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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
From Heroin to Hope; Interview with Storm Chaser. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired December 23, 2015 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:23] WOLF BLITZER, CNN GUEST HOST: Good evening. Anderson is off. I'm Wolf Blitzer.
We are following breaking news right now. Deadly weather hitting parts of the country in his funnel cloud caught on camera just outside Clarks Dale, Mississippi.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
BLITZER: The same cell devastated a town of holly springs. Authorities reporting one fatality, 7-year-old little boy as well as at least 40 people hurt and homes destroyed across the state. Damage in at least six counties tonight will be following the story and across the south and Midwest throughout the hour. Stand by for that.
Meantime, we begin with presidential politics. New CNN polling that says a lot about Donald Trump's growing lead, the rise of Ted Cruz and how each might do in a head-to-head matchup with presidential front runner Hillary Clinton.
Our chief political correspondent Dana Bash is here with numbers, numbers that will bring a smile to Donald Trump's face no doubt about that.
Dana, what are they?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No doubt. He's going to have a merry Christmas with the new numbers. He leads his closest opponent, Senator Ted Cruz by more than 20 points in this latest CNN/ORC poll. The rest of the field is way back. Jeb Bush in fact is down not only in single digits, he actually trails Ran Paul now just by one point. And of course, we have the usual caveat. This is the national poll. And of course, nominations are won state by state. And when you look at polling in the states, especially in Iowa, there are indications that it's much tighter especially between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. But this is a temperature of Republicans nationwide and as we said, good news for Donald Trump.
BLITZER: Very good news for him.
Dana, this poll comes shortly after the most vent Republican presidential debate that you and Hugh Hewitt and I that we all moderated out in Las Vegas. Who do Republican voters think, among the candidates, did the best job on that stage? BASH: This is really fascinating not only because, you know, when
we're on the stage, we can't tell who is really penetrating back home. But I want to put the numbers from the debate last week and those from back in September side by side just to give our viewers a sense.
Thirty-three percent of Republicans thought Donald Trump won this most recent debate and that's up from just 11 percent who thought he had the best performance in the first debate. And also when you look at Ted Cruz a big improvement, 28 percent thought he did the best this time around. And as you can see, maybe the most stunning drop is Carly Fiorina. She had a very strong showing back in September, 52 percent down to four percent just now.
And then of course, there is Jeb Bush, he got a lot of kudos for having the best debate he had so far in our debate last week but the people who told us they watched it thought that he just did about one percent.
BLITZER: Yes. Only one percent thought he would do the best job. A lot of good news for Donald Trump but not all good news especially when you broaden out beyond Republicans. Isn't that right, Dana?
BASH: That's right. This is what the Trump campaign certainly should be watching for because winning a primary is one thing but then you got to win a general election and it's quite different. And when you ask Republican voters if Donald Trump has the right experience to be president, the majority say yes. But when you expand that to include voters outside the GOP and majority say no.
Now, having said that, Trump's future is in the short term in the hands of Republican voters and the number of Republicans who think that they have a better chance in 2016 with Trump than without he is still under water a little bit there. You can see but he is doing much better on this, up eight points from August. It's kind of amazing when you think about how many so-called main stream Republicans that, you know, we talked to who say that it's the worst nightmare to have Donald Trump. It's not playing out in our poll among the voters.
BLITZER: Among Republicans. Dana, we have now polling on the Democrats running for president. What are we seeing there?
BASH: Good news for Hillary Clinton. I say good, not great, because if you look at the number, she is still far ahead nationally but her support is down since last month and Bernie Sanders ticked up just a bit. She is at 50 percent down from 58 percent in November. And Sanders is at 34 percent just up from 30 percent, Wolf.
BLITZER: Obviously, a lot of interest about how Hillary Clinton might do against specific Republican candidates next fall. What does this latest polling tell us about that?
BASH: That up in Brooklyn, the Clinton campaign headquarters shouldn't be so thrilled with the idea of a potential Donald Trump nomination. Never mind Trump, also Rubio and Cruz, she isn't matching up very well against any of them for, you see for Rubio, she would lose by three, Cruz two points. Trump, she is ahead also by two. But all of those are kind of within are actually within the margin of error.
So what does this tell us? It tells us that it is anyone's game right now and that there is a very big divide in the nation when it comes to politics no matter who is at the top of the ticket in each party.
