Drug addiction has become a huge topic in the presidential race, thanks in part due to the number of heroin-related deaths quadrupling since 2002. And it will take center stage Tuesday at a forum in New Hampshire.
Jeb Bush, like many candidates from both parties, regularly talks about the problem, citing his daughter’s former struggle with addiction as a close-to-home example of a nationwide problem.
The former Florida governor released a detailed policy proposal Monday to combat the issue ahead of his appearance at the New Hampshire Forum on Addiction and the Heroin Epidemic. New Jersey Gov. Christ Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina will also speak at the event.
Timed to the release of his policy, Bush released a post on Medium outlining the “Heartbreak of Addiction.”
“Drug abuse and addiction hurts Americans from all walks of life,” Bush said in the post published Monday night. “It is a complex problem that requires a multi-disciplinary, multi-faceted solution.”
Bush would take a few concrete steps if he becomes president, including re-elevating the Director of the Office of the National Drug Control Policy to a cabinet-level job to help streamline prevention and law enforcement efforts.
Since many heroin users are initially addicted to pain killers, the Bush campaign said the candidate supports finding more formulations of prescription drugs that prevent abuse, like limiting the drug’s effect if it is inappropriately cut, chewed or ground. These are known as abuse deterrent formulations. Under a Bush White House, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would reduce generic pills on the market that don’t have such deterrent qualities.
Cracking down on “pill mills” that over-prescribe medication for profit and securing the border are also on his list of prevention methods.
But at the end of the day, Bush believes prevention starts at an early age and will require “dedicated parents and strong communities” to educate children about the consequences of drugs, his campaign said.
He also wants to enact more communication between states using the Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, so that patients who abuse painkillers by going to different doctors and pharmacies can be better identified across state lines.
On the criminal justice side, Bush believes federal drug sentencing laws are “antiquated and often counterproductive,” and he favors treatment rather than time behind bars for nonviolent drug offenders. That would also involve expanding drug courts, a system that he tripled as governor of Florida, according to his campaign.
Bush has spoken in increasingly personal terms about his daughter’s experience. 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 serving as Florida’s governor at the time, and Noelle’s addiction was thrust into the full public spotlight.
“I visited her in jail. Never expected to see my beautiful daughter in jail,” he said in an interview with The Huffington Post last fall. “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.”
Fiorina, meanwhile, frequently mentions the death of her step-daughter to addiction, while Christie’s story about losing a friend to the disease became a viral video last fall.