Republican presidential hopefuls called for a more compassionate discussion around drug addiction yesterday, with emphasis on substance abuse as a curable disease, not a moral failing, the Associated Press reports. “This is a national calling,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said at the New Hampshire Forum on Addiction and the Heroin Epidemic. “We should be able to talk about this without all the stigma attached to it. We need to eliminate the stigma.” Home to the first 2016 presidential primary and a state that’s seen drug deaths skyrocket, New Hampshire’s place on the campaign calendar has turned drug addiction into a hot-button campaign issue.
Health officials estimate that 400 people died from overdoses in New Hampshire in 2015, more than doubling the 2013 rate. Candidates visited a peer-recovery center in Manchester, attended drug roundtables at hospitals and shared stories they hear from New Hampshire voters battling addiction. Bush and technology executive Carly Fiorina spoke about how frequently they meet people on the trail in New Hampshire who share their struggles with addiction or talk about family members who lost their lives to drugs. Both have deeply personal experiences with addiction. Fiorina’s step-daughter died from a drug overdose in 2009, while Bush’s daughter has struggled with addiction. “The pain that you feel when you have a loved one who has addiction challenges and spirals out of control is something that I share with a whole lot of people,” Bush said after sharing an emotional reflection on his daughter’s history with drugs.