WASHINGTON: There is one thing Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state, admits she has learned running for president: a heroin and painkiller epidemic is ravaging US communities, and it’s getting worse.
Her Republican rivals know it too. Several on the 2016 campaign trail have opened up about their personal connections to overdose tragedies.
A retired doctor came to see Clinton in the spring in Keene, New Hampshire imploring her to do something about heroin, which has replaced opioid prescription analgesics as the narcotic of choice in some US cities and rural areas.
Clinton promised to bring the problem “out of the shadows.”
In September the Democratic frontrunner proposed a $10 billion plan to help the 23 million Americans who suffer from addiction or substance abuse, only 10 percent of whom currently get treatment.
Over the past seven years, more Americans have died from overdoses than in traffic accidents, official statistics show. Overdose deaths topped 46,000 in 2013.
Republican candidates have denounced the US health care system deficiencies that allow many who need treatment to slip through the cracks, and they have told their own stories of family tragedies to drive the point home.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie cited a close friend from law school—successful, handsome, rich—who ended up addicted to painkillers after suffering a back injury.
Eight years of hell ensued: the man lost his wife, job and home, and was eventually found dead in a motel room next to empty bottles of vodka and Percocet, a prescription painkiller which is a popular target for drug traffickers.
“Somehow, if it’s heroin or cocaine or alcohol, we say, ‘They decided it, they’re getting what they deserved,’” Christie said last week at a New Hampshire town hall event.
“I’m pro-life,” Christie stressed in an appeal to conservatives. “And I think that if you’re pro-life you’ve got to be pro-life for the whole life, not just the nine months they’re in the womb.”
A video of Christie’s emotional plea has gone viral, drawing nearly seven million views online.
Fellow candidate Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, also made a personal plea for expanded treatment for addicts, recalling her stepdaughter’s 2009 death after years of struggles with alcohol and prescription pills.
“My husband Frank and I buried a child to drug addiction,” she said during a September Republican debate watched by 23 million viewers.
“We must invest more in the treatment.”
Candidate solutions include a recognition that addiction is a chronic mental illness requiring longterm treatment.
Republican Jeb Bush has also spoken out. His daughter Noelle was arrested for prescription fraud in 2002—while he was Florida governor and brother George W. Bush was president.
“It is the most heart-breaking thing in the world to go through,” Bush said recently while advocating for expanded treatment.