[20:05:26] BLITZER: Fascinating numbers. Dana, hold your thoughts for a moment. I want to bring in the rest of the panel, our CNN political commentator, the "New Yorker," Washington correspondent Ryan Lizza and our senior political analyst David Gergen.
David, you heard all those numbers that Dana just laid out. Donald Trump with a staggering lead right now, nationally among Republicans with Ted Cruz. It's a national poll, once individual states start voting things obviously can change, often could change in a hurry. But do you think Trump could actually be the Republican presidential nominee?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And you know, just yesterday we were talking about it seemed to be in a Quinnipiac poll, he was ahead by four. But if you go back to the last seven polls that have been taken over the last two weeks, his lead is very substantial. Double digits in every other poll other than Quinnipiac and, you know, this big lead in CNN.
Now, in years past, Wolf, when you and I first got involved in politics. The person ahead at this time in the Republican Party generally went on to win the nomination, not so true in the last eight years. And eight years ago it was Rudy Giuliana who is ahead at this point going, you know, at the end of the year poll. And then four years ago was Newt Gingrich. Neither of them went on to win the nomination. So while you have to say that Trump is a favorite, lots of things can happen between now and the election starting at Iowa.
BLITZER: Which is February 1st and February 9th in New Hampshire.
Ryan, it's important to point out that polls certainly can be all over the place there as David just mentioned. The Quinnipiac national poll the other day had Trump leading Cruz by four points so who really knows what is going on in the CNN orc poll on specific issues where Republicans are asks who can best handle the economy, immigration, ISIS, Trump is by far their number one choice despite some reality checks on his proposals that don't necessarily always play in his favor. How do you explain that that most Republicans think he can do the best job?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I'm going to be a little bit of the Grinch on these polls in terms of Donald Trump. I'm really -- I think at this point in the cycle, national polls are just not that important. They tell you about, you know, who is in the news and who has high name I.D. but they don't have a lot of predictive value.
I personally would look at the polling averages in Iowa and New Hampshire and the story in Iowa is that Ted Cruz has taken the lead if you look at the polling averages. He surged into the lead. He's taken most of the support that had been going to Carson and he is the guy to watch and, you know, Trump versus Cruz is now the race to watch in Iowa. And Cruz is surging at the right time. Now, granted, there is more than a month before the Iowa caucuses.
Look at the polling in New Hampshire. Donald Trump still the leader there but he is on a very, very gradual downward slope and you have three people on his heels Rubio, Cruz, and Christie who just watched those guys over the month and see if they pop.
The second thing is as Dana pointed out, this is a sequential process. We don't have a national primary. We don't all vote on the same day. It's one race after another and what happens in Iowa is going to have a huge influence on what happens in New Hampshire and that is going to have a huge influence on what happens in South Carolina.
And then finally, you know, to continue being the Grinch here, the head-to-head polls, those don't, you know, the head-to-head general election polls, those don't really tell you - don't have a lot of predictive value until a little bit later in the cycle. And then the final thing is, remember the caucuses this year are February 1st. In previous cycles, I remember I was in Iowa on New Years Eve because they were early in January. So we have an extra month compared to some of the previous cycles.
So long way to go. I would not be preparing my victory speech in Cleveland if I were Donald Trump just yet.
BLITZER: The increasingly heated personal battle --
GERGEN: Back --
BLITZER: Hold on, David --
GERGEN: There are a couple people --
BLITZER: Hold on David, one second because I want to get to this increasingly heated battled between Donald and Hillary Clinton as it unfolding, as well. He said some ugly things about her in the past couple days, today she said he has demonstrated a quote "pension for sexism" now just a little while ago. Trump tweeted quote "Hillary, when you complain about a pension for sexism, who are you referring to? I have a great respect for women. Be careful."
Let me ask Dana, what does he mean by that, be careful?
[20:10:00] BASH: OK. So you are asking me to be the Trump whisperer. OK, I'll give it a try. Let's just look at what some of his campaign aides have said on CNN over the past few hours. They have talked specifically about Hillary Bill Clinton and about his escapades, shall we say, with women during his presidency. So that seems to be what he is suggesting there.
And you know who are knows what that means in the future. What we do know about what this all means in the present is that it is very good for both of their campaigns. For Hillary Clinton to go at it with Donald Trump right now at least in the short term, not a bad thing for shoring up and exciting the democratic base, same goes for Trump.
