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    In N.H., Hillary Clinton hits on opioid abuse as a top concern

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addressed an audience Sunday during a campaign event in Derry, N.H.
    Steven Senne/Associated Press
    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addressed an audience Sunday during a campaign event in Derry, N.H.

    DERRY, N.H. — Hillary Clinton, who arrived to loud applause here at one of three New Hampshire campaign stops Sunday, said prohibitively expensive education, lack of support for families coping with Alzheimer's disease, and the rising tide of opioid abuse are among problems she hears most commonly on the trail.

    As the Democratic presidential candidate took questions later from the crowd in a packed middle-school gymnasium, a 12-year-old girl in a pink-striped shirt, raised her hand.

    Her mother had overdosed, said the girl, who was near tears. She is living in foster care and wanted to know what Clinton could do to help the countless children like her, whose families are shattered by substance abuse.

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    Clinton paused and the room fell silent. Tell me more, if you can, about your situation, Clinton gently asked the girl, who told her she had a supportive foster mother.

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    Speaking directly to the child, who said her first name was Kayleigh, Clinton said she would work to make Narcan, a medicine that can instantly reverse an opioid overdose, available to all police departments, and would make treatment programs accessible to more people.

    From substance abuse and climate change, to terrorism and poverty, audience members posed questions about how Clinton would handle each issue.

    When the candidate didn’t have a precise answer, she pledged to try to find one.

    “We know you have an epidemic here in New Hampshire,” Clinton told the audience. “I can’t tell you all the answers. I don’t know them. But I know we have to work together to find them.”

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    Clinton said one recent encounter with a woman in Manchester sticks with her. The woman showed her a photo of her son who had just died of an overdose and asked Clinton not to forget about him.

    Some audience members could be seen nodding their heads, as if the story was all too familiar.

    Many had started lining up in front of the Gilbert H. Hood Middle School more than two hours before the candidate’s planned noon entrance.

    Some said they hadn’t yet made up their minds as they headed into the auditorium for the first of three Town Hall style campaign appearances by Clinton; she later appeared at events in Concord and Keene. Others, sporting a bright blue “H” sticker on their jackets, were ready to pull the lever for the candidate in the Feb. 9 Democratic primary.

    “I’m blasé. It’s mostly my kids who wanted to see her,” said Timothy Colonna, a Derry resident, who joined his wife and two children among more than 700 people who attended at the event.

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    “She’s going to try to make college cheaper and I really want to go to college,” said Colonna's 12-year-old daughter, Bella, who has been spending a lot of time reading about politics on the Internet.

    Bella didn’t have to wait long to hear Clinton vow that, if elected, she intends to make college more affordable by working to lower student loan rates.

    Throughout much of the hourlong event, a Republican state representative, Katherine Prudhomme O’Brien of Derry, repeatedly stood up and heckled Clinton, as the audience shouted for her sit down.

    “You are very rude and I am not ever going to call on you,” Clinton said, her voice rising as she addressed the legislator, and the audience cheered.

    The applause kept coming as Clinton hewed to familiar themes, vowing to support “a woman’s right to choose” and gay marriage and to fight for tougher background checks on gun purchases.

    “I will fight to keep people on the no-fly list from buying guns,” Clinton said. “If you are too dangerous to fly in America, you are too dangerous to buy a gun in America.”

    After the event, it was hard to measure whether the candidate had swayed any additional voters to her side, but dozens in the crowd swarmed her to get “selfie” photos with Clinton.

    Timothy Colonna, the Derry resident who walked in “blasé” about Clinton, left saying he was leaning more toward her, but still hadn’t made up his mind.

    “None of the Republicans are speaking about issues that are important to me,” he said.

    Tom Harter, a California tour company operator, who described himself as “not a supporter yet,” before the event, said he visits family in New Hampshire around the December holiday every four years so he can attend as many candidate events as possible.

    It’s a good way, he said, to see the campaign less scripted, while the issues are still fresh.

    A Donald Trump appearance in Nashua recently was too packed to get in, Harter said. But he made it into a Marco Rubio event earlier Sunday in New Hampshire.

    And his thoughts after hearing Clinton? Harter was not ready to commit.

    “Given an opportunity, she would be a very capable leader,” he said.

    Kay Lazar can be reached at Kay.Lazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.