Pubdate: Tue, 22 Mar 2016
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press
Author: Kathleen Ronayne, Associated Press


CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Gov. Maggie Hassan tapped New Hampshire's top 
drug prosecutor Monday to oversee the state's response to the ongoing 
opioid and heroin crisis.

James Vara is a senior assistant attorney general who has led the 
drug prosecution unit for three years. He primarily deals with felony 
drug prosecutions and drug-related death cases. He is expected to 
take on the role of Governor's Advisor on Addiction and Behavioral 
Health, sometimes informally known as the 'drug czar,' in early 
April. He also sits on the opioid task force of the Governor's 
Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Recovery.

More than 400 people died from drug overdoses in 2015, with many the 
result of overdosing on fentanyl, a drug that is far more powerful 
than heroin. Deaths have continued to climb since 2013. Duties of the 
job include making sure state agencies from corrections to justice 
are effectively working together and identifying gaps in New 
Hampshire's prevention, treatment and recovery efforts.

"I have seen firsthand the devastating impact that this crisis is 
having on people across the state," Vara said in a statement. Despite 
his law enforcement background, Vara said in the statement that New 
Hampshire cannot arrest its way out of the crisis, a frequent refrain 
among treatment and recovery professionals and advocates.

Funding for the job is already available through the governor's 
commission, and the executive council must vote to approve it on April 6.

The job initially was created through a one-year grant by the New 
Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Vara replaces Jack Wozmak, who 
resigned from the job earlier this year after facing scrutiny over 
his performance.

Hassan's office said Vara is a strong choice for the job because he 
is well respected by lawmakers, law enforcement and addiction 
recovery and treatment professionals statewide. In his current role 
at the justice department, Vara testifies frequently before lawmakers 
on bills related to drug prosecution.

Tym Rourke, chairman of the governor's commission, praised the 
appointment and said Vara is well prepared to make sure state 
agencies and offices work together effectively.

"He knows the issues, he knows the players," Rourke said. "I'm really 
excited to hear him as the nominee."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom