Across New Hampshire, overdoses are on track to break last year's record of 326 deaths. The pattern is so alarming that participants in a local survey ranked drug abuse as the most important issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, surpassing jobs and economy for the first time in eight years, says the Wall Street Journal. That is prompting a conversation in the state with the nation's first primary that is remarkably different from prior elections in its expressions of compassion rather than condemnation. Substance abuse advocates plan to push presidential candidates from both parties to focus on drug-abuse and mental-health issues and host forums on the topics. Former Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN), two men who have struggled with addiction and become advocates, are co-hosting the effort, with a kickoff planned for next Tuesday.
The effort, called the NOW Campaign, is expected to have a budget of at least $3.5 million and to hire staffers in early primary states to push on the issues. “It is the most heartbreaking thing in the world to have to go through,” said Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush in a New Hampshire town hall meeting. His daughter, Noelle, was arrested for trying to illegally buy prescription drugs and attended mandatory drug treatment. Former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina has opened up to voters about the hardship of losing her daughter to heroin addiction, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has written about losing his half-sister to a drug overdose. New Jersey Gov.Chris Christie, who has made substance-abuse treatment a hallmark of his campaign, speaks of losing a law school friend to prescription pills. “I got a phone call that they found him in a hotel room with an empty bottle of Percocet and a bottle of vodka,” Mr. Christie said during an event at a New Hampshire drug-treatment facility. Among Democrats, Hillary and Bill Clinton have both spoken emotionally about the prescription pill-related death of a 28-year-old State Department intern while she served as secretary in 2012. The Clinton Foundation has launched an initiative to cut prescription-drug deaths in half.