Candidates Forced to Address Drug Abuse and Overdose on the Campaign Trail

By Zachary Siegel 06/01/15

Drug policy and overdose deaths are being injected into campaign speak.

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Chris Christie
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In both Iowa and New Hampshire, presidential hopefuls are being bombarded with questions by concerned citizens who have been affected by a nationwide resurgence of drug abuse and overdose.

The often cited datum is that drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death, surpassing traffic accidents. In a story produced by NPR, the drug problem is being addressed by, “a growing acceptance that this isn't just a problem for other people.”

The other people, one can speculate, are low-income, rural and/or urban, probably minorities. Those who are now affected by the “heroin epidemic” are constituents, with money and voting power, forcing candidates to speak of a population—drug users—who were once relegated to the seedy underground but have now been injected into the mainstream vernacular.

When Hillary Clinton’s campaign rolled into New Hampshire, a grandmother spoke up about her difficult home situation, how she has to take care of her grandson because of his drug addled, absent parents.

Clinton responded by saying there is "a hidden epidemic" that she'll make "a big part of my campaign because increasingly it is an issue that people raise with me."

New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie recently visited The Farnum Center, a substance abuse treatment facility in New Hampshire. There he recounted a story about a friend from law school who was hooked on pain pills and was found dead next to “an empty bottle of Percocet and a quart of vodka.”

The War on Drugs, Christie said, "In my view, [is] completely a failure." He advocates for treatment over incarceration. Imagine a Republican of his stature saying those words in the late '80s or early '90s? Such a stance has been mainlined into political rhetoric.

Many see overdose and policy surrounding illicit drug use being discussed on the campaign trail a step in the right direction. But what will likely remain hidden in these public showings is that minorities and the poor are the overwhelming targets of draconian drug laws and surveillance, who end up filling our prisons, and being denied economic mobility at systemic levels.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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