BLITZER: What do you think, David?
GERGEN: Well, it will be only couple of days ago, people were speculating that Trump was actually trying to set a trap for Hillary Clinton, that he intentionally made sexist remarks in order to have her attack him as being a sexist and in order to make the Bill Clinton point in response and that seems to be what played out. I don't think there is any question he's dragging Bill Clinton into. I also think he is playing with fire. First of all, he went way over the line himself in what he said. And secondly, Bill Clinton is one of the most popular people in the country now. He ended up his presidency with very high approval ratings. I don't think that is going to get Trump very far.
BLITZER: Yes. And Bill Clinton is going to go out in January and start campaigning. Big time for Hillary Clinton as well among that democratic base, very, very popular right now. Should be huge.
All right, guys, Dana Bash, Ryan Lizza, David Gergen, thanks to all of you.
One other related, Ben Carson, is said to be weighing a major campaign shakeup right now. He will be joining Don Lemon on "CNN TONIGHT" that begins at 10:00 p.m. eastern. That is coming up.
Up next here, Ted Cruz gets mad at the news media and say they are exploiting his children and uses the controversy to raise campaign cash. The question is who is exploiting whom? Are children ever fair game in presidential politics?
And later. They were on the line ready to take off on a family trip to Disneyland when authorities on the ground in London said no way. The family says it because they are Muslim. We have new information coming in on what might have kept them off that flight.
[20:15:42] BLITZER: Ted Cruz may only be a freshman senator and newcomer to the presidential campaign but he just become part of a long-running political tradition involving candidates, their children and controversy.
Senator Cruz, as you know, made a Christmas theme that campaign video with their wife Heidi and their daughters Caroline and Kathryn. Then the "Washington Post" cartoonist, Ann Tenaes, mocked it in this side of depicting the senator as an organ grinder with a monkeys for daughters. The Post later pulled the cartoon but not before Senator Cruz took very public un-bridge which continued on the stump today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have to admit yesterday when I saw that cartoon, not much ticks me off. But making fun of my girls, that will do it. Everyone expects mainstream media to be liberal, to be bias, folks want to attack me, knock yourself out. That's part of the process. I signed up for that. That's fine. But my girls didn't sign up for that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Other candidates joined him and condemning "the Washington Post." Ann Telnaes meantime says that Senator Cruz is the one exploiting his kids making him and them target for satire. As for the senator, he is now raising money of the controversy, sending out this email blast to supporters asking for emergency donations hoping to raise a million dollars in 24 hours to send the Post a message. As we said, this is just the latest in a long line of stories involving families and politics.
360's Randi Kaye has more.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They smiled a lot and waved a lot but barely spoke. That was the norm on the Obama campaign trail for his two daughters. But in the rare moments they did speak, it was priceless.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Love for daddy!
KAYE: Remember this from the 2008 Democratic convention.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Daddy, what city are you in?
KAYE: Still not all candidates subscribe to the screen but rarely heard rule when it comes to children on the campaign trail. Remember, it was Donald Trump's daughter, Yvanka, who introduced him when he first announced his campaign for president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have the honor of introducing a man who needs no introduction.
KAYE: On the trail, she has been reaching out to women on behalf of her father.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He would be amazing for women in this country. He would be incredible for women in this country.
KAYE: Another candidate's daughter Meghan McCain was a fixture at her father's side in 2008 and the keeper of the McCainblogit.com. She appeared on "Larry king" weeks before the election.
MEGHAN MCCAIN, SEN. JOHN MCCAIN'S DAUGHTER: I have a really great relationship with my dad. We've always been kindred spirits. My mom calls me John McCain in a dress.
KAYE: Yet, she was reportedly banished from the campaign trail before the election. The blog she hoped would widen her father's appeal among the younger generation was mocked instead.
John Huntsman's daughter made a big push for dad even taking on rival campaigns. In this campaign ad, the Huntsman girls poke fun at Hermann Cane's campaign manager. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tomorrow is Friday. One day closer to the
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We strongly believe that our dad has the experience and proven track record to revive America's economy and create jobs.
KAYE: Mitt Romney had the support of five sons. In 2012 his son Craig was the standout flute in Spanish and often heard appealing to Latino voters.
