2016ers open up about drug addiction fights

Story highlights

  • On the campaign trail in New Hampshire, Jeb Bush spoke about how his daughter, Noelle, struggled with a drug addiction that landed her in jail
  • "I visited her in jail. Never expected to see my beautiful daughter in jail," the Republican presidential candidate said
  • Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina have also spent time speaking about drug abuse on the campaign trail

(CNN)Jeb Bush, on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, spoke in emotional terms and revealed new insights about a painful period when his daughter, Noelle, struggled with a drug addiction that landed her behind bars.

"I visited her in jail. Never expected to see my beautiful daughter in jail," the Republican presidential candidate said in an interview with The Huffington Post, adding, "She went through hell." "When I travel and do my regular job I can just look in someone's eyes and I can just tell, you can just see it."
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. Bush was Florida governor at the time, and Noelle's addiction was thrust into the full public spotlight. Her uncle, George W. Bush, was also president.
    Prescription drug addictions have often led to heroin overdoses and it's become a growing 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.
    It has especially become an issue on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. At town halls and meet-and-greets across the state, voters regularly share stories of losing a loved one, and many candidates respond with their own personal stories.
    Chris Christie has spent more time than any other candidate on the trail in New Hampshire and so it may come as no surprise that he has been one of the more vocal candidates in addressing substance abuse.
    His frequent answer on the issue is "You got to be pro-life for the whole life, not just for the 9 months they're in the womb." He tells voters that as governor of New Jersey he has put in place policies that seek to give addicts tools for recovery, not judge them, and to tear down the stigma surrounding addiction.
    Christie often gives the example of a close friend of his from law school who he says seemed to have everything he wanted in life. But after being prescribed Percocet for a back injury the friend became addicted and ultimately died from alcohol and drugs with his life in shambles.
    Christie tells this story in a video shot by the Huffington Post at a recent town hall that has now been viewed more than 5 million times.
    "By every measure that we define success in this country this guy had it, great looking guy, well educated, great career, plenty of money, beautiful loving wife, beautiful children, great house, he had everything. He's a drug addict and he couldn't get help and he's dead," Christie says in the video. "There but for the grace of God go I. It can happen to anyone so we need to start treating people in this country, not jailing them."
    The issue has personal significance for businesswoman Carly Fiorina as well. In New Hampshire she has talked about losing her step-daughter to addiction, during interviews and on the debate stage.
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    In July, Fiorina spoke at a house party in Nashua, New Hampshire and told the crowd the issue touches her personally because of her own family's struggle as well as talking to the people in the Granite State.
    "When I come here to New Hampshire one of the issues that I have learned a lot about that's touched me is the problem of heroin addiction here. It touches me, because it touches so many lives, but also because we lost a daughter to addiction," Fiorina said in Nashua, New Hampshire this summer.
    Bush said his daughter is "doing fine now, but it's with you for the rest of your life."
    He said that Noelle had struggled with addiction since she was a teenager and expressed frustration over the difficulty of diagnosing the disorder.
    "If someone has a cut on the finger, you know what to do," he said. "If someone has a disorder in their brain it's just must harder."
    Bush also shared a story in which a woman whose son died of an overdose emailed him, accusing him of being in favor of an open border, which could lead to more drug trafficking.
    "I called her said you're wrong. She said, I'm not... basically 'f--- you'... I said I want to see you," Bush said, adding that they visited and prayed together. "We hugged about it...and we're friends. There is a shared bond in this, people who go through this. I don't know what it's like to lose a daughter, but I almost did."
    Bush has been talking in personal terms all week in New Hampshire about his daughter's experience. Earlier Thursday, at a town hall in North Conway, Bush seemed to grow emotional after a man talked about his son dying from an overdose of Oxycontin.
    "I've had personal experience with this," Bush said. "Just the heartbreaking nature of someone who you love with all your heart who is afflicted with addiction -- or even worse dies -- is just," Bush said, before pausing and breathing in a deep sigh, "It's horrible."
    He paused in silence again, looking down at his feet.
    On Wednesday he embraced an idea that was shared with him during a campaign stop at a pharmacy in Hollis, New Hampshire. Pharmacy owner Vahrij Manoukian lost a child to overdose and said he wants to institute laws that identify drug dealers in the same light as child molesters, listing them publicly and even stamping their drivers license with some kind of marker.
    "I love this idea of creating a sense of shame, of ostracizing people who are preying on vulnerable people," he added. "It is totally true."