Chris Christie outlines his national drug crisis plan, focusing on treatment and stigma reduction

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie delivers a speech about drug addiction at Hope on Haven Hill, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, in Rochester, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie delivers a speech about drug addiction at Hope on Haven Hill, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, in Rochester, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie responds to a question following a speech about drug addiction at Hope on Haven Hill, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, in Rochester, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie responds to a question following a speech about drug addiction at Hope on Haven Hill, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, in Rochester, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie responds to a question following a speech about drug addiction at Hope on Haven Hill, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, in Rochester, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie responds to a question following a speech about drug addiction at Hope on Haven Hill, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, in Rochester, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie responds to a question following a speech about drug addiction at Hope on Haven Hill, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, in Rochester, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie responds to a question following a speech about drug addiction at Hope on Haven Hill, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, in Rochester, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty

By HOLLY RAMER

Associated Press

Published: 12-21-2023 2:20 PM

Calling the latest wave of the nation’s drug crisis “a test of our national resolve,” Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie returned to a New Hampshire recovery center Wednesday to outline a people-focused, not punitive, policy plan.

“This is a test to see who we want to be as both a people and as a country,” he said at the Hope on Haven Hill wellness center, which services pregnant women and mothers struggling with substance use disorder. “We need an approach that remembers and reflects on the very basic humanity of every single one of those 100,000 victims, as well as the treasures each one of them could have brought to this country.”

Christie led a White House commission on opioid misuse in 2017, and he praised former president Donald Trump for endorsing all 56 of its recommendations. But only about half have been enacted, and both Trump and President Joe Biden have treated the problem as a crisis in name only, Christie said. Meanwhile, other Republican presidential candidates, have focused too narrowly on preventing drugs from getting into the country, he said.

Without mentioning them by name, he described Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s vow to shoot drug dealers at the border, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s plan to cut off trade with China and Trump’s threat to take military action against Mexico.

“It will be important to stem some of the flow of this stuff into our country, but that’s not going to be what fixes this problem by itself. And people who say that’s what will do it just are not telling the truth,” he said.

With 110,000 people dying of drug overdoses last year, reducing stigma and providing treatment is the only thing that’s going to get the problem under control, he said.

“We don’t solve this crisis unless we focus on substance use disorder and what gets us there and what helps to help get people out of it and into recovery,” he said.

Christie said he finds Biden’s inaction particularly galling given Hunter Biden’s struggles with addiction.

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“He owes it to this country as a father who understands the pain that every family member goes through when there’s someone with active addiction in their family,” he said. “It’s astonishing to me he’s not talking about this.”

Christie said he would increase access to medication-assisted treatment by making the telehealth policies created during the coronavirus pandemic permanent, requiring all federally qualified health centers to provide such treatment and creating mobile opioid treatment programs.

He also called for expanding block grants to states, tied to specific requirements for data collection and sharing. The pandemic, he argued, showed that vast amounts of data can be gathered and shared quickly, and the same should be done to track overdose deaths and identify the areas of greatest need.

“We’ve been told for decades it’s just too difficult to accurately track and understand,” he said. “If we keep saying that these things are too hard, what we’re saying is that working harder at this is too much and that the lives that we’re losing are not worth it. I’m sorry, I just don’t believe that.”

Jackie Lacrosse, who lives in Hope on Haven Hill’s transitional shelter with her three-year-old daughter, asked Christie what he would do to help those in recovery secure housing. She was pleased with his answer — reallocating money in federal programs to target that population — as well as his approach overall.

“I think Chris is super knowledgeable, and I think he can bring that knowledge and his history to the campaign,” she said.

Christie met the recovery center’s founder during his 2016 campaign for president when she was just getting the program off the ground and has visited its facilities since. While the types of drugs have changed — from overprescribed painkillers to heroin to street-drugs laced with fentanyl — the stories he hears from voters have not, he said in an interview before his speech.

“The sad thing is, I see no difference eight years later, and I think that’s the thing that is the most concerning and frustrating,” he said.