First lady visits WV: Melania holds roundtable on opioid crisis

HUNTINGTON — First lady Melania Trump visited West Virginia on Monday to learn how a city at the center of the nation’s opioid epidemic is grappling with the crisis.

She met with federal, state and local officials in Huntington and heard how the area’s police, schools and health care centers are trying to fight the opioid scourge. 

“I am here to give you my support,” Trump told participants in the roundtable discussion. 

West Virginia has the country’s highest fatal opioid overdose rate and has struggled, like many other states, to confront the many aspects of the problem. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams characterized it as a grim task. 

“If not another gram of heroin is distributed, if not another gram of heroin is sold, we will be dealing with this issue for the next four or five decades,” he said. 

The first lady asked how the crisis is hurting children and was told about research on babies born addicted to opioids and about addicted teens who need a different system of care. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., described the challenges that arise when kids are taken from addicted parents and placed into foster care. 

The first lady also spoke separately with a small group that included the city’s fire chief and the head of a medical center that specializes in caring for babies born addicted to drugs. 

“We are looking forward to working on the problems West Virginia is facing with the opioid crisis,” she told them. 

Gov. Jim Justice was among the state dignitaries who welcomed the first lady at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, along with several other health and policy leaders from West Virginia and Washington D.C., to participate in a roundtable discussion on the opioid crisis affecting the state and the entire nation. 

“I’ve said over and over that we have to do everything under the sun to end the drug crisis once and for all,” Justice said. “The entire Trump family and the first lady truly get it. They understand how solving this crisis is the most important thing we can do to help the people of our great state and I’m honored to see how committed first lady Trump is to working alongside my administration in our fight to help West Virginians break the cycle of addiction and get back on their feet.” 

During the roundtable event, the first lady, Gov. Justice, and others discussed what tools and programs are already in place in West Virginia to fight the opioid epidemic. The group, which also included U.S. Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, went on to discuss what more can be done to solve the problem in the region as well as all of America. 

“I’m honored I got to join the first lady and Acting Secretary McAleenan in Huntington today to bring national attention to how West Virginians on the front lines are fighting the opioid epidemic. They got to hear first-hand from those fighting every day and about the impacts the opioid epidemic is having on Huntington and communities across our state. The new and innovative ways our first responders and our drug courts are fighting the opioid epidemic in Huntington are crucial to ending this crisis across our country. I look forward to continuing to work with President Trump, the First Lady and Acting Secretary McAleenan to find an end to this horrible crisis,” Manchin said. 

Huntington is the epicenter of America’s opioid epidemic. With only about 50,000 residents, Huntington and Cabell County experienced 1,831 overdoses in 2017 with 183 of those overdoses resulting in death. Since then, after the hard work of local, state and federal officials, Huntington has seen a 50 percent drop in overdose deaths, state officials said. 

After these roundtables, Capito, Manchin, and McAleenan visited the Marshall University Forensic Science Center. The center provides critical forensic testing services to criminal justice systems in West Virginia and throughout the country. Marshall is providing an essential service by assisting federal and state law enforcement in their work to combat drug trafficking. 

“I just want to say to the leadership in Huntington and Cabell County, it has been an inspiration for me to watch,” Capito, who heads the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, said during her opening remarks. “What you did [is say], ‘This is problem that needs a solution.’ Homeland Security plays an enormous part [in combatting the opioid epidemic], not just right here in Huntington and in West Virginia, but also at the border. Because we know a lot of what we see here has come through our southern border. That’s why I’ve said we’ve got to meet this challenge head-on at the border in terms of disrupting the flow of drugs into our country.” 

“What I understand about Huntington is that this has been a whole-of-community effort for several years, and you’re starting to see results of that teamwork and collaboration,” McAleenan said.  “So it’s going to be really important for us to hear how you’re attacking this as a team and what we can learn that and build from at the national level.”




By:  Staff
Source: Bluefield Daily Telegraph