CRAIG ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S SON: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
KAYE: And yes, even Ted Cruz' daughters have been featured by his campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Imagine the greatest --
KAYE: This Iowa ad put out by the Cruz campaign was what inspired the controversial "Washington Post" cartoon. The 90-second spot shows the family reading from a fictional hole day theme children's book and one of Cruz' daughters slamming Hillary Clinton.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She said I know what I'll do, she said with (INAUDIBLE). I'll use my own server and no one will be wiser.
KAYE: Running for office truly a family affair.
Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: Digging deeper now to the controversial side of candidates and their kids with our CNN political commentator Amanda Carpenter, former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz. Also our CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and our CNN media analyst Bill Carter.
Jeff, you say there is a double standard in political coverage that you happily abide by, politics can make their kid a focus but the media shouldn't be focusing in on them, explain.
[20200:15] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there is a long tradition in American politics of politicians having a tableau with their children and they walk out in there when they except the nomination of their party and appear in public with their children. But we have always given children a wide birth. We don't report on their activities. We don't investigate their lives. And so politicians can in effect brag about their kids but we don't investigate them. And I think that's fine. I really do think children are off limits and that system I think worked pretty well for all concern.
BLITZER: I agree.
Amanda, Senator Cruz is using the incident to fund raise. That's fair game in your book because his critics say you can't have it both ways, you can't say keep the kids out of it but I'll use the incident involving them to raise campaign crash.
AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. TED CRUZ: Well, sure. I think Ted Cruz has a right to tell his supporters what his family is up against. It also shows that by pushing back he was successful in getting the post taken down. And so, this is not only a victory for him but it shows a way that he has worked together with his supporters.
Keep in mind, it wasn't just him. He posted one tweet complaining about this. It was the flood of other people coming in after him expressing outrage. And so I think it's perfectly fine to say this happened and this is why I need your support in fighting back against more items like this.
BLITZER: Bill, you see this public outrage over this as pure politics when it comes to fundraising. Is that right?
BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Well, I wouldn't say it is pure politics but it certainly a calculations saying, you know, I can probably take advantage. I'm so outraged, you should spend money on my campaign. There is a little bit of that. I do think it is legitimate. He's not complaining about something illegitimate. But he also using a very practice medium now. He is going after the media. That works extremely well and he's shrewd for doing it. And I think it's very shrewd politician for doing it. I'm not criticizing it. I think it is very shrewd.
BLITZER: Jeff, what is your take on that?
TOOBIN: Well, I just also think, you know, the ability to be outraged and essentially to fake being outraged is a key attribute in American politics. You know, Hillary Clinton is outraged about what Donald Trump said about her going to the bathroom and, you know, Ted Cruz is outraged about this cartoon in the Washington Post. Are they really outraged? Are their feelings really hurt? I sort of doubt it. But, you know, it's part of the game.
CARPENTER: He posted --
TOOBIN: I'm sorry.
CARPENTER: I was going to say he posted one tweet. I think he actually showed an incredible amount of restraint. He only said hey, "Washington Post" come after me, not my girls. You know, as somebody who did that to my children, I'm not sure I could have been so concise in such a remark.
CARTER: No, but his campaign then put out a message saying look what they are doing and what the media is doing. They pounded that message. He was taking advantage of the situation I think and I'm not saying --
CARPENTER: Well, they certainly gave -- yes.
CARTER: Of course --
CARPENTER: They gave him plenty to work with.
TOOBIN: And Hillary Clinton is trying to mobilize women for her campaign because of this silly thing that Donald Trump said. You know, this is not inappropriate. It's not wrong that these politics do it, but let's not pretend this outrage is coming from some sort of deep feeling of hurt. You know, this is their taking advantage of the opportunities in front of them. And that's what politicians do.
BLITZER: Amanda, we also heard Senator Cruz use this as an opportunity I think to swipe at Hillary Clinton. So it seems like his outrage isn't so great that he missed this opportunity to sneak in a bit of a dig at the former secretary, the Democratic presidential front runner.
CARPENTER: Sure, I think it would be in the interest of all the people running for president to say hey this kind of stuff is over the line. I mean, certainly, I remember the last cycle, you know, David (INAUDIBLE) over at MSNBC said unflattering things about Chelsea Clinton. He ended up being suspended. I mean, there is a line that I think all candidates abide by. And you know, it would have been a good move for Hillary Clinton to show some unity in the ability to agree within the Republican. So I'm surprised she passed up on the opportunity. It would have been a nice moment but she declined.
