Did you know that drug overdose is the leading cause of death in the United States? Did you know that one in 10 Americans have abused an illicit drug in the last thirty days, or that one in four teenagers have misused a prescription drug in their lifetime? With over 21 million people battling addiction in our country today, there is no doubt that America is amidst a substance abuse epidemic. It is no wonder then, why addiction is such a prominent (and emotional) subject in this year’s presidential campaigns.
From marijuana legalization to addiction prevention to drug treatment policies, it seems that every presidential candidate is talking about addiction in some shape or form. For the first time this conversation is not about punishment. It is not about shame or judgement. It does not bear the stigma of addiction. Today, the political conversation surrounding substance abuse is supportive. It is encouraging, promising; it is a real, relatable effort to spread the truth about addiction.
No matter their political views and interests, one thing is for certain: these hopefuls are finally talking about the devastation of substance abuse. Just as Chris Christie shared his personal experience with addiction, just as Jeb Bush opened up about his daughter’s struggle with substance abuse, the front-running presidential candidates are coming out of the shadows and bringing their experiences to the table. They are also encouraging others—parents, recovering addicts, educators, medical professionals—to step up and take a stand for those in recovery.
What are the 2016 presidential candidates saying about addiction in America? Let’s take a look.
Heroin and methamphetamine addiction has been a constant focus throughout Hilary Clinton’s campaign. The former secretary of state deemed that rural America is facing a “quiet epidemic,” and urged this issue to the top of her priorities list if elected president. In a 2015 op-ed, Clinton wrote,
“It’s time we recognize as a nation that for too long, we have had a quiet epidemic on our hands. Plain and simple, drug and alcohol addiction is a disease, not a moral failing — and we must treat it as such. It’s time we recognize that there are gaps in our health care system that allow too many to go without care — and invest in treatment. It’s time we recognize that our state and federal prisons, where 65 percent of inmates meet medical criteria for substance use disorders, are no substitute for proper treatment.”
Clinton proposed a $10 billion policy plan to readdress drug abuse in America. This initiative is designed to: prevent drug use among teens, make comprehensive drug treatment accessible, ensure all first responders carry naloxone to stop fatal overdoses, properly train healthcare providers to recognize substance abuse, and prioritize treatment over prison for non-violent offenders.
Bernie Sanders is also advocating drug addiction treatment over incarceration. He consistently recognizes “addiction is a disease, not a criminal activity” and that America needs a “radical change” in the way we approach mental health and addiction issues. Sanders believes in accessible, affordable drug treatment. In a December debate, Sanders stated,
"I think we have got to tell the medical profession and doctors who are prescribing opiates and the pharmaceutical industry that they have got to start getting their act together. We cannot have this huge number of opiates out there throughout this country, where young people are taking them, getting hooked, and then going to heroin.”
Like his competitors, John Kasich talks about revising the role America’s criminal justice system plays in addiction. The Ohio governor lends great focus to reducing jail sentences, going after drug dealers, and about the importance of accessible drug rehab programs. His largest motive, however, surrounds drug education. Kasich believes that America needs to expand drug education throughout the school systems. He believes we need to start putting experienced, knowledgeable mentors into schools who will reach youth and encourage them to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
A recent AP News article revealed Kasich’s thoughtful remark on the cycle of addiction, that no one is too far gone to save. The governor announced, "You cannot give up, because there's a purpose to your life, you understand that. Everybody in this room has a God-given potential to do something to change this world," he said. "If you can climb out of it, people will learn from you."
Ted Cruz’ perspective on drug abuse in America is rooted in a much more personal story surrounding addiction. His experience with addiction in the family was first detailed in his book, "A Time for Truth," but was revisited at a recent forum in New Hampshire.
During this forum, Cruz told of his sister’s struggle with addiction, and how it all started with a car crash and a bottle of prescription painkillers. He told of her overdose, and brought it back to the nation’s heroin epidemic. While Cruz was not specific on what solutions he would enact as president, he did explain that it needs to be resolved at a state and local level, as well as from churches, nonprofits, and families. He focused on the need to spread awareness of the rising problem of drug addiction in America.
U.S. Senator Mark Rubio also calls us to reform the way we approach drug treatment in America. Just last month, Rubio joined other senators to co-sponsor the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which is dedicated to addressing the prescription drug abuse and heroin epidemic nationwide. Rubio states on this bill,
“The number of Americans addicted to prescription drugs and heroin has been growing at an alarming rate… It’s important to ensure that proper treatment services are there for those who are seeking help or who have fallen through the cracks, and this bill will help them get the care they deserve.”
Rubio’s campaign initiatives surrounding addiction are focused on improving treatment options, increasing prevention efforts, and helping law enforcement fight drug abuse.
Businessman Donald Trump, who proposed building a giant wall along the Mexican border to keep drugs out of America, also has a more personal take on addiction and substance abuse. He recently shared his own experience with addiction in the family, and detailed how he lost his brother to alcohol abuse.
"We're going to work on it, and we're going to work on it very strongly," Trump noted about drug policies during the 2016 forum in New Hampshire.
Nearly everyone in America today knows or has had an experience with substance addiction in some way, and this does not exclude the presidential candidates. In recognizing the epidemic, the 2016 presidential candidates are demanding that we revisit our views of addiction.
Together, we can reduce the stigma. Together, we can make a change. No matter your political beliefs, let’s continue to keep substance abuse a part of the conversation throughout the presidential election.
Contact Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 for more information on our addiction treatment program for young men.