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Sep 30, 2015 3:48 PM

In NH, substance abuse at center of 2016 campaign

The Associated Press

MANCHESTER — In town halls and meet-and-greets in Iowa and New Hampshire, voters are using their access to presidential hopefuls to raise painful and often deeply personal concerns about drug abuse.

Forced to confront the issue in such early voting states, several candidates are now incorporating policies around substance abuse into their campaigns.

On Wednesday morning, Republican Jeb Bush sat among hospital leaders, law enforcement and recovering addicts in New Hampshire's largest city, Manchester. He heard a sobering statistic: In the past 30 days, 100 people overdosed from drugs in Manchester alone. Ten of them died.

"This is an epidemic," Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas said. "If there was anything out there that was killing this many people, we'd call it a serial killer and we'd be doing something about it."

More than 320 people died from drug overdoses in New Hampshire last year, a sharp spike from the year before. The state has far fewer treatment beds than needed and drug-related emergency room visits are up 76 percent from last year, according to state data.

"It is all over the place, it is something extraordinary, it's heartbreaking," Bush said during Wednesday's round table. "I can go into meetings and I know the people whose families have suffered because of this, it's very easy to see."

Drug addiction as a leading concern among some voters has caught the 2016 presidential campaign by surprise.

"As a presidential issue, I certainly did not foresee it," said Mike Vlacich, who runs Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign here. "It just organically started coming up."

Clinton was one of the first candidates to raise the issue on the trail. During her first trip to the state of the campaign, a participant at an event in Keene recounted her struggle with a family member suffering from addiction.

Clinton called drug abuse a "quiet epidemic," and the stories she's heard on the trail led some of her advisers to reach out to advocates and experts in New Hampshire to develop policies around combating drug addiction. She's since laid out a $10 billion plan that pushes treatment over incarceration.


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