BLITZER: Bill, is there ever a time when a politician's children are fair game for criticism or satire?
CARTER: Well, I guess Chelsea is a surrogate for her mother. So something she says can obviously be criticized. I think that - she is now an adult. She is out there in front supporting her mother. That makes her I think more fair game than when she was a child and Rush Limbaugh was comparing her to the White House dog. I mean, that was way over the line. Everyone understood that.
BLITZER: Bill Carter, Amanda Carpenter, and Jeff Toobin, guys, thank you very much.
A lot more ahead as "360" continues including the latest on the dangerous weather system hitting the south and Midwest. A tornado warning issued moments ago for Nashville.
[20:28:37] BLITZER: Get ready for something different at the airport. We have just learned about new guidelines from the transportation security administration making some passengers go through a body scanning machine instead of opting out and requesting a pat-down instead. The agency said the scanners do a better job with catching non-metallic bombs than people do.
Meantime, there are new developments to report on the story that British family kept that was kept off a flight from London to Los Angeles for a western journey with stops at the Grand Canyon and Disneyland. They say they were denied boarding because they were Muslim. Three senior U.S. officials tell CNN's Richard Quest religion had nothing to do with it. Separately though, checking names against the U.K. voter roll reveals what may have been at least one of the concerns namely an email address associated with the 18-year-old son, (INAUDIBLE). The address links to a Facebook page belonging to a resident of Birmingham with a similar name whose occupation is listed as supervisor at Taliban and leader at Al-Qaeda which sounds like it's clearly tongue and check. But any case, the family says the email listed is wrong and their son lives in London, not Birmingham.
For more now, here is CNN's Rene Marsh.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Inside London's airport, nine members of a British-Muslim family were denied boarding of a flight to California. They captured cell phone video of the moment.
Norwegian airlines tells CNN it acted on instructions from U.S. homeland security.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even though we have done nothing wrong, we feel like that you have done something wrong.
MARSH: Tariq Mamoud traveling with his family including seven children were waiting to board when they were stopped.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They didn't give us an explanation as to what was the problem. Because the kids were asking what is the problem? Why are we not going? So, we didn't - we actually asked them - what should we tell our kids? What is going on?
MARSH: The family say they had valid U.S. immigration documents and had been planning and saving for a trip to Disneyland with their children for months. The more than $13,000 they say they spent will not be refunded. British government officials are now fighting on their behalf.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The family was simply told to go home, no further contact has been made with them, no explanation has been provided. I have to also say this is not the only case that I have had raised with me of somebody traveling to America being stopped at the last minute.
MARSH: Mamoud's wife who asked we not show her face says she thinks their religion played a role.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My 10-year-old daughter said to my husband, is it because we're Muslim and my husband said why would you say that? And she goes, well, because we were the only Muslim people in that line.
MARSH: U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection told CNN, quote, "the religion, faith or spiritual believes of an international traveler are not determining factors." For flights in or out of the United States, passenger security checks happen long before travelers get to the airport, even before the airline accepts payment, names are run against the government's no-fly list. If there is a hit, the sale is denied. For those who've bought a ticket, names are continuously checked against other government databases searching everything from past itineraries to law enforcement and intelligence information. If there is a problem, the airlines deny boarding at the airport. But it's not just terrorism. There are other reasons a passenger could be denied boarding like incomplete documents or health-related issues.
BLITZER: That was CNN's Rene Marsh reporting. And there is a lot more happening tonight. Amara Walker has a "360 News and Business Bulletin." Amara.
AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf. The woman accused of killing one person and injuring dozens in a Vegas hit and run made her first appearance in court today. Lakeisha Holloway faces murder and other charges.
Convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky is getting a big check in the mail. The former Penn State assistant football coach serving time for molesting ten boys will get $211,000 in back payments from the Pennsylvania state government after a judge ruled it wrongly cut off his retirement benefits.
Hyatt hotels has fallen victim to a data breach at their corporate manage locations, nearly 260 properties. The hotel chain says it found malware on their computers.
And Santa will have some out of this world company on Christmas Eve. These are NASA photos of a massive asteroid expected to zoom past us tomorrow night but fear not, neither Santa nor the rest of us will be in danger. The fly by takes place more than 6 million miles from Earth, so Wolf, we can expect to survive this one.
