New Jersey governor and presidential candidate Chris Christie has previously spoken about drug addiction, and urged treatment instead of incarceration, but his Wednesday comments on the subject to a meeting in New Hampshire were especially moving:
In addition to the powerful subject matter, the clip illustrates Christie’s unique gifts as a speaker. He’s good at addressing both large crowds and intimate gatherings… and he addresses them in much the same way. He doesn’t have one speaking style for the big convention center, and another for the town hall meeting.
Christie talked about how his mother contracting lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking, and how she still received treatment and sympathy after her diagnosis, rather than being told it was all her fault and left to suffer the consequences of her nicotine addiction. He contrasted this with the attitude taken toward drug addiction: “If it’s heroin, or cocaine, or alcohol, we say, ‘Eh, they’re getting what they deserved.'”
He called on pro-lifers to embrace the defense of life at all ages.
“I’m pro-life,” Christie said. “And I think that if you’re pro-life, that means you gotta be pro-life for the whole life, not just for the nine months that are in the womb. It’s easy to be pro-life for the nine months they’re in the womb – they haven’t done anything to disappoint us yet! They’re perfect in there! But when they get out, that’s when it gets tough. The 16-year-old teenage girl on the floor of the county lockup, addicted to heroin… I’m pro-life for her, too. Her life is just as much a precious gift from God as the one in the womb. We need to start thinking that way, as a party and as a people, and the President needs to start saying those things.”
Christie described an old college friend of his, who went on to lead an extraordinarily successful life, a man who had it all – athletic good looks, a fantastic legal career, a beautiful wife and daughters. In his early forties, the man suffered a back injury while jogging, and became addicted to prescription pain killers.
“He went to the doctor, because he was having trouble working – it really hurt,” Christie recalled. “And so he said, ‘Listen, we’re going to give you some treatment or whatever, but in the meantime, just to help get you through, we’re going to give you Percocet, to help numb the pain.”
“Well, about a year later, I get a call from his wife,” Christie continued. “And she said, ‘He’s addicted to these painkillers, and he won’t listen, and I kicked him out of the house. And he’s living at his parents’ house, and you guys need to go and have an intervention with him. Those friends from law school, you need to go and get him to go to rehab.'”
Christie said he and his law-school friends did indeed stage their intervention… “and it started a ten-year odyssey of him being in and out of rehab. During that period of time, she divorced him. He lost his right to see his girls. He lost his license to practice law. He lost his driver’s license. He lost his home – he bought himself a condo when she kicked him out, he lost that. He lost all the money, spent all the money that he had saved, spent through most of his retirement.”
At the end of that ten-year odyssey, Christie’s friend lost his battle with addiction: “They found him dead in a motel room, with an empty bottle of Percocet and an empty quart of vodka. 52-years-old.”
This is a story sadly familiar to those who have studied the rising tide of middle-aged mortality. Many of those deaths have been attributed to substance abuse and suicide. Prescription drugs handed out more freely, to deal with increasingly common patient complaints of chronic pain, are precisely the source of addiction cited by recent studies as a middle-age crisis.
“There, but for the grace of God, go I,” Christie said of his friends’ awful fate. “It can happen to anyone. And so we need to start treating people in this country, and not jailing them. We need to give them the tools they need to recover. Because every life is precious. Every life is an individual gift from God. We have to stop judging, and give them the tools they need to get better.”