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With just under a year left before the 2016 Presidential Election, both democratic and republican candidates are crisscrossing the nation, campaigning in as many states as possible. Their speeches revolve around the economy, education, national security, healthcare, foreign policy and a number of other topics that are forever debated. This year, however, substance abuse and the role government should take in this American epidemic is front and center.
The rhetoric, though, has changed from years past. Politicians used to talk about “getting tough on crime.” They promoted harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, both users and dealers, which lead to the highest rates of incarceration in the developed world. Now it seems that candidates have finally caught up to their constituents and realized that the “war on drugs” has been an utter failure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recent statistics:
- The nations leading cause of injury death in 2013 was drug overdoses
- Drug overdoses cause more fatalities than traffic accidents in people aged 25 to 64
- 16,235 people died as a result of an overdose from prescription opiates in 2013 compared to 14,800 in 2008
- There were 3,041 deaths from heroin use in 2008 and 8,260 in 2013
Candidates have so far only spoken in general terms, and have not presented specific plans for dealing with the problem of substance abuse. Though there are disagreements about what policies can be implemented, there is a broad consensus that, “We’re not going to arrest our way of this,” as Republican Mayor Ted Gatsas told National Public Radio (NPR).
At virtually every roundtable talk, town hall meeting and televised party debate, presidential hopefuls are being asked to speak about their stance on addiction to drugs.
How Do the Presidential Candidates Feel About Substance Abuse in America?
Here’s a list of some of their responses from a recent Washington Post story:
- Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described drug use as a “hidden…quiet epidemic that’s striking in small towns and rural areas as much as any big city.”
- “This is a treatable problems,” said Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie.
- “Drug addiction shouldn’t be criminalized,” said Carly Fiorina, who lost a step-daughter to drug and alcohol addiction in 2009.
- “Sadly, many of us are becoming much more expert on the tragedy of heroin overdose in our country,” said former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.
- Senator Rand Paul, in reference to the war on drugs, said that it has “created a culture of violence and put police in an impossible situation.”
There are more republicans running for their party’s nomination than democrats. All of them have spoken about repealing President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), but have not addressed how they might make treatment for drug and alcohol addiction more available if the country’s healthcare system is overhauled yet again. If a democrat wins the White House, the ACA will presumably remain intact, though some critics complain that it doesn’t go far enough to meeting the needs of those seeking treatment for drug and alcohol dependency.
Public awareness about addiction and substance abuse, especially heroin, is at an all time high. As the country moves toward a more compassionate approach to helping people and communities battle drug abuse, perhaps those seeking the highest government office in the country will listen to the national call for action.