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Melania Trump leads off White House opioid event

First lady Melania Trump was the first voice heard during Thursday afternoon's opioid event at the White House, speaking ahead of President Donald Trump.

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Kate Bennett (CNN's COVER/LINE)
(CNN) — First lady Melania Trump was the first voice heard during Thursday afternoon's opioid event at the White House, speaking ahead of President Donald Trump.

The President used the event to officially declare the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency.

But speaking first, in a rare speech lasting several minutes, the first lady discussed her experiences talking to those affected by the opioid scourge.

"As many of you know, addiction affects children in many different ways, and I have recently taken a larger interest in what I can do to help fight this epidemic," said Trump. "I have been participating in meetings and listening sessions, and have been visiting with people who have been affected by this disease."

Stephanie Grisham, the first lady's communications director, told CNN Trump wanted her remarks to have a very personal tone, one that reflected the people she has met while doing research on addiction.

"She wanted to tell the stories of those brave enough to come forward with what they have been through, and share what they have taught her through those struggles," said Grisham, who added the first lady spent a "significant" amount of time working on her speech.

Trump has recently shown an interest in using her platform as first lady to advocate for children and families whose lives have been affected by addiction. Last month, she led her first policy roundtable discussion at the White House on the topic, attended by addiction experts, families changed by the crisis, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is chairman of President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

In October, Trump traveled to Huntington, West Virginia, to visit Lily's Place, a facility that provides medical care to infants born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

Participants from the roundtable, as well as representatives from Lily's Place, were present Thursday, standing on risers behind the president and first lady n the East Room of the White House.

Trump told the stories of three people whose lives had been affected by addiction, at one point turning to give one of those people, recovering addict Sabrah Callar, a hug and kiss on the cheek. "We are so proud of you for all that you have overcome, Sabrah," said Trump, "and we pray for you as you continue on this journey."

The first lady also cautioned against the assumption that addiction only belongs to a cross-section of America.

"What I found to be the common theme with all of these stories, is that this can happen to any of us. Drug addiction can take your friends, neighbors, or your family," the first lady said. "No state has been spared, and no demographic has been untouched, which is why my husband and this administration has dedicated itself to combating this health crisis by using every resource available."

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