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The Story Behind Carly Fiorina's Emotional Debate Moment: 'I Buried a Child to Drug Addiction'

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Mark J. Terrill/AP

It was an emotional intersection of policy, politics and the deeply personal: Carly Fiorina, addressing the nation’s drug epidemic at this week’s Republican Presidential debate in the context of losing her stepdaughter to an overdose.

“I very much hope that I am the only person on this stage who can say this,” Fiorina said in Wednesday night’s debate. “But I know there are millions of Americans out there who will say the same thing: My husband, Frank, and I buried a child to drug addiction.”

“We need to tell young people the truth. Drug addiction is an epidemic, and it is taking too many of our young people,” she added.

Fiorina and Frank lost Lori Ann Fiorina, who was just 35, in 2009 after a struggle with substance abuse and bulimia that spanned many years and three stints in rehab, the International Business Times reported.

The strikingly solemn moment in Wednesday’s debate was, for Fiorina, a rare public reference to Lori Ann, who Fiorina had known since Lori Ann was six. Fiorina married Frank in 1985 and is also a stepmother to Tracy Fiorina, now 44.

“We are misleading young people when we tell them that marijuana is just like having beer. It’s not. And the marijuana that kids are smoking today is not the same as the marijuana that Jeb Bush smoked 40 years ago,” she said on stage at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. Bush, who admitted on national television that he had indeed previously smoked pot, later apologized in a tweet, writing: “sorry mom.”

In her book Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey, released this May, Fiorina first recounted the moment she learned Lori Ann had passed away.

“The two police officers stood awkwardly in our living room,” she wrote. “Frank and I looked at them and knew they had something terrible to say … The police officers said our daughter was dead …” Fiorina went on to describe the aftermath, the constant questioning that followed, and the imprint the tragedy has left on the family’s life.

To this day, Frank wears a golden bracelet on his right wrist made from the necklace Lori Ann wore the day she died, according to The Washington Post.

On Wednesday, Fiorina turned her personal grief into a call for action.

“I know there are millions of Americans out there who will say the same thing” about having lost a child to addiction, she said. “We must invest more in the treatment of drugs.”

Forty-four people die every day in the United States from overdosing on prescription drugs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – those ranging in age from 25 to 54 had the highest overdose rates.

It’s estimated more than 24 million Americans (ages 12 or older) have used an illicit drug, according to the National Institute on Drug Use.