Carly Fiorina at the Addiction Forum: Addiction Robs People of Their Potential
Republican Presidential Candidate and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina attended the Addiction Policy Forum’s “New Hampshire Forum on Addiction and the Heroin Epidemic.” She joined her presidential candidate colleagues in giving a speech but then joined in a on a panel with other distinguished practitioners and experts in the field.
“At the moment those two police officers delivered the news to Frank and me, we lost both the woman Lori was and the woman she could have been. All our hope for her and her life, died.”
Like so many in New Hampshire and across the country, Fiorina is no stranger to addiction and the havoc it wreaks on families and communities. She lost her stepdaughter, Lori, to the “demons of addiction” in 2009. In describing the horror of the experience, she said, “Our eyes are the window of our soul. And as Lori grew progressively sicker, the sparkle, the potential, the possibilities that had once filled her life – disappeared from behind her eyes.” Fiorina also told of her numerous encounters with people just like her on the campaign trail. Because of these experiences, Fiorina understands addiction to be a brain disease – one that should be treated as a chronic relapsing condition – and something not to ashamed of. She also knows that if you don’t talk about the problem you cannot address it.
Criminal Justice Reform
“We need to reform the criminal justice system and make sure we are putting the right people in prisons.”
Mrs. Fiorina acknowledged the relationship between the criminal justice system and addiction throughout her time at the forum. She opened her remarks by saying: “My bottom line message today is if we continue to criminalize drug addiction, we are not treating it. And the system we have today is part of the problem now, not part of the solution.” Continuing, she said, “We shouldn’t be criminalizing addiction… In New Hampshire alone, 85% of state prisoners have a substance abuse problem. These men and women need help.” In applying this logic to the federal system, Fiorina reminded the audience that the federal prison population’s growth over the last two decades has been driven in a big way by locking up people for non-violent drug offenses: “The majority of the people we have in prison are people like my daughter Lori, struggling with addictions.” While acknowledging the need to keep dangerous people off the streets, Fiorina questioned if prison is the right answer for everyone. She went on to offer the statistic that “Drug offenders who go into treatment – rather than through the normal criminal justice system – are about 25% less likely to get re-arrested in the two years after leaving the program.”
Fiorina went on to praise states like Texas and Georgia that have been on the forefront of the fight in developing innovative alternatives to incarceration for offenders with substance use disorders, such as drug courts, and strengthening prison programming so that prisoners are more likely to find their way back into society and less likely to recidivate or go back to drugs.
Mrs. Fiorina also shared her belief that federal money be reallocated to more adequately fund community-based programs for substance abuse.
Treatment and Recovery
“Drug addiction is an epidemic, and it takes too many of our people every day. This is a battle we must fight, and there are things we can and must do… Of course we must invest more…”
In addressing the need for increased treatment capacity and the need to divert more people into drug treatment as opposed to prison, Mrs. Fiorina again spoke of her stepdaughter, Lori. She recalled “standing in front of a judge, begging him not to send her back to prison,” after becoming entangled with the criminal justice system for drug possession. As we now know, that decision only hurt her, as do similar decisions to the thousands of others who face it each year. “I know what that experience did for her… because I saw her as she came out,” said Fiorina. This experience grounds her belief that treatment must be provided instead of prison for nonviolent offenders with substance use disorders and that we must invest more in treatment.
Mrs. Fiorina also praised New Hampshire’s CADY (Communities for Alcohol and Drug-Free Youth) for its work with youth across the states. She said that it had met “great success” in offering youth with substance abuse disorders a pathway to recovery that does not take them through the traditional criminal justice system by connecting them with services earlier. She said, “We need to empower states” to expand the use of innovative programs, such as CADY.
Since first publicly sharing Lori’s experience with addiction, Mrs. Fiorina’s message has been remarkably consistent and strong and she continues to remind us of the power of sharing such intense personal stories. As such, she understands the urgent need to get the crisis under control before further lives are lost and more lights are extinguished. Fiorina demonstrated knowledge of the disease as well as fluency in how we might go about addressing it from the federal level – namely, in a comprehensive manner.