In this political campaign, at least four GOP candidates talked candidly about their experience with addiction. In former campaigns this would undoubtedly be considered a sly strategy to woo voters. However, with the drug epidemic spiking in every demographic and especially among middle class whites, the usual presidential rhetoric repeatedly shifted gears to include the recounting of some heart-tugging personal addiction stories. While it is difficult to tell if the reason for the shift was prompted by the desire to be relatable to voters or a sincere need to address an expensive and serious public health problem, the outcome could be positive for people battling addiction.
For instance, GOP dominated congress has for years blocked the use of federal dollars to fund drug programs despite rising heroin overdose deaths and a HIV health crisis. There has however, been a significant change of heart that goes even beyond GOP candidates and addiction stories. With an unequalled support by Republican lawmakers, for the first time in 25 years, congress gave permission for funds to be allocated to the Department of Health for a long proposed syringe-exchange program. This represents a major step in stemming the HIV pandemic. It will enable drug users across the country to have greater access to the distribution of sterile syringes for intravenous drug use.
Many believe these changes in the political arena about addiction had a lot to do with the behind the scene real life addiction stories told by Chris Christie, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush. While on the campaign trail, Governor Chris Christie had his audience’s attention as he began his riveting story about the tobacco induced death of his mother and fatal prescription drug overdose of his friend from law school. As he carefully unfolded the story his friend’s struggle with addiction to alcohol and later prescription pain pills, he also pointed out that no one is immune to addiction. Christie’s plea to policy makers to destigmatize drug abuse by changing the way America treat people in addiction did not go unnoticed. In fact, the video stream was viewed repeatedly by millions of people on Facebook and cable news. For his part, the Governor signed an Executive Order to create the “Facing Addiction Task Force” that will be responsible for developing a comprehensive multi-faceted approach to provide education, prevention mechanisms and more treatment opportunities for people in addiction.
Ted Cruz’s addiction story also tugged at the heartstrings of the American people. He not only explained the devastating effects and sad outcome of drug abuse on his half-sister but also offered hope for transformation. Referring to the drug problem being played out across the nation as “the human story” Cruz called for heightened security between the United States and Mexico borders as one way to minimize drug trafficking.
Maybe more than any other candidate, Jeb Bush’s addiction hit closest to home. The media has laid out his daughter Noelle’s struggle for the world to see. As Bush explained, his daughter’s addiction has had a tremendous impact on family life as well as his political career. According to the former presidential candidate, Noelle’s addiction enabled him to truly understand what parents and other loved ones dealing with addiction go through; because he has been there.
The GOP forerunner, Donald Trump has also come face to face with the tragedy of addiction. The aggressive presidential hopeful softened his demeanor as he recalled the life changing events in his brother Fred Trump Jr’s life that took on the road to addiction and an early death. “Once Freddy began drinking in his 20’s he was never able to turn his life back around” Trump said. In the end, he lost his marriage, his flying license and was living in one of his parent’s homes when he died at the age of 42. The effect of this experience was so profound, according to Trump, that it impacted his decision to never smoke, drink or use drugs of any kind. Like other candidates, Trump also has a plan to secure American borders and work with people in addiction to address the nation’s drug epidemic.
If nothing else, the GOP candidates and their addiction stories has highlighted the need for change when it comes to helping people to overcome the debilitating effects of substance addiction.
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