- "We're losing too many people. We're breaking up too many families," Chris Christie said
- "If we continue to criminalize drug addiction, we're not treating it," Carly Fiorina added
Washington (CNN)Several Republican candidates came to New Hampshire Tuesday to discuss how they would address addiction -- specifically heroin dependency -- as president.
Speaking at the New Hampshire Forum on Addiction and the Heroin Epidemic at Southern New Hampshire University, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich drew upon both their personal and political experiences to suggest they'd effectively combat what's viewed as an epidemic -- particularly in the first-in-the-nation primary state.
"It's something I've cared about for the last 19 years of my life," said Christie, who, on the trail, often discusses his mother's addiction to smoking as well as a friend's drug addiction. "I think I'm just more experienced on it than the rest of them. I think I spoke about it much sooner than the rest of them did, but in the end, voters get to make that decision."
Before the event on Tuesday, Fiorina's campaign sent out an email to supporters about her experience of losing her 34-year-old daughter Lori to "the demons of addiction."
"It broke my heart to watch the look that grew in Lori's once-bright eyes as her addictions overcame her," she wrote. "As Lori grew progressively sicker, the potential disappeared from behind her eyes. The light, the sparkle she once had, left her. What remained was a dull, flat void. It was the look of hopelessness. And that look is what haunts me most."
At the forum, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO said that the criminal justice system is not prepared to respond to people like Lori.
"If we continue to criminalize drug addiction, we're not treating it. And the system we have today is part of the problem now, not part of the solution," said Fiorina, who believes federal money should be reallocated to fund community-based programs. "We now have the highest incarceration rates in the world. And the majority of people we have in prison are people like my daughter, Lori, struggling with addiction."
Bush gave insight into the period when his daughter Noelle struggled with a drug addiction so severely that she wound up behind bars.
"(Addiction) is one of the soft underbellies of our country and we need to get on with it. And we need to make it a much higher priority than we have," Bush said.
"We need to recognize that restoring people's chances to be able to live a life of purpose and meaning doesn't just deal with the illness of drug addiction," he continued. "It also means giving them a chance to get a job and doing other things."
Kasich heralded Ohio's prison programs, saying they give inmates skills to focus on when they leave prison and decrease the likelihood of recidivism due to drug abuse.
"If you're interested in changing your life and learning a skill, we're going to give it to you," the Ohio governor said. "All of these things are about one thing. We don't want to waste a human life."
But Kasich downplayed the need of more money for school programs that encourage children to avoid drug use.
"We don't need to give a school teacher money or training to tell kids, 'Don't get on drugs,'" he said. "If someone can convince me that we need money, I'm willing to listen, but I haven't figured it out yet."
Kasich said mentorship is an effective tool to keep youth from falling into addiction.
"If you get mentors in the schools telling kids about their potential, about what education is about, the fact that they're loved, about the fact that they've got great potential, that changes everything," he said. "Then you won't mess with drugs."