HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - UPDATE: 7/8/19 3:40 P.M.
First lady Melania Trump returned to Huntington on Monday, participating in a roundtable discussion on the opioid epidemic and several other events in the area.
In her second visit to the city as first lady, Trump and others federal, state and local leaders discussed the epidemic in a roundtable at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.
Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, Gov. Jim Justice and West Virginia's two U.S. senators - Republican Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Joe Manchin, were among those who attended the session.
“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 in a news release. “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, officials discussed what tools and programs are already in place in West Virginia to fight the epidemic.
Capito applauded the leaders of Huntington and Cabell County for their efforts.
"What you did (is say), ‘This is a problem that needs a solution,’ she said in a news release. "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.”
In his remarks, McAleeran said: “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. 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.”
Manchin said the the roundtable was a chance "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," he said. "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."
According to statistics provided by Manchin's office, Huntington and Cabell County experienced 1,831 overdoses in 2017, with 183 of those overdoses resulting in death. Since then, however, the city has seen a 50 percent drop in overdose deaths.
Capito, Manchin and McAleenan also participated in a roundtable at the Cabell County courthouse where they discussed the local drug court’s success in helping people struggling with substance-use disorder. They also visited the Marshall University Forensic Science Center, which provides critical forensic testing services to criminal-justice systems in West Virginia and across the country.
Trump arrived about 11 a.m. at Tri-State Airport, where she was welcomed by Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial and Fire Chief Jan Rader. She boarded her flight back to Washington about 2 p.m.
After the roundtable, Trump met privately with different people impacted by the opioid crisis. One of those people was Megan Pawley, a mom in recovery who had a baby born addicted to drugs.
Rebecca Crowder, executive director of Lily's Place in Huntington, also attended the private meeting. Lily's Place is an infant recovery center, treating babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. The first lady visited the center in October 2017.
After the meeting, Trump stopped by Huntington’s Ritter Park to see a display of 453 American flags that symbolize the number of children in Huntington in need of a foster family.
ORIGINAL STORY: 10/2017
On Tuesday, First Lady Melania Trump visited Huntington, West Virginia, with the specific purpose of visiting Lily's Place, an infant recovery center that helps families dealing with addiction.
It's the First Lady's first visit to a drug treatment center since her husband took office.
Lily's Place offers medical care to infants born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which occurs when newborns have been exposed to addictive substances during a mother's pregnancy.
The center also offers support, education, and counseling services to families and caregivers, per its website.
"To help babies born addicted truly succeed, we must help their parents succeed," the first lady's communications director Stephanie Grisham told CNN when asked why Trump opted to spotlight infants.
Every 25 minutes, a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a statistic described as a "dramatic increase."
The devastating opioid epidemic in the United States has only worsened in recent years, something President Donald Trump vowed to address on the campaign trail.
In March, the President signed an executive order establishing the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction, chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
And in August, he instructed the administration "to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis."
A White House spokesman told CNN the status of the formal national emergency declaration is still in flux.
"The President's policy advisers are working through the details with all of the relevant components and agencies. Right now these actions are undergoing a legal review," he said.
However, since the creation of the President's Commission in March, the President has been regularly briefed on the topic, and in May signed off on a requested $500 million towards the opioid crisis in his 2018 Budget.
"The statistic that 40% of babies born addicted to drugs are put into foster care is one that Mrs. Trump would like to see lowered, and Lily's Place was created with that in mind," Grisham said. "They recognize that parents who are working hard to overcome addiction will encounter barriers and need support."
Melania Trump held her first solo policy roundtable discussion last month at the White House on the topic of addiction.
One of the attendees at the event was Rebecca Crowder, the executive director of Lily's Place.
Grisham confirmed the first lady learned about the existence of Lily's Place several months ago while researching and having conversations with experts about the opioid crisis.
Trump has said issues facing children will be the cornerstone of her official platform, including how they interact with the drug epidemic.
"Together, we must acknowledge that all too often it is the weakest, most innocent and vulnerable among us, our children, who ultimately suffer the most from the challenges that plague our societies," Trump said during a speech at the US Mission to the United Nations last month. "Whether it is drug addiction, bullying, poverty, disease, trafficking, illiteracy, or hunger, it is the children who are hit first and hardest in any country. And as we all know, the future of every nation rests with the promise of their young people."
Grisham added Trump also has an interest in helping remove the stigma and shame attached to drug use and recovery, another reason for her Tuesday visit.