BLITZER: We certainly can. Thanks very much, Amara, for that.
A lot more coming up tonight including part three of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's series on heroin addiction. You'll meet a man who's made the journey from rock bottom to back flips.
BLITZER: It's the untold story of this primary season and a very important story, indeed, politics or not. According to a recent University of New Hampshire, WMUR poll, what worries granite state voters most is not ISIS, not the economy, not education, it's drug abuse. Heroin to be exact. Heroin addiction is at epidemic levels in towns across New England right now and elsewhere and it will continue to be a problem long after the last voter votes. Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been investigating. Tonight, in part three of the series, one man's deeply challenging long-running struggle on the road from heroin to hope.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When he was just eight years old, Joe Putignano became obsessed with gymnastics. He was so good that his dreams of going to the Olympics seemed within reach. He couldn't have imagine that a dental procedure when he was 19 would derail those dreams and start a whole new obsession with prescription pain pills.
JOE PUTIGNANO, RECOVERING HEROIN USER: It just worked. You know, it clicked. It was like the stars were aligned and I've never felt anything like it.
GUPTA: This time, it was Percocet, but the high Joe felt from all sorts of opiates eventually led him to another opiate delivery system, heroin, one of the most dangerously addictive substances on the planet, nearly impossible to escape. As hard as he tried, Joe was among 78 percent of heroin addicts who relapse over and over again, a relapse he would encounter when he worked at "The New York Times."
PUTIGNANO: Yeah, I was 27 years old and "The New York Times" had sent me to rehab. I was so grateful. Still am. And it was there that a therapist suggested I go back to something I was passionate about, which was gymnastics. In my eyes, I was a failure in gymnastics. My only goal was to go to the Olympics and I didn't. So, to go back to that sport was to walk into humiliation. I went back to it in rehab, I started doing handstands and pushups, just to kind of gain a sense that what that would fill like. And this fire inside of me, I should say a spark kind of ignited.
GUPTA: No surprise, it felt pretty good and after rehab, Joe caught a break and started performing on Broadway. But the thing about heroin is that the possibility of a relapse was always waiting there for him in the wings.
PUTIGNANO: I managed to stay clean for a year and a half and I was on -- amazing my life changed. I was performing on Broadway. Couldn't believe it. You know, I was a heroin addict and here I am performing on Broadway.
GUPTA: But it was another visit to the dentist, another prescription. This time for Vicodin and then.
PUTIGNANO: I took it as prescribed and within four hours I was shooting heroin.
GUPTA (on camera): Four hours.
PUTIGNANO: Yes. On Broadway.
GUPTA: You were clean for a year and a half and performing on Broadway. You get an FDA approved medication from a doctor and within four hours.
PUTIGNANO: Yeah, it woke up, it woke up something ancient in me.
GUPTA: You took that Vicodin, again, a year and a half clean.
GUPTA: Describe again what did you feel?
PUTIGNANO: Like I came home. You know, like oh, I've missed you.
GUPTA (voice over): Stories about recovery are almost always messy. People move forward a little and then may slip back even more, but for Joe, each time it did become easier.
PUTIGNANO: These were all my emergency room overdoses and everything like that. I need to see a reminder, you know, of who I was.
GUPTA: The same obsessions that fueled his addiction also fueled his dazzling performances like this one as the Crystal Man in Cirque du Soleil's Totem. Tethered at the waist, spinning, shoulders pinned back, the twisting, the turning, stunning to watch, but also putting so much pressure on his upper body. For two years, his injuries mounted. Joe would eventually need surgery, painful surgery. He knew one thing though, pain pills could not be allowed because the risk of relapse was too great.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know your goal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your goal is to avoid anything that you had a problem with in the past.
PUTIGNANO: Of course.
GUPTA (on camera): You decided to let us follow you along for your shoulder operation. Why did you do that?
PUTIGNANO: At first I didn't want to because it felt like a very private thing and then I remembered, you know, what I had gone through. And I would think, this could actually help people.
GUPTA (voiced over): Joe came through those operations with flying colors. Instead of opioids, he was given a nerve block, anti- inflammatories even acupuncture. It worked for him. He got back to school, was exercising again, but then he needed another operation, this time his ankle.
