WASHINGTON -- The heroin epidemic is becoming fodder for political ads. A few weeks ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a long-shot Republican presidential hopeful, tried to blame President Barack Obama for the epidemic in a campaign spot. Now comes the conservative nonprofit Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire releasing an ad focusing on the state's soaring number of heroin deaths as a way to criticize its Democratic governor.
The 30-second spot simplifies a complicated fiscal fight into a single soundbite: Gov. Maggie Hassan's refusal to budge on the budget means a freeze on funding for drug treatment.
"She's holding new funding for drug prevention, treatment and recovery hostage," the ad's narrator intones over heroin epidemic b-roll. "Money that could help countless lives. Tell Governor Hassan to stop playing politics with the lives of New Hampshire citizens."
The Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, whose work puts them in daily contact with ordinary residents, including opioid addicts, have condemned the ad.
When David Lang, the union's president, first saw the ad, he was "literally disgusted by it," he told The Huffington Post.
"This is a serious problem. It's a real problem that affects real families and real people," Lang said. "It creates a negative dynamic that I don't think is healthy for our state."
But the budget fight has not prevented firefighters and paramedics from doing their jobs, Lang said. He'd like whoever paid for the ad to make themselves known. "I think it's pretty cowardly," he said.
The union has called for the removal of the ad. Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire has refused.
While the union supported Hassan's re-election in 2014, Lang insists that the heroin epidemic should remain a nonpartisan issue.
In 2014, drug overdoses killed 326 people in New Hampshire, the Concord Monitor reported. More of the state's residents die from drug overdoses than from car wrecks, suicides or homicides.
Across the border in Maine, budget issues are also clashing with drug treatment: GOP Gov. Paul LePage's policies recently forced a methadone clinic to close.
Raymond Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, issued a statement in response to the ad.
"Gov. Hassan has consistently fought for increased resources to address the heroin epidemic while the fiscally irresponsible Republican budget would create a $90 million budget hole, undermining the state's efforts to combat the heroin crisis. Leading advocates have made clear that Governor Hassan's proposed budget compromise 'is clearly better' when it comes to fighting the heroin epidemic," Buckley said.