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Are candidates focusing enough on drug addiction?
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The CDC has called the drug problem an epidemic and candidates have taken on the subject regularly during the election, many with personal stories of loved ones affected by drugs, though few have proposed specific solutions. - photo by Daniel Lombardi
Drug addiction was boosted to the front of the political discussion this week when voters took to the polls in New Hampshire for the countrys first primary election.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called the drug problem an epidemic and candidates have taken on the subject regularly during the election, many with personal stories of loved ones affected by drugs, though few have proposed specific solutions. Others have pointed out the racial elements of the problem and how the discussion has shifted over the decades from accusatory to something more empathetic.

Most presidential candidates have focused on state and local management of drugs and most have ignored the potential role of the federal government, which regulates prescription drugs, according to Newsweek. Of the 11 candidates, just two former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dedicate a section of their campaign website to drug addiction, wrote Newsweek. Both Clinton and Bush have family members who openly fought drug addiction.

New Hampshire had the third most overdose deaths in the country in 2014, according to the CDC. The epidemic has risen from an overprescribing of opioid painkillers that started in the 1990s. Painkillers like Oxycontin and hydrocodone are frequently overprescribed and are made from the same source as heroin: opium. Doctors have overprescribed painkillers beginning in the 1990s, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of nonprofit advocacy group Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, told Newsweek. It led to parallel increases in addiction and overdose deaths.

Newsweek went on to point out that opioid use has become so widespread that there was even a Super Bowl commercial for a drug to treat opioid-induced constipation. That kind of pricey ad buy reaching an audience of more than 100 million viewers makes financial sense only if opioid use is widespread.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough tweeted out against the Super Bowl ad on Monday.

For the most part, candidates have failed to mention the trouble of overprescribing at all. Standing largely alone, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders brought the subject up at the CNN debate last week, according to CNS News. I think doctors are prescribing opiates in a way that they have to cut back a little bit on. They are giving out a whole lot of pills," Sanders said.

The candidates have mostly focused on treating addiction rather than preventing it, and when prevention is discussed it tends to center around preventing illegal drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. When asked to prove his sincerity about dealing with the opioid crisis in last weeks debate, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told a personal story about his half-sister who died of a drug overdose and concluded the story by saying that he would secure the border, according to the Washington Post. We will end this deluge of drugs that is flowing over our Southern border and that is killing Americans across this country.

Cruzs response was lauded as strong and powerful, but it contradicts a 2013 survey on drug use that says 80 percent of heroin users say their opioid use started with prescription drugs. That suggests prevention needs to start with the prescriptions, not the drug cartels, wrote Newsweek.

Despite the limited scope of the discussion, the tone of the conversation has shifted dramatically in the past few decades. This week, NPR compiled a series of videos contrasting political voices on the crack epidemic of the 1980s with more recent statements. The recent statements were much more forgiving than the voices from the past. "We need more prisons, more jails, more courts, more prosecutors," said President George H.W. Bush in 1989. His son Jeb took a different tone last month when he said stigmas against addiction need to be eliminated. We need to be a second-chance nation where they're not embarrassed to say that I have an illness that I am now on the road to recovery on."

Some commentators say this stark change in rhetoric is because this drug crisis affects middle-class white communities and not just people of color in poor areas. In an op-ed for the New York Times this week, Ekow Yankah, a professor at Yeshiva University, described the political embrace of addiction as bittersweet. When the face of addiction had dark skin, this nations police did not see sons and daughters, sister and brothers. They saw brothas, young thugs to be locked up, rather than people with a purpose in life.
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