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GOP Candidates Address Forum On Addiction In New Hampshire


New Hampshire has a special place in presidential politics, and it's not just that that state hosts the first primary. Candidates often spend time addressing issues that state residents care deeply about. And the result of that - New Hampshire residents can put an issue important to them at the forefront of the national conversation. This year, that issue is addiction. There's an overdose epidemic in the state, and five Republican candidates participated in a forum yesterday to talk about it. NPR's Tamara Keith was there, and she joins us on the line. Good morning, Tam.


GREENE: So you've been covering this issue for nearly a year now, and I imagine really watching close-up as - it's really risen in prominence.

KEITH: Yeah. I think that there's been a change in the way that people talk about heroin and opioid addiction. People aren't just brushing it under the rug or suffering silently anymore. And in New Hampshire, there's a movement of parents who have lost their children to overdoses who are publicly talking about their struggles. Listen to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who said he heard about the crisis on one of his first trips to the campaign in the state.


JEB BUSH: It hit me like a brick wall. At the hotel that we normally stay in, two people had loved ones that died of an overdose in the last six months. And I met two other people that had a similar experience in that same day.

KEITH: And Bush is now regularly talking about his daughter who was addicted to prescription pills. And really almost every candidate is finding a way to talk about addiction in a very personal way.

GREENE: Essentially saying to New Hampshire voters that we really feel personally what you're going through.

KEITH: Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, talks about a good friend from law school who had it all and then lost it all and ended up dying because of addiction. Carly Fiorina, who was at the forum yesterday, talked passionately about her stepdaughter Lori. She talked about the sparkle leaving her eyes as the addiction took hold and talked about how she and her husband found out how her stepdaughter died when two police officers knocked on their door.


CARLY FIORINA: And virtually every minute of every day after those two police officers stood in our living room and told Frank and I about the death of our daughter, we both have wondered what signs we missed, what we could have done differently.

KEITH: Candidates really on both sides of the aisle in New Hampshire - and Iowa too - are finding that this is a way to connect with voters. But one question is when the race moves on, does this conversation continue?

GREENE: I guess that's one question we'll have to answer as things go on. But, Tam, tell me this. I mean, drugs - it's not a new issue in politics, but this feels different.

KEITH: Absolutely. They're talking about it in different ways. It isn't the war on drugs anymore. They're now talking about addiction as a disease. And the reality is that far more Americans are dying of overdoses, in particular heroin and other opioids, now than just a few years ago. And it's gone from being someone else's problem to being everyone's problem. Some are referring to this as the so-called gentrification of the drug crisis. Ohio Governor John Kasich alluded to this yesterday at the forum.


JOHN KASICH: This disease knows no bounds, knows no income, knows no neighborhood, it's everywhere. And sometimes I wonder how African-Americans must have felt when drugs were awash in their community and nobody watched. Now it's in our communities, and now all of a sudden we've got forums, and God bless us, but think about the struggles that other people had.

GREENE: Well - and, Tamara Keith, that makes me wonder. I mean, are some suggesting that while this issue - suddenly now it's something that candidates are talking about because it's a so-called gentrified problem that they're feeling and not just other communities.

KEITH: That is the charge that I hear very regularly. When I talk about this with people or when I tweet about the issue, a lot comes back saying, wow, you just tweeted a picture of a lot of white people raising their hands, for instance. The candidates are unapologetic about talking about this issue, and they say that is very important, that now this shouldn't be treated simply as an incarceration issue but also as a public health problem.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Tamara Keith talking to us about a forum on addiction yesterday in New Hampshire. Tam, thanks a lot.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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