O'Rourke at Keene State

Michael Moore / Sentinel Staff

Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke makes a stop at the Keene State College student center in September. O’Rourke unveiled a plan recently to deal with the nation’s opioid crisis.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke released a multi-billion-dollar policy plan Thursday to combat the opioid epidemic, earning plaudits from a Keene city councilor.

“Beto’s plan uses government oversight and regulation to demand accountability from pharmaceutical companies and hold responsible those who have not only been negligent but have deliberately exacerbated this crisis for profit’s sake,” Bettina Chadbourne, an at-large councilor who endorsed California Sen. Kamala Harris in August, said in a statement released by the campaign.

While fatal overdoses statewide decreased last year, Cheshire County still saw a rise. Thirty-two fatal overdoses were recorded in Cheshire County in 2018, significantly higher than the total from 2017, according to data from the N.H. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

O’Rourke, 47, promises to take on the pharmaceutical companies that prescribed many of the painkillers that got people hooked in the first place, which Chadbourne also praised.

The former Texas congressman says he will extend the Securities and Exchange Commission’s “bad actor” qualification to drug companies found by regulators to have contributed to the crisis — making it harder for them to accrue capital from investors — as well as revise U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations to allow Americans to sue pharmaceutical companies even if the FDA approved their drugs.

O’Rourke also wants to prevent fentanyl — an opioid 50 times stronger than heroin — from entering the United States by boosting the U.S. Postal Service’s funding and purchasing more portable sensors to detect fentanyl at ports of entry.

The Texan’s campaign also cites programs like New Hampshire’s hub-and-spoke prevention and treatment system as a model for other states to follow, promising $100 billion in new funding for state and local governments through a federal Substance Use Disorder Fund, according to a supplemental news release to the full plan. That funding would come from an increase to the branded prescription drug fee, which was implemented under the Affordable Care act.

Affordable housing is also tied into O’Rourke’s plan, with a $60 billion investment in the Capital Magnet Fund, which gives grants to nonprofit affordable housing organizations. O’Rourke cites the funding as a benefit not only to those in recovery, but also as a way to help address the workforce shortage in states like New Hampshire.

O’Rourke also proposes tripling federal funding for long-term recovery and re-entry programs. Re-entry programs received $84.4 million in grants from the Department of Labor in 2018.

The central premise of O’Rourke’s plan is to increase funding to programs already working, and to reorient the federal government’s approach to substance use disorders as a public health issue rather than a criminal one.

Part of that includes a pledge to push for and sign U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan’s grandfamilies bill, which seeks to provide more services to those who take care of children whose parents are out of the picture because of severe addiction.

O’Rourke also praises U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster’s work on the opioid epidemic, adding that conversations with her informed his plan.

The full plan is available online at https://bit.ly/2peD72y.

Jake Lahut can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or jlahut@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @JakeLahut.