POLITICS
07/08/2015 04:37 pm ET Updated Jul 08, 2015

Jeb Bush Addresses 'Tragedy' Of Heroin Epidemic, Citing Death Of Campaign Worker's Brother

HENDERSON, NV - JUNE 27:  Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at a town hall meeting at
HENDERSON, NV - JUNE 27: Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at a town hall meeting at the Valley View Recreation Center on June 27, 2015 in Henderson, Nevada. Bush is a front-runner in the polls for the 2016 presidential race with 12 other republican candidates. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- The growing epidemic of heroin overdoses is emerging as a key public policy issue for the leading presidential candidates in both parties.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said on Wednesday that he’s been peppered with questions on the campaign trail about how to tackle substance abuse and that the issue has had a personal impact on his staff. Bush confided that the brother of one of his campaign workers died from an overdose, as did the sons of two workers he recently encountered in New Hampshire.

“The first question I was asked in my first town hall meeting was about the heroin epidemic,” Bush told the New Hampshire Union Leader editorial board during an interview. “And I was like, ‘Really, tell me about it?’ Because it is not a national issue. In different places you have methamphetamine problems. This is a tragedy.”

Heroin abuse has indeed approached tragic dimensions in recent years, with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention finding a quadrupling in the number of overdose-related deaths between 2002 and 2013. In Vermont, the crisis is so bad that the governor devoted his entire State of the State address in 2014 to combating the heroin crisis.

With presidential candidates flocking to neighboring New Hampshire, the issue has increasingly entered into the national political conversation and garnered more national attention.

Before Bush commented on heroin abuse, Hillary Clinton was speaking out about the cause. During an Iowa campaign stop in May, the Democrat told supporters that she wanted to “end the stigma against talking about it.” In New Hampshire, she pledged to make the “quiet epidemic” part of her presidential campaign. Since then, her aides have gotten to work crafting policy proposals, which have not yet been made public.

On Tuesday, Bush didn’t offer any specific new suggestions for fighting heroin abuse. But he noted that as governor of Florida, he expanded treatment programs, emphasized drug courts and polled 50,000 young people to get a better understanding of alcohol and drug habits in the state.

“You can’t expect people to deal with their addictions on their own,” he said. Asked where he’d get the money to help with treatments, he replied that he’d grow the economy.

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