Pubdate: Tue, 19 Jan 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Emma Roller
Note: Emma Roller, a former reporter for National Journal, is a 
contributing opinion writer. This is an article from Campaign Stops 


EARLIER this month, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida opened up on a 
subject he had once chided reporters for asking about: his daughter, 
Noelle, who, he said, "was addicted to drugs."

In a video released by the campaign, Mr. Bush speaks plainly about 
his daughter's struggle, her time in jail and drug court, and her 
recovery. "I can look in people's eyes and I know that they've gone 
through the same thing that Columba and I have," he said, referring 
to his wife.

Mr. Bush is not the only candidate to share this sort of painful 
personal experience. Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of 
Hewlett-Packard, has spoken out about losing her stepdaughter, Lori 
Ann Fiorina, to "the demons of addiction" at the age of 35. And Gov. 
Chris Christie of New Jersey spoke candidly and emotionally about a 
law school friend who died of a Percocet overdose.

What's behind this newfound willingness on the candidates' part to 
talk about the personal toll of addiction?

New Hampshire, and the sobering statistics on drug overdoses there, 
is probably part of the answer.

Every day, 44 people in the United States die as a result of overdose 
on prescription painkillers. Every day, nearly 7,000 people are 
treated in emergency rooms for abusing painkillers. Overdose deaths 
have been creeping upward since the beginning of the 21st century - 
especially deaths from opiate abuse. In New Hampshire, overdose 
deaths linked to opiate abuse have more than doubled over the past two years.

Ted Gatsas, the Republican mayor of Manchester, N.H., said he had had 
many opportunities to talk to Republican candidates, including Mr. 
Bush, Mr. Christie, Donald J. Trump, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky 
and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, about the heroin and 
prescription-painkiller abuse in his state. He thinks that the 
overdose problem has been severely underestimated, not just in his 
city and state, but nationwide.

"I just don't think anybody, until you put the numbers and talk to 
them about it, knows that it's this bad across this country," he said.

Nearly 50 years into the "war on drugs," which both Republican and 
Democratic leaders have waged in various ways, with various 
disastrous outcomes, drug overdoses reached a record high in 2014. 
 From 2001 to 2014, the United States had more than a threefold 
increase in deaths from opioid pain relievers, and a sixfold increase 
in heroin overdoses, according to the National Institutes of Health. 
During the same period, overdose deaths from prescription drugs like 
Valium and Klonopin - sedatives called benzodiazepines - increased by 
five times.

In speaking about their own experiences, Republican candidates are 
not only allowing themselves to be vulnerable in front of voters, 
they're also straying from the just-say-no message of Ronald Reagan, 
whose legacy includes a tough legislative stance on drugs and drug 
sentencing. They're also hoping that voters, especially in early 
primary states, will empathize.

Grant Smith, a lobbyist with Drug Policy Action, said it was 
remarkable how much airtime addiction was getting. "If you look over 
the last two decades, we've definitely seen a transformation in how 
elected officials talk about people who use drugs," he said. Now 
there's more empathy, less scolding. He is glad to see the new 
rhetoric about addiction, but notes that candidates have become more 
open about this issue as it has started to take a real toll on 
largely white communities.

"There's no question that the shift in who is being impacted by 
overdose and the attendant harms of drug use to rural and suburban 
communities has made lawmakers as well as candidates for office more 
comfortable talking about these issues," he said. "It's just that 
African-American communities have endured high overdose rates for 
decades, and few lawmakers in Washington cared."

At a forum at Southern New Hampshire University earlier this month, 
Governor Kasich spoke with refreshing candor about what some call 
this "gentrification of addiction."

"Sometimes I wonder how African-Americans must have felt when drugs 
were awash in their community and nobody watched," he said. "Now it's 
in our communities, and now all of a sudden we've got forums, and God 
bless us, but think about the struggles that other people had."

So far, the proposed plans from the candidates to combat addiction 
have remained frustratingly vague. Mr. Bush's plan is one exception: 
It would increase access to drug courts, which allow some nonviolent 
drug offenders to undergo medical treatment instead of serving jail 
time, and would also reduce some mandatory minimum sentences.

Beyond criminal justice reform, there is the public health aspect of 
providing assistance. The Affordable Care Act requires health 
insurance plans to cover treatment for substance abuse. The 
Republican candidates who want to repeal Obamacare should answer this 
question: If you succeed, how will you fund treatment for drug users?

Finally, there remains the problem of the government classification 
of different drugs. The Drug Enforcement Administration, formally if 
not informally, still considers marijuana more dangerous and more 
addictive than the prescription painkillers and sedatives that 
accounted for more than 25,000 overdose deaths in 2014.

In Manchester, as Mayor Gatsas welcomes a parade of candidates, he 
also sees plenty of constituents dealing with the ravages of 
addiction. Mothers crying, parents writing obituaries that frankly 
state that their sons and daughters died from heroin overdoses.

"With this epidemic, it's crossed every boundary. It's young to old, 
rich to poor, white to black," he said. "I tell them, 'If it hasn't 
affected you yet, just wait. It will.' "

It's almost as if it's a universal issue - which is something the 
candidates are starting to realize too.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom