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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Republican Gov. Chris Christie got personal at a summit on addiction on Tuesday, highlighting the disease's disregard for race, class and education distinctions with a story about a law school classmate who had a family and successful career but became addicted to alcohol and painkillers and died recently.
He also described how his decision to order state flags at half-staff after singer Whitney Houston died in 2012 caused a backlash from some people who thought it was "disgraceful to lower the American flag for a drug addict."
"I thought, 'We're going to define her life not by her triumphs but by her weaknesses?'" he said, adding later, "we have to treat people differently. We would never stigmatize someone who has cancer."
The summit, at The New Hope Baptist Church, where Houston was eulogized by Tyler Perry, Kevin Costner and other celebrities, was called "The Many Faces of Addiction: Ending The Stigma." It sought to drive home the message that no group or individual is immune and the stigma of addiction can have debilitating effects.
Former Rutgers and NFL quarterback Ray Lucas spoke about becoming so addicted to painkillers after his playing career was over that he was popping 50 to 80 per day, even deciding to kill himself by driving off the George Washington Bridge and "being cool with it."
West Long Branch Police Chief Lawrence Mihlon spoke about a family member's struggle with addiction and how it forced him to reconsider how he handled drug cases on the job. Others on the panel recounted how they hid their addictions from friends and relatives until they hit rock bottom.
Christie, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, has tackled the issue of drug addiction head-on and has been a strong advocate of changing drug laws and offering treatment instead of incarceration. He also has challenged both major political parties to work toward solutions.
Mihlon said: "This isn't a political agenda. This is just the right thing to do."
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