Jeb Bush Gets Personal With Substance Abuse, Talks Daughter's Addiction, And Plan To Combat The Problem Nationwide

Jeb Bush
Bush has referenced his daughter's struggle with addiction in the past, but he's never been so candid. gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When addressing an audience Tuesday about substance abuse, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush drew from personal experience, The Guardian reports. Bush spoke at a substance abuse forum in New Hampshire, where heroin-related overdoses have spiked in recent years. While he's alluded to his daughter's substance abuse before, the forum marks the first time the former governor of Florida has openly spoken about it at length.

"As a father, I have felt the heartbreak of drug abuse," he said. "My daughter Noelle suffered from an addiction, and like many parents facing similar situations, her mom and I struggled to get help." Bush's daughter faced felony charges when she attempted to fill a fraudulent prescription for Xanax at age 24; and later ended up in jail after she was found with crack cocaine in her shoe at a rehabilitation facility in Florida. Bush said he never expected to see his beloved daughter in jail.

"She went through hell, so did her mom, and so did I," he said.

Bush was governor of Florida as this was going on, telling the audience his family suffered especially because of the added publicity surrounding his daughter's ordeal. He explained the kind of pain felt when a loved one struggles with addiction is the kind that spirals, and "is shared with a whole lot of people."

Prior to the forum, Bush unveiled a nationwide plan to combat substance abuse by addressing what he believes are the biggest risk factors, including border security, prevention, treatment, and recovery. The Bush campaign promises if he's elected president, he will enact tougher sentences for drug cartels, but lower the mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders; he'll also expand closely monitored treatment options.

In relation to drug cartels, Bush has said he will aim to secure the border by partnering with the countries that are "primary sources" of illegal drug trafficking into the U.S., like Mexico and Colombia.

"This is a national calling," Bush said. "It has to be locally driven, inspired by people acting on their heart. We should be able to figure out a way to talk about this without all of the stigmas attached to it."

Though heroin-related overdoses and deaths have been rising dramatically, New Hampshire has been hit especially hard. Opioid deaths were up 76 percent in 2014, according to the state officials — that same year, 325 people died from an opioid overdose.

Bush is not the only Republican candidate to share personal experiences with substance abuse. Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina has spoken about losing her stepdaughter to an addiction, saying, "If you're criminalizing drug abuse and addiction, you're not treating it — and you're part of the problem."

Chris Christie (R-N.J.) has also referenced his mother's lifelong struggle with cigarettes, and the death of a close friend due to an overdose.

The New York Times reported Bush's comments were met with applause.

"For dealers, they ought to be put away forever, as far as I’m concerned," he said. "But users — I think we have to be a second-chance country."

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