CNN: Wooed by Trump's promises, opioid advocates now worry they were all empty
By Dan Merica
Washington (CNN) - Erin Canterbury had voted for New Hampshire Democrats for over a decade. Then she met Donald Trump at a roundtable on the state's opioid epidemic, where she heard the Republican candidate talk about his own family's history with addiction.
She trusted Trump and, withstanding vocal criticism from her friends, proudly backed him over Hillary Clinton.
Months into Trump's presidency, though, Canterbury and a host of other opioid advocates in New Hampshire feel duped by the President, not only shocked that his administration has done little to combat an issue he promised to address, but worried that he has done the opposite and is now risking gains advocates have worked hard to make.
"I expected him to do something," Canterbury said. "I didn't expect it to be fixed, but I expected something."
Trump, then a political neophyte, kicked off his presidential campaign in New Hampshire with sweeping promises about combating the state's opioid epidemic, a nagging problem that can be felt across the Granite State. The boisterous businessman pledged to boost local clinics, help those who are already hooked on opioids and stop the flow of drugs coming into the state.
… "He hasn't done anything thus far," said the 39-year-old mother of two, who is almost seven years sober after getting addicted to prescription painkillers. "I don't want to say I completely regret it. But he hasn't done anything."
… Opioid overdoses have reached epidemic levels, according to the CDC. A study from the agency found that 25% of all drug overdose deaths were related to heroin in 2015. That number was just 6% in 1999.
Concerns in the opioid community started months ago when the Trump-backed health care plan proposed ending the requirement that addiction services and mental health treatment be covered under Medicaid in the 31 states that expanded the health care program. The Republican plan, a version of which passed the House earlier this month, would leave it up to states to decide whether to cover drug treatment -- a decision experts said would put the most vulnerable at far greater risk.
"The bill is an absolute betrayal of what Trump represented on the campaign trail," Kraig Moss, whose son died of an overdose, told CNN in March. "I feel betrayed."
Then, earlier this month, a draft memo obtained by CNN on Trump's 2018 budget brought to light plans to virtually eliminate the Office of National Drug Control Policy by slashing their funding by 94%.
That, said Tym Rourke, a treatment advocate who previously served as chairman of New Hampshire's commission on the issue, has created widespread unease because the memo proposed cutting the Drug-Free Communities Support program, a federal program that has provided grants to fight opioids in cities and towns like Raymond, Nashua, Rochester and Dover.
"Uncertainty is sort of the mood of the movement here in New Hampshire," he said. "We are working to build our state's capacity, to build the workforce, but it is hard to do that in a moment where the services we have built could potentially be at risk."
The biggest concern, Rourke said, is that Trump's actions could mean local efforts "may have to slow down, stop or even see a rollback of our progress."
Most recently, opioid advocates who favor treatment over jail time for abusers grew concerned when Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed federal prosecutors to charge suspect with the most serious offense you can prove, including drug crimes.
Joe Hannon, a former Republican in the New Hampshire House of Representatives who introduced Trump at the opioid roundtable that he attended days before the 2016 election, said he is particularly worried at some of the rhetoric coming out of Sessions' Justice Department.
"Enforcement has not been very effective up too this point," he said. "We have had a war on drugs for quite some time now and it is not getting better with what we are doing so I am not sure the same old approach is the answer."
… Rourke agree with Hannon. "I do hear concern in the recovery community on whether we going to go back into the days where drug use was seen as crime and not a disease," he said.
… "If he had really asked and listened to anybody close to the issue, they would tell him that he has done everything wrong so far," said Dean Lemrire, a recovery advocate who is in treatment for alcohol and heroin addiction.
Though Lemrire didn't vote for Trump -- saying he reluctantly backed Clinton -- he is more upset that he meets so many people who did who are now upset.
"I am bummed out that he is threatening the health care that the people who are hardest hit," he said. "The people who are hardest hit are his voters, the people who are hardest hit by this epidemic are his voters."
Canterbury, now worried that Trump was just being "politically expedient" when he promised to fight opioids, expressed similar concerns.
Getting treatment changed Canterbury's life. She now works as an advocate for drug treatment and wants everyone who needs it to have the experience she had. She described the epidemic as the "biggest issue" in her life and her primary reason for backing Trump is 2016.
"I don't want to talk to another mom who has lost their child," she said.
…"He seemed like he cared," she said. "He said if he won he would bring us all to the White House to talk about it. It sounded like he cared."
But now Canterbury is questioning that instinct, worried that the man for whom she crossed party lines to vote was just trying to win her over.
"I feel like this issue now goes on the back burner for him," she said. "But he needs to know, 'no, we aren't going to shut up about this in New Hampshire.'"