The First Lady of the United States visited Huntington, West Virginia, Monday to promote the efforts of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department and its community in fighting the same fight her Be Best campaign has been targeting: America's opioid crisis.
The visit had the purpose of sitting down with the community's point persons in the prevention of drug abuse in the area. With the First Lady was the Secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan.
In a roundtable discussion of the opioid crisis which was held at the Health Department of Cabell-Huntington, Melania Trump posed some inquiring questions about how the community was handling drug prevention programs, and whether it had taken steps in prevention at all in the schools.
Part of the discussion touched on the manner in which the community's Quick Response Team managed children it came across with in their calls.
It was pointed out by the State Health Officer Cathy Slemp that what the community needed was a treatment facility for youth dealing with drug addiction. There was also a need to underline the need to identify youth and students who are at risk of getting into drug abuse much earlier in order to make an impact.
However, Slemp pointed out that schools need also to be equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to recognize and identify potential students. She said that it was an ongoing undertaking and the community is not "there yet."
It was conceded to by Connie Priddy, the Quick Response Team (QRT) program coordinator, that their program has not had a lot of interaction with children, even though scenes of drug overdose that they encounter almost always have children present.
The First Lady had gotten acquainted with the Handle With Care program that the counties of West Virginia have now taken part in. The program works by having alerts issued to educators in schools where children who have had contact with law enforcement activities in their home study.
The alert is a reminder that these children need to be "handled with care" as they are dealing with certain traumas like that of having their parent arrested in their home.
Chad Napier, a former police officer in the early days of Handle With Care, who now works with the High Intensity Drug trafficking Area in the Appalachian, expressed that the program was something the First Lady could help expand to all the 50 states in America.
Napier said that "one caring adult" could make the difference in the life of a child exposed to drugs and drug addiction at home or in the community.
It was agreed that two big things that have made the community programs successful were "connection" as well as "empathy."
To learn more about the ongoing endeavors, the FLOTUS participated as well in a more intimate discussion among the Huntington community's leaders and point persons in their program. The participants included the Fire Department's Chief, Jan Rader.
A representative from the community program made up of first responders to drug abuse scenes was also in attendance in the person of its coordinator, Amy Berner. The head of the drug abuse treatment facility called Lily's Place, Executive Director Rebecca Crowder, too was among those who participated in the later discussion.
Also there were a drug addiction recovery coach, Alicia Bowman, and a recovering drug addict who was a mother of one five-month-old child and a Lily's Place client, Megan Pawley.
Pawley shared with the group how Lily's Place had been a boon to her recovery and instrumental in saving her son's life as well. She shared that had it not been for the center, it would not have been possible for her to be included in Project Hope which allowed her to keep her son.
She addressed the small group, saying her baby was "hitting all milestones." Pawley had expressed her excitement for the future as well.
Melania spoke of how the opioid crisis has affected the country and expressed her support and thanks to the community and their programs. She also assured those present that the "administration" will go on with its fight against the tide of opioid addiction.