HOOKSETT, N.H. — Sen. Ted Cruz, his voice quiet, stood behind a podium and talked about the death of his sister, who struggled with addiction.
"Her son found her in bed. The coroner ruled it accidental. We'll never know. We just got the call one day that Miriam was gone," an emotional Cruz said after recounting his sister's life. She was a beautiful woman who let a young Cruz pull her hair, but Miriam was angry. She partied hard. She got into a car accident and became addicted to pain pills. She lived in a crack house. Cruz took out a $20,000 cash advance to send her son to military school.
"You know, as a family you wonder, could I have done more? Was there a way to pull her back? Was there a way to change the path she was on? Those are questions you never fully answer," Cruz said.
Cruz first told the story in his book, "A Time for Truth," and has recounted it a few times in New Hampshire. But this was Cruz at his most emotional, describing the toll drug abuse has taken on his family at a substance abuse forum in a state that has been ravaged by the nation's heroin epidemic.
"It's destroying lives," Cruz said of the opiate epidemic. Nationwide, the number of heroin overdose deaths has quadrupled in the past decade. Here in New Hampshire, at least 399 people died of drug overdoses in 2015, the majority from opiates. At least 151 of them were caused by fentanyl, a powerful synthetic drug that is often cut into heroin.
Heroin has become one of the bigger issues for presidential candidates in New Hampshire. Chris Christie has made it one of his signature issues, telling the story of a good friend from law school who became addicted to prescription pain pills and was found dead in a hotel room. Carly Fiorina speaks of her stepdaughter, who died of a drug overdose in her 30s. Jeb Bush has spoken of his daughter's struggles and has proposed a drug control policy. Democrat Hillary Clinton has unveiled a $10 billion plan to combat drug addiction.
Unlike other candidates who emphasize expanding in-patient and outpatient treatment for drug addiction, Cruz focuses on securing the border. After his emotional story, which also included recounting the life of his father, who drank too much and left Cruz's family before returning after becoming a born-again Christian, Cruz abruptly pivoted to border security.
"When the border’s not secure ... you have drugs flooding into this country," Cruz said. He hit actor Sean Penn, who interviewed drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman after he escaped from prison.
"What a cute and chic thing to celebrate, someone who murders and destroys lives for a living," Cruz said.
Mexican cartels have taken over the U.S. heroin trade, ferrying the drug to cities around the country. The cartels are targeting unlikely cities, such as Dayton, Ohio, and Indianapolis, to market drug to consumers around the country.
Cruz said no one wants to solve the issue.
"As a political matter, the Democratic Party does not want to solve this problem, and as a political matter, far too many Republicans don’t either," he said. "Sadly, stopping the drug traffic gets de-emphasized because their policy view instead is to open the borders to illegal immigration."
Cruz didn't say how he would solve one of the biggest issues advocates say exists: a lack of treatment beds for people with substance abuse. For many addicts, the only way to get treatment is to go to jail. Cruz said that the solution for the problem will come from the state and local level and from churches, nonprofits and and families. He said resources need to be directed to the "medical side," but didn't specify what that would mean.
Cruz noted that the scourge of addiction has gripped the nation, with more people dying from drug overdoses than car accidents.
"These tragedies are happening in human lives all over this country. It’s the human journey, it’s not an easy one, it’s fraught with peril," he said.