By BISHOP NASH
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — In the state of West Virginia, as President Donald Trump told the nation on Thursday, there is a hospital where nearly 1 in 5 babies is born suffering from addiction, alluding to Cabell Huntington Hospital.
First lady Melania Trump spoke of her visit to Lily’s Place in Huntington earlier this month, coming face to face with those same infants as they recover in the nation’s first neonatal abstinence syndrome treatment facility.
The plight of the Mountain State was cast as Exhibit A as Trump officially declared the opioid epidemic to be a national public health emergency Thursday afternoon, signing the proclamation during a news conference in the East Room of the White House.
The Tri-State was represented as the president outlined his administration’s plans — most visibly by Rebecca Crowder, Lily’s Place executive director, who hosted the first lady’s visit to Huntington on Oct. 10. Crowder, who stood in the front row behind the podium, was recognized by Melania Trump as the first lady praised Lily’s Place for not only treating babies born with addiction, but in rebuilding families through its services.
“Rebecca Crowder’s prominent presence speaks volumes about the innovative efforts that Lily’s Place represents in our community’s commitment to fight the effects of opioids,” Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said in a statement.
Williams called it encouraging that the administration has brought the effects of the opioid epidemic to the nation’s attention and was further heartened to hear Trump voice his intent to discover a solution, though the work still lies ahead.
“The announcement is a necessary first step,” Williams added. “I look forward to hearing more substantive details outlining a strategic, long-term course of action.”
West Virginia also was represented onstage through Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., and Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Jenkins, representing West Virginia’s southern district, said Trump’s announcement sends a powerful message about the president’s commitment to solving the epidemic and an important first step in the nation’s road to recovery.
“The president is committed to tackling the disease of addiction and stopping the flow of illegal drugs into our country,” Jenkins said in a statement. “I also appreciate the first lady’s highlight of the good work being done at Lily’s Place in Huntington and how we can help these newborns as part of a comprehensive drug strategy.”
The emergency declaration did not come as much of a shock back in Huntington, noted Matt Boggs, executive director of Recovery Point, since the community has long known it was in the middle of a crisis. Boggs, who remains in long-term addiction recovery himself, nonetheless called it a historic moment hopefully meaning additional resources would soon be headed into West Virginia.
“Reducing the red tape, allowing federal agencies to deploy additional resources, eliminating the 16-bed mandate, and support of facilities like Lily’s Place are all of the utmost importance to West Virginia,” Boggs said.
“However, I would urge him to consider his prevention methods aimed at our younger generation. ‘Just say no to drugs’ is a good start, but we need to use evidence-based prevention programs to teach children the negative consequences of drugs, essential coping skills and what to do if they make a bad choice,” Boggs said. “‘Just say no’ can result in children feeling like they are a moral failing if they make a bad choice and try an addictive substance.
The declaration received bipartisan support from Manchin and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. Capito noted how much the Mountain State has suffered through the opioid epidemic, but called the announcement a significant step forward.
“This declaration makes fighting the opioid epidemic a true national priority and draws attention to the urgency of this crisis,” Capito said. “The declaration also makes it easier for the federal government to respond and will help improve and expand access to services for individuals struggling with addiction.”
Manchin, who spoke at length with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, chairman of the president’s opioid commission, praised the announcement, which includes a measure to remove a particular prescription drug off the market, Zohydro, an action Manchin has advocated for since 2013.
“I applaud President Trump for finally taking these steps that will help in our fight against the opioid epidemic,” Manchin said in a statement. “This public health crisis declaration will give states like West Virginia the flexibility to enlist help from federal agencies and resources to combat this epidemic.”
Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.
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