Locals head to D.C. to lobby for heroin epidemic bill
Three New Hampshire families will meet with members of Congress Wednesday to tell their stories of losing a loved one to the opioid crisis in an effort to promote bipartisan support for legislation that will address the epidemic.
Doug and Pam Griffin of Newton, Jim and Anne Marie Zanfagna of Plaistow, and Amanda Jordan of Salem along with her mother, Joanne, will be among more than 100 families that will attend the "Family Day" congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.
Griffin, a heavily involved activist in New Hampshire, extended the invitation to the Zanfagnas and Jordan.
"I don't want to talk to anybody who's already behind the bill. I want to talk to someone who's not," Griffin said, "and change somebody's mind. I want to make a difference."
The event was organized by the Bipartisan Congressional Task Force — co-founded and co-chaired by New Hampshire Representatives Ann Kuster and Frank Guinta — and the Addiction Policy Forum, a partnership that aims to raise awareness and improve national policy surrounding addiction.
The event aims to bring 129 families — equal to the number of overdose deaths nationwide per day — to the nation's capital in order to give legislators a better idea of what policies are needed to combat addiction.
"We want members of Congress to hear these personal stories," Guinta said. "It's only through those personal stories that we can learn how to best assist those families."
Just last week, the House of Representatives passed their own amendments to a Senate bill proposing sweeping improvements to the country's response to prevention, treatment, long-term recovery and law enforcement. Now that both factions of Congress have passed their own bills by an astounding majority — 94-1 in the Senate and 400-5 in the House — a committee made up of representatives from both will convene to settle the differences and approve the final bill to be sent to President Barack Obama.
Rep. Kuster was named to that conference committee Tuesday. She said she expects the families will "bring urgency to the issue" and suggested that she hopes they may garner support for increased funding for the bill.
Kuster said the differences between the two bills are minimal, but that if there is disagreement, it will likely be around funding. She proposed an amendment to the bill similar to one proposed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and supported by Sen. Kelly Ayotte that would have added $600 million in emergency funding to the bill, but it was opposed by the House's Republican leadership.
"We're trying to get some emergency funding, to deal with it like the crisis that it is," Kuster said.
The families will attend a hearing Wednesday from 4-7 p.m. during which they will be divided into four panels based on geographical region. All members of Congress are invited to attend to hear a handful of families from each region discuss their personal experience with watching a loved one struggle with, and eventually succumb to, addiction.
At a reception Wednesday night and throughout the day Thursday, families will be able to meet with their respective representatives individually.
Griffin plans to discuss the psychological impact overdoses have on first responders, rather than the loss of his daughter, Courtney, who was just 20 years old when she overdosed in 2014.
"I'm not going down there to cry about my daughter. I can do that at home," Griffin said. "I'm going down there to help them understand the need to pass these bills."
Anne Marie Zanfagna, who lost her daughter Jackie, 25, took 24 prints of her own paintings to D.C. to show the legislators. She has been painting portraits of young people from New Hampshire who have died because of their addiction to highlight the loss of life.
"I get emails or calls from people every day to do portraits. I will never catch up," Zanfagna said. "We can't let this go. We have to fight."