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Carly Fiorina: ‘Drug addiction shouldn’t be criminalized.’

During the second GOP debate, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina shared a personal story about the loss of her stepdaughter to drugs. The story came up as a response as candidates were debating the legalization of marijuana. (Video: CNN)
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Editor's note: This post is from May; follow along with the latest from the Reagan library debate here.

Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina said Monday that the United States needs to change the way it treats drug addicts.

"Drug addiction shouldn’t be criminalized," Fiorina said during a conference call with reporters on Monday, soon after announcing her long-shot run for the White House. "We need to treat it appropriately."

Fiorina said a number of Republican governors have made changes to their criminal justice systems that have reduced prison populations while driving down violent crime rates. She cited "decriminalizing drug addiction and drug use" as an example of a successful reform but did not elaborate on what sort of decriminalization she would like to see nationally. Aides did not respond to a request for more information.

For Fiorina, the issue is a personal one: One of her two stepdaughters, whom she helped raise from a young age, struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse for years and died in 2009. Lori Ann Fiorina was only 34.

"At that moment, we lost both the woman she was and the woman she could have been," Fiorina wrote in the prologue of her latest book, "Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey," which goes on sale Tuesday. "All our hope for her and her life had died. ... A heart truly can feel as though it is breaking apart into a thousand shattered pieces."

Here's Carly Fiorina's take on the economy, religious freedom laws, Iran and abortion. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Fiorina described her stepdaughter as full of potential — smart, talented, hardworking, outgoing, kind and compassionate. But Lori drank heavily in college and later, while working in pharmaceutical sales, she began abusing prescription drugs. Bulimia made the problem even worse. Although Lori went into rehab three times, Fiorina wrote, addiction overtook her life.

"As anyone who has loved someone with an addiction knows, you can force someone into rehab, but you can't make her well," she wrote. "Only the addict can do that. Lori couldn't -- or wouldn't -- take that first step of admitting she was powerless over her addiction. And ultimately her body just gave out."

Fiorina's comments on drug addiction Monday came as she discussed the intense protests in Baltimore last week following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore man who died while in police custody. Fiorina said that such conflicts are "just heartbreaking to see."

"On the one hand, any situation in which police are engaged in violence, police must be held accountable," Fiorina said. "I think we were all relieved to see the six policemen in Baltimore charged."

But Fiorina quickly added that "there’s no excuse for the violence that raged in Baltimore," which she said has destroyed businesses and lives. She said that all police departments should immediately begin using cameras to record police interactions: "We need to know what’s going on at all times between policemen and those who are suspects, for everyone’s protection."

But then, Fiorina said, the United States needs to "very seriously look at the facts around criminal justice reform." She said that drug use has become an industry in Baltimore's inner-city neighborhoods and fueled many of its problems.

"You have a lot of young people who are getting access to drugs and then they are getting arrested frequently — it's just a bad, bad cycle," Fiorina said. "We need to create a circumstance in which people have a stake in their community — and they have a stake in their community because they believe their community offers them possibilities for a future."

Read an annotated transcript of Wednesday night's CNN debate.