Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush opened up about his family’s personal history with drug addiction on Tuesday, while laying out a broad drug control policy that includes better access to drug courts, better parenting and tougher security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Before the former Florida governor appeared at the New Hampshire Forum on Addiction and the Heroin Epidemic, the website Medium posted a piece penned by Bush about how his daughter, Noelle, struggled with drug addiction.
"It wasn’t easy, and it became very public when I was Governor of Florida, making things even more difficult for Noelle," Bush wrote. "She went through hell, so did her mom, and so did I."
Noelle Bush was arrested in 2002 after she tried to forge a Xanax prescription in Tallahassee and later that year was jailed for three days for breaking the rules of her rehab program. She also was sentenced to 10 days in prison after some crack was found in her shoe at the rehab center in October 2002.
Bush added: "Showing a lot of courage, Noelle graduated from drug court. Drug courts use a restorative solution model involving multi-disciplinary coordination, including the judiciary, the prosecution, mental health specialists, social services and treatment professionals. I was the proud dad that saw Noelle finish that. She’s drug-free now."
While speaking in New Hampshire, one of the state’s hit hardest by the ongoing, nationwide heroin epidemic, Bush laid out a plan calling for expanding drug courts, which send non-violent offenders through treatment program, and for cracking down on dealers and doctors who overprescribe painkillers. He also advocates for placing a stronger focus on prevention.
The former GOP front-runner, who is now trailing far behind in the polls, also said if elected president he would push for tougher sentences for drug lords, cartels and violent drug traffickers, and would pursue a closer partnership with countries from Mexico to Colombia to Afghanistan to tackle illegal drug trafficking.
"It is a huge problem," Bush said of drug addiction, according to the Washington Post. "We need a comprehensive strategy to deal with it. But from a personal level, it's just — you gotta love your children with your heart and soul, doesn't matter their age. Addiction is a dangerous thing. It's scary."
Bush was one of a number of Republican candidates to speak at the forum in a state where drug policy has become a hot button issue. Health officials estimate that about 400 people died from overdoses in New Hampshire in 2015 – including heroin and the powerful opiate fentanyl – more than doubling its own rate of overdose deaths in 2013.
"We've been programmed in our society to talk about this as a moral failing," said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. "As long as we continue to do this we're going to treat this differently than other diseases."
Injecting a dose of humility into his remarks, another GOP candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, admitted he has "no clue" what it's like to fight addiction, but said that no one is too far gone to save. He said he's come to understand the issue more deeply during his tenure as governor of Ohio as people shared their personal stories about addiction.
"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."