New Hampshire is no 'drug-infested den,' state leaders say

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire political leaders and others said Thursday that President Donald Trump was both inaccurate and insulting in describing their state as a "drug-infested den."

The remarks emerged in transcripts of a Jan. 27 call between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto that were published by the Washington Post on Thursday.

During the campaign, Trump called for building a wall along the Mexican border to help keep out illegal drugs and promised that Mexico would pay for it. In his conversation with Pena Nieto, Trump urged the Mexican president to stop saying his country won't pay for the wall, and said "kids are becoming addicted to drugs because the drugs are being sold for less money than candy."

"I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den," he said, according to the transcripts.

Although Trump won New Hampshire's Republican primary, the state picked Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general election.

New Hampshire's four-member, all-Democratic Congressional delegation expressed outrage at Trump's comments, as did Republican Gov. Chris Sununu. The governor said the state is making progress in addressing its heroin and opioid crisis on multiple fronts, including greater resources for law enforcement and drug abuse prevention, treatment and recovery.

"The President is wrong. It's disappointing his mischaracterization of this epidemic ignores the great things this state has to offer," he said in a statement.

U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan called Trump's words "disgusting" and said his administration has proposed policies that would hurt the state's efforts to reverse the problem.

Ryan Thomas, a 32-year-old tattoo artist who voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson for president, said he doesn't take anything Trump says seriously.

"I really don't agree with that. We have a problem with heroin and fentanyl, and our citizens are really concerned about the well-being of the communities here," he said. "We're a really good state to live in. We want to keep it that way."

The rate of death due to synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl, increased by nearly 1,600 percent from 2010 to 2015 in New Hampshire. In 2015, the most recent year for which federal data is available, there were 24 such deaths per 100,000 residents, the highest rate in the nation and double what it was the previous year.

In a recent report, Dartmouth College researchers said the state's disproportionately high rate of opioid overdoses is the result of prescription practices, underfunded and scarce treatment options and the state's proximity to the drug supply chain.

"The description of New Hampshire as "a drug-infested den" is not only inaccurate, but it is an insult to the first responders, substance use providers, prevention specialists, people in recovery, policymakers, and advocates who are working tirelessly to stem the tide of substance misuse in our state," said Linda Saunders Paquette, president of New Futures, a health and wellness advocacy group.

Evelyn Cayer, 80, was waiting for a bus in Concord on Thursday afternoon. She said New Hampshire has its problems with drugs, like many other states, but has good leadership to address the problem.

"Comments coming from Trump that are negative like that are not helpful across the country, let alone a smear in New Hampshire. He's our leader, he's our president, he's our man to go to, but he's undermining the real democracy we're fighting for here in the country," she said. "I can only say I pray for him daily. That's my answer."

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