First lady Melania Trump welcomed media attention to how the administration is confronting the opioid drug crisis during her appearance Wednesday at a “town hall” on the subject at Liberty University.
That would be a change of approach, she said.
“I would like that they’re focused more on what we’re doing, and what we want to achieve, and spread awareness. It’s very important for the country and the whole world,” the first lady said of the news media.
Asked if she gets "enough credit from the media" during event at Liberty University, first lady Melania Trump says, "They would like to portray different stories and focus on different, unimportant stuff…and I'm here to shine a light on important stuff." https://t.co/20NWyrahhT pic.twitter.com/fcj04MMWuz
— ABC News (@ABC) November 28, 2018
Political commentator Eric Bolling, host of CRTV’s “America,” invited Trump to the town hall discussion, which also featured Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
Pop singer Demi Lovato’s mother, Dianna De La Garza, was scheduled to appear but had to cancel. Lovato nearly died from an opioid overdose in July.
Family tragedy prompted Bolling to raise awareness of the opioid crisis and to look for solutions after his 19-year-old son Eric Chase died in September 2017 from an accidental overdose of Xanax laced with fentanyl.
“The fight against opioid deaths in America just took a turn for the better,” Bolling told The Daily Signal before the town hall. “There is no doubt in my mind that first lady Melania Trump joining me in this war on the deadliest health crisis to ever hit the United States will have a significant and positive effect.”
I am thrilled to announce the Opioid/drug awareness event of the year. First Lady Melania Trump joins me for an intimate and important one-on-one discussion at Liberty University Nov. 28th. Plus Demi Lovato’s mother and 2 Cabinet Sectys.#BeatOpioids https://t.co/quDJEJnjNR
— Eric Bolling?? (@ericbolling) November 21, 2018
In a statement provided to The Daily Signal, the first lady’s communications director, Stephanie Grisham, said of Bolling:
The first lady has been inspired by his commitment to combating the opioid epidemic. To use his own personal family tragedy to help save lives is the epitome of strength and selflessness
Here are five big moments from Trump’s appearance and other portions of the town hall:
1. The First Family’s Compassion
After recounting the night he found out his son had died from opioids, Bolling reiterated that it was never his desire to become an “accidental expert.”
“I’ve made it my passion to talk to people, to talk to young people,” he told the students at the university in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Bolling said President Donald Trump and the first lady called him while he and his wife Adrienne were in Colorado to retrieve their son’s body.
The president, he said, told him: “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but whatever you need we’ll take care of it.”
The Trumps called again on Thanksgiving last year to check in on the Bolling family and express their condolences.
2. The First Lady’s Motive
Melania Trump’s “Be Best” initiative aimed at American children has three prongs: general well-being, social media use, and opioid abuse.
Until recently, she has focused mainly on young mothers and babies afflicted with neonatal abstinence syndrome, which occurs when a baby is born addicted to opioids because of the mother’s use of the drugs while pregnant.
“When I took on opioid abuse as one of the pillars of my initiative Be Best, I did it with the goal of helping children of all ages,” Trump said.
The first lady commended the Bolling family for their activism in the wake of Eric Chase’s death:
It takes such a 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.
And, Bolling asked, what about those red Christmas trees inside the White House that have drawn some criticism?
“We are in [the] 21st century, and everybody has a different taste. I think they look fantastic,” the first lady said with a laugh.
3. The Demographic Is Everybody
Azar, the president’s health and human services secretary, told the audience that addiction awareness is key.
The administration has released a series of public service ads in a campaign called “The Truth About Opioids.”
“Frankly, they ought to scare you,” Azar said of the ads.
Azar, who has a pharmaceutical background, said the targeted demographic is “everybody,” unfortunately, with nearly 133 Americans dying each day from opioids.
He did point out one optimistic statistic, saying that under the Trump administration, legal prescribing of opioids is down by 23 percent.
“The majority of people who become addicted to opioids today were prescribed a legal painkiller for wisdom teeth, a knee surgery, something like that,” Azar said.
4. A Pound of Fentanyl Can Cause 150,000 Deaths
Nielsen said the Department of Homeland Security is focused on stopping illicit drugs from coming across the border, including on ships or airplanes.
She singled out fentanyl, one of the most dangerous opioids on the streets.
“The most difficult part to get at is most of the fentanyl is still coming from China through the mail,” Nielsen said.
The president signed legislation called the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, which gives the U.S. Postal Service the ability to prescreen international shipments for illegal substances.
To help private mail companies such as FedEx or UPS, homeland security officials use the agency’s National Targeting Center to spot shipping patterns that seem off. China also has cooperated by providing advance information about shipments so the department can better target resources.
5. Getting Rid of the Stigma
The first lady also addressed a major obstacle in the battle.
“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,” she cautioned.
It’s a sentiment that Bolling has shared and discussed in depth over the past year.
Addiction “is not a moral failing, it is a medical issue,” Azar said.