PUTIGNANO: I was getting my ankle operated on. It was not nearly as severe as my shoulders. I had done everything we had in place for my shoulders. I told them what medications I can have, what I can't have and the day of surgery, there's a, like a five-page document that you sign and on every single one where it says allergy it said no opiates in big letters. Awesome. They know. We've talked about it and waking up out of surgery and it feels like someone sawed my ankle in half because that's kind of what happened and the nurse said are you in pain? I said yes. I wasn't even awake and all of a sudden I felt something, that thing, that ancient feeling like oh my god and I said what did you just give me? And she says Fentenel. And I was like oh my god. So I freaked out, because this felt good. I was eight years clean and like this isn't fair. I was drugged.
GUPTA: Whether or not the nurse simply forgot or there is still a fundamental misunderstanding about the severity of addiction, Joe was in trouble. Again. But this time, the brutal years he had endured through recovery paid off. This time there were no more pills, no more heroin, no more relapse.
PUTIGNANO: So, this is the old apartment I used to live in.
GUPTA (voice over): Literally across the hall.
PUTIGNANO: Yeah, 18 years ago when I was a heroin addict, it was actually during 9/11 and my apartment was full of syringes and it's interesting now living the life I do because it's like you make that one decision that changes your life. When I walk down the hall, I take a right and not a left.
GUPTA: That was the old Joe, this is the new Joe.
GUPTA (voice over): And his first obsession, his first love really is still very much part of his life.
(on camera): Is this a sanctuary for you now, a gym?
PUTIGNANO: Yes, this is pretty much where I've done my recovery, not just from surgery, but also where I come to when I have a lot of emotion in sobriety.
GUPTA (voice over): The gym is now a refuge, a sort of place of safety far, far away from his addiction to heroin.
PUTIGNANO: Addiction is the only cell where the key is on the inside and I don't live, I don't live in that cell anymore.
GUPTA: Sanjay, Joe was so very careful with his surgeries, what are the some of the ways that someone who does have an addiction to opiates could manage their pain in alternative ways?
GUPTA: Well, you know, there is lots of options other than going straight to narcotics. You know, for example, with his shoulder operation, he got a pain block ahead of time. You know, it was a sort of numbing up the area of his shoulder and letting some of that medication last, linger even after the operation. He had things like acupuncture, which is becoming more widely used in hospitals, especially for people who have concerns about using narcotics. But the real point, though, you know, Wolf, the idea of giving narcotics in someone who's an addict, we go straight to them so quickly, 80 percent of the world's pain pills are consumed in the United States. We go to them so quickly, that we haven't really evaluated some of these other options. Joe teaches us what we can evaluate. BLITZER: What is next for Joe, Sanjay?
GUPTA: You know, it's interesting. So, you see, he's a gymnast, a professional one. He's been doing these amazing shows. He's actually going to go to the medical field. He's going into nursing. He wants to now -- he's going to school. He's going to help treat people who suffer from similar sorts of problems as he did including addictions, so he's really turned his life around. I mean the relapse, the potential of a relapse is always there sort of waiting potentially for him in the wings, but he's free of it now and he wants to help.
BLITZER: Yeah, he's doing a great job. Let's hope it stays that way. Sanjay, thank you very much.
GUPTA: Yeah, Wolf, thank you.
BLITZER: And just ahead, an update on our breaking news. The death toll now rising from that rough weather hitting parts of the country. Four people have now lost their lives including three in Mississippi. We have details next.
BLITZER: More now on our breaking news, the very dangerous weather hitting parts of the south and Midwest right now. The death toll now standing at four including three in Mississippi. One of the fatalities is seven-year-old little boy. In the town of Holy Springs and the area around Clarksdale hit very hard. Weather alerts are up across the region all evening. Let's get some more now, Jennifer Gray is in the CNN weather center. What's the latest, Jennifer?
JENNIFER GRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we still have tornado warnings in effect, we did have one for the Nashville area. That one luckily has expired. So, Nashville in the clear now, but that tornado warning has shifted a little farther to the north and east. The county of Wilson now within that tornado warned area until about 8:00 Central time. So, for the next ten minutes or so. We still have a couple of tornado warnings down to the south, Lawrence, Louis and Mari Counties, including the city of Mount Pleasant, that is also still in effect.
