In a rare and emotional moment, Jeb Bush made a reference to his daughter’s struggle with substance abuse while talking Wednesday about the perils of addiction that are plaguing the United States.
The Republican presidential candidate, holding a town hall in Merrimack, New Hampshire, was asked to talk about what he would do to curb what officials have described as a surging heroin and prescription drug epidemic.
Bush said it’s important to recognize that ongoing addiction is a “lifetime challenge” that needs a “recovery kind of philosophy.”
“People need to stay together in this regard,” he said. “And, look, I have some personal experience with this as a dad, and it is the most heartbreaking thing in the world to have to go through.”
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His daughter, Noelle, was arrested in 2002 at the age of 24 for trying to fill a false prescription and was sentenced 10 days in jail for contempt of court after she was found with crack cocaine in a drug rehabilitation center. It was a painful time for the family, as Bush was governor of Florida and Noelle’s addiction was thrust into the full public spotlight. Her uncle, George W. Bush, was also president at the time.
More than a decade later, Noelle Bush now appears occasionally with her father and other family members on the campaign trail. She attended his presidential announcement in June and joined one of her two brothers, George P. Bush, along with their dad, for a parade in New Hampshire on the Fourth of July.
Last month she and her mother, Columba, attended an event in Orlando, where Jeb Bush spoke before a group of racially diverse pastors.
Bush is frequently asked on the campaign trail about the country’s growing addiction problem, and the first question he received at his inaugural town hall in New Hampshire was about the heroin epidemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last month that deaths from heroin-related overdoses nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013 in the United States.
Earlier Wednesday, Bush took part in a private roundtable discussion at the Manchester Recovery Center to talk with recovering from alcohol and drug use. His New Hampshire strategist, Rich Killion, said the meeting featured “some powerful stories” about struggle and peer-based recovery services.
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Bush, speaking at the town hall in Merrimack, recalled efforts that his state took to expand treatment and drug courts, as well as create “prevention coalitions” in every county. In his editorial board meeting last month with the New Hampshire Union Leader, he also said his wife was also involved in working on the state’s strategy to address drug abuse, which included a survey of 50,000 young people each year to measure drug and alcohol habits.
“You got to deal with it in a comprehensive way,” he told the editorial board.
On Wednesday, Bush added that the war on drugs also needs a revamp, emphasizing that the heroin problem is a “good” reason to control the border.
“I don’t know exactly what part of the border heroin comes through but it clearly is coming, because the price is extraordinarily low,” he said. Bush added that border control agents can help combat the problem by using GPS technology, radar and drones.
The issue of crime and drugs spilling across the border has seen renewed attention in recent weeks with the rise of Donald Trump in Republican presidential polls. Bush reiterated that he doesn’t agree with Trump’s call to deport undocumented immigrants, saying it “would rip up communities,” but stressed criminals “should be deported.”