Many Americans may know New Hampshire as the Granite State or the “Live Free or Die” state. President Donald Trump apparently knows it as “a drug-infested den.”
That’s how he described New Hampshire in a phone conversation earlier this year with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, according to transcripts that were recently obtained and published by the Washington Post.
“I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den,” Trump said, in apparent reference to his Republican primary victory in the state. (He lost New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton in the general election.)
Trump’s comment has already drawn a sharp rebuke from New Hampshirites. The Republican governor of the state, Chris Sununu, said in a statement, “The president is wrong. It’s disappointing his characterization of this epidemic ignores the great things this state has to offer.” He went on to argue that “New Hampshire remains the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”
But New Hampshire is one of the states hit hardest by the ongoing opioid epidemic. In 2015 (the year with the latest data), the state had the second-highest opioid overdose death rate, after West Virginia.
There is also evidence that the opioid epidemic is one reason Trump won the 2016 election. According to an analysis by historian Kathleen Frydl, most of the counties in Ohio and Pennsylvania that swung from Democrat in the 2012 election to Republican in 2016 were hit hard by the opioid crisis. But whatever electoral impact it might have had in those two states, it wasn’t enough for Trump to flip New Hampshire — and he lost the state by about 0.3 percentage points to Clinton.
Of course, that doesn’t justify the language Trump used. As Sununu pointed out, there is plenty to New Hampshire besides its horrible drug crisis.
Despite his acknowledgement of the opioid epidemic, Trump has done little to actually address the crisis since taking office. His proposed budget would do little to nothing to spend more on addiction treatment. And the Obamacare repeal bills he supports would make the crisis worse by limiting access to insurance and, therefore, treatment.
A White House commission this week advised Trump to declare a national emergency and take several concrete steps to address the crisis. It’s unclear yet if he will act on the proposals.