A lot of people on the roads tonight, so it's been a very dangerous situation and in fact that one tornado watch that we have in effect until 8:00. The storm prediction center labeled it as a particularly dangerous situation and they got it spot on because that is where we saw that tornado in Mississippi. We've had a couple of deaths, unfortunately, from this round of nasty weather and it is not over yet. So about half a million people still in that warned area that is set to expire in the next ten minutes. Here is the path of that storm that pushed about 100 miles or more that hit that area just to the south of Clarksdale and continued on into portions of southern Tennessee leaving a path of destruction. We have had so far 17 tornado reports, 143 wind reports and 27 hail reports. We've had hail the size of golf balls and some reports, the size of tennis balls in eastern Arkansas and this isn't a springtime pattern, Wolf. You know, we normally talk about this in the spring and even the fall. We have that warm and humid air pumping in from the south, cold and dry air from the West. Temperatures are going to stay well above normal for Christmas Eve.
This could be one of the warmest Christmas Eves on record with temperatures running about 25 to 30 degrees warmer than they should be and so that's part of the reason that we saw these nasty storms. They will continue to push east through the night. In fact, the eastern seaboard throughout the overnight hours and tomorrow, not to mention, Wolf, travel delays not only on the roads, but also in the skies. We've seen delays all up and down the East Coast today including New York City, D.C. We had a couple of ground stops throughout the day. Atlanta even delayed today. So, expect those to trickle into tomorrow most likely. This affects everyone from the roads to the skies and it's not over yet, Wolf.
BLITZER: Not over yet. We'll stay in close touch with you, Jennifer, thank you very much.
Let's take a look at this video right now from a storm chaser, who was in Mississippi, it was done within 200 yards away from the tornado. That storm chaser Stas Speransky is joining us on the phone right now. Stas, we are watching the incredible video you shot of this tornado right now. What did it feel like getting so close?
STAS SPERANSKY, STORM CHASER, MISSISSIPPI: Well, you know, close to - south, I saw the storm coming down I-55 down the - intercepted and down on the horizon coming towards me. So, I decided to park my car and get some shots from further away. I tried to position myself to the storms where the tornado is basically crossing the road. Kind of - so I can get a, you know, a good video that hopefully entertains some people. And that's about it.
BLITZER: We're showing, Stas, this video that you shot while your car was moving and we see that tornado. Literally right in front of you and as I said, you got to, what, about 200 yards away from the tornado. Did you remain calm during that whole period?
SPERANSKY: Yeah, well, you know, I'm a meteorologist by training, so I hope I know what I'm doing. When it comes to tornadoes close range, you kind of just trust your eyes, to be honest. It wasn't that violent in this case. It's the same tornado that actually killed a couple of people down the road in Holly Springs and in that area, but at this stage, it's a weaker tornado where I can actually produce - get pretty close to it and the motion of it was pretty predictable. So, I can - get approach to that really - and still remain calm and shoot the video.
BLITZER: Yeah, it was very impressive.
Were you able, Stas, to survey the damage that this tornado did because I know this tornado crossed a pretty large swatch - slash of land? SPERANSKY: Yes, sir, I actually tried to keep up with the tornado far mostly, 50 to 60 miles an hour and trees in Mississippi and made it impossible. I actually ran into a tree down the road. So I couldn't [INAUDIBLE], but I'm coming in in my storm base today.
BLITZER: How long have you been a storm chaser?
SPERANSKY: How long? Only a year. I moved to Oklahoma from Florida after I got a master degree in meteorology and I got a job in Oklahoma, and I always wanted to chase the storms. I get into it. and continued doing it. I really love it and will do my best.
BLITZER: How does this one compare to others you've chased?
SPERANSKY: This is probably my closest one and most, I guess, I was with it the longest. I have a video recorded about 15 minutes long I was actually in view of the tornado. But it definitely wasn't the strongest, but it was very, very photogenic, so to speak.
BLITZER: Well, I'm glad you are OK, Stas Speransky. Thank you very much and thanks for sharing that video with us as well. Stay safe over there. We'll take a quick break and we'll be right back.
BLITZER: That's all the time we have.
BLITZER: For this edition of "360" before we - reminder, you can go to "AC360.com" to pick the best ridiculous of 2015. We'll enter the top vote getters next week.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. Anthony Bourdain "Parts Unknown" starts right now.