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First lady addresses opioid crisis at Liberty

LYCHBURG, Va. (BP)– First Lady Melania Trump spoke to students at Liberty University on Wednesday (Nov. 28) about the opioid crisis in America. She urged students to make wise choices during this time in their young lives.

“I know college is a time to build your independence, experience things on your own terms and make decisions on your own behalf,” she told students. “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.”

The opioid crisis is one of the three pillars that Trump has focused on in her “Be Best” initiative aimed at helping young people in America.

“I’m here speaking to you in my official capacity as first lady, but I want you to know that I’m also here as a mother,” she noted. “Rather than lecture you about the dangers of drug abuse as most mothers would and should, I’m 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.”

Trump said she learned that people often become addicted to these types of drugs unintentionally after being prescribed legal doses of drugs for an injury or surgery. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2016 and 2017 more than 17,000 deaths were attributed to overdosing on commonly prescribed drugs. More than 130 people reportedly die each day due to overdosing on opioids.

“I have learned that addiction can begin with something as innocent as an injury,” Trump said. “I have learned that many people who become addicted to drugs that are too ashamed to ask for help and I have learned that addiction is a disease and people need and deserve treatment.”

She emphasized the importance of seeing the problem as part of “a human story and an opportunity to save lives” rather than as merely statistics.

The First Lady urged students to seek help if they or someone they know is struggling with addiction in order to remove the stigma and battle against the crisis in the nation.

“I believe that as the next generation we have the potential to not just reduce but eliminate the statistics I mentioned earlier,” she said.

Melania Trump was one of several guests during convocation, which was hosted by political commentator Eric Bolling, who lost his college-aged son to a drug overdose in 2017.

Other guests included Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar II and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

Bolling thanked the panel of guests for their willingness to be involved in the event and said, “this is a crisis that these people truly care about.”

“I think one of the most important things we have going on here,” he said, “is creating awareness and removing the stigma of opioid addiction and abuse in order to save lives.”

Azar and Nielson spoke about what each of their departments are doing to fight against the opioid epidemic in the country.

Nielson noted that Homeland Security is trying to eliminate the problem of illegal drugs entering America from other countries. And Azar said Health and Human Services is working to reduce the amount of legal drugs that are prescribed to patients.

“Since January 2017 legal opioid prescribing is down 23 percent,” Azar said. “[President Trump] committed by the end of his term that we would reduce it by a third, and we’re already at 23 percent.”

The panel of guests also participated in a question-and-answer time with the students from Liberty which included a question about the role that faith-based organizations can play in assisting the national government with fighting the opioid crisis in America.

“Our president is deeply committed to the role of faith-based organizations not just in the opioid crisis but throughout how we deliver services to our people,” Azar said.

“In 2018, we are putting out 2 billion dollars of grants, 1 billion of that can be used by states and given to faith-based organizations to use for the work they are doing,” he said.

Melania Trump closed out her remarks by reminding the students of the importance of education about opioid addiction and to be courageous enough to make a difference.

“In the past we didn’t talk much about it and it came so far that now we really need to step up,” she said. “I believe in your unending potential to change our world for the better.”

Liberty University is in partnership with the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia.