Washington, DC - First Lady Melania Trump traveled to Lynchburg, Virginia this morning to attend an Opioid Town Hall inside Liberty University’s basketball arena. Secretary Azar of Health and Human Services and Secretary Nielsen of Homeland Security accompanied the First Lady to Lynchburg.
Upon Arrival, Mrs. Trump was welcomed by President of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife, Becki Falwell; and Liberty University Pastor, David Nasser.
Hosted by Eric Bolling, Mrs. Trump delivered remarks to an audience of students from Liberty University and the surrounding area. Mrs. Trump spoke on the importance of understanding the severe and fatal effects of opioids, eliminating the stigma surrounding drug dependence emphasizing there is no shame to ask for help, and for youth to believe in their voices for they have the power to influence each other. The First Lady spoke on-stage with Eric Bolling and answered questions from students in the audience.
Since the launch of her Be Best campaign in May, Mrs. Trump remains dedicated to shining lights on programs that help nurture families and children who have felt the negative effects of opioid abuse, notably neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Most recently, the First Lady traveled to Philadelphia learning more about Jefferson University Hospital’s Maternal Addiction, Treatment, Education and Research (MATER) program for mothers and children affected by NAS – and she also attended part of Health and Human Service’s conference that launched an initiative to develop a new system to track NAS.
“I was honored to participate in today’s Town Hall,” said First Lady Melania Trump. “It is my hope that what we discussed today will save lives in the future and help prevent our children from falling victim to drug dependence. As a mother and as First Lady, I want to do everything I can to expose the serious dangers of opioid and drug addiction and provide opportunities for youth to become leaders in ending this crisis. Thank you to Eric Bolling and Liberty University for this important opportunity.”
Thank you Eric. I am honored to be here today. It takes such strength and grace to take the grief I know you and Adrienne deal with each day, and use the loss of your son Eric as a catalyst for good. You honor him every day through the lives that you are saving. I am inspired by the work you are doing, and hope you know that my husband and his entire Administration are committed to fighting the opioid epidemic.
As the worst drug crisis in American history, his administration has declared it a public health emergency and there are several agencies working alongside the White House to educate and provide services for those affected. I am proud to be joined today by Secretary Azar with the Department of Health and Human Services, and Secretary Nielsen with the Department of Homeland Security. Together, with all of you, I know we can make a real difference and save lives.
When I took on opioid abuse as one of the pillars of my initiative BeBest, I did it with the goal of helping children of all ages. I have visited several hospitals and facilities that are dedicated to helping all who have been affected by this disease – including people who are addicted, babies born addicted, and families coping with the addiction of a loved one. What has struck me with each visit is how this epidemic has touched so many people – whether it is because of personal use, or that of family members, friends, coworkers, or neighbors – opioid addiction is an illness that has truly taken hold of our country.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 130 people in the United States die each day due to overdosing on opioids. In 2017, those overdoses accounted for more than 72,000 deaths, more than any previous year on record. And in 2016, an estimated 40% of opioid deaths involved a prescription drug.
My focus through BeBest has mainly been on Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which are conditions that occur when a baby withdraws from the drugs it was exposed to during pregnancy. But when I was invited to participate in today’s town hall, I saw it as an opportunity to speak with all of you as you enter into such a critical stage of your lives. The independence that comes with being a young adult can be exciting, but also overwhelming. Most of you are living on your own for the first time. You may be responsible for paying some of your own bills, getting to and from class every day, managing your homework, and I’m sure many of you also have jobs or extra-curricular activities. And while I bet no one here will want to admit it, I imagine some of you have or will be experiencing situations with drugs or alcohol. I know college is a time to wield your independence, experience things on your terms, and make decisions on your own behalf. I am here to remind you that some of those decisions – though they may seem minor at the time – could negatively impact you for the rest of your lives.
I am here speaking to you in my official capacity as First Lady, but I want you to know I am also here as a mother. But rather than lecture you about the dangers of drug abuse as most mothers would – and should – I am going to tell you what I have learned in this past year because I believe education and learning is key to making the right decisions on your own behalf.
I have learned that addiction can begin with something as innocent as an injury – it could be a sports injury, or from some kind of an accident. I have spoken with families and seen many news reports that talk about young athletes or people injured in accidents who became hooked on opioids after being given a prescription for real pain. Tragically, many of those stories end with people who have later transitioned into using heroin and overdosing. In fact, data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows that in 2016 and 2017, more than 17,000 deaths were attributed to overdosing on commonly prescribed drugs.
I have learned that many people who become addicted to drugs are too ashamed to ask for help. I have also learned that addiction is a disease. And like any illness, people need and deserve treatment. We must commit to removing the stigma of shame that comes with addiction and helping change public opinion so that people find evidence based treatment before it is too late.
I have learned that you have a responsibility to yourself, and also to those around you who may be struggling. While you may never personally become addicted, the chances of you knowing someone who struggles with it are very high. And if you, or someone you know needs help, you need to be brave enough to ask, or strong enough to stand with them as they fight through the disease. You need to be educated enough to know the signs of addiction, and also secure enough to talk about it, and keep talking about it until help arrives.
Now that you know what I have learned, I want to close by telling you what I believe.
I believe in the power of all of you. If even one of you leaves here today and talks to a friend or family member about the potential to end this crisis, then we have succeeded.
I believe that as our next generation, you have the potential to not just reduce, but eliminate the statistics I mentioned earlier. I also believe you have the capacity to not think of this in terms of statistics, but to think of this as a human story and an opportunity to save lives. I believe in your unending potential to change our world for the better.
I want to once again thank Eric Bolling for having me here today, and to both he and his wife Adrienne for their strength and bravery in the face of a sudden loss and grief.
I look forward to hearing from the rest of today’s guests, and also from some of you in the audience today. I also want to thank each of you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to be here, and of course President Jerry Falwell and Liberty University for hosting such an important and potentially life-saving event.
God bless you all and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.