sutherland