Melania Trump visits West Virginia opioid treatment center
Posted October 9, 2017 12:45 p.m. EDT
Updated October 10, 2017 2:09 p.m. EDT
(CNN) — First lady Melania Trump embarked on a visit Tuesday morning to Huntington, West Virginia, with the specific purpose of visiting Lily's Place, an infant recovery center that helps families dealing with addiction.
It was her first visit to a drug treatment center to visit families since her husband took office.
"I want to be here to support you and give a voice to Lily's Place and also for the opioid epidemic," Trump said, adding that it is a "passion" of hers to help children and open the conversation about opioid abuse.
Lily's Place offers medical care to infants born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which occurs when newborns have been exposed to addictive substances during a mother's pregnancy. The center also offers support, education, and counseling services to families and caregivers, per its website.
Trump participated in a roundtable at the facility, joined by counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, assistant Health and Human Services Secretary for mental health and substance abuse Elinore McCance-Katz and staf. They were joined by a graduate of the program and her baby.
Trump asked a question about whether stigma and shame make it harder for parents to seek help, and thanked the participants before touring the center.
"Please tell me how I can help. That's why I'm here I want to listen to your stories, I want to hear what I can do to help," she said.
The visit comes just one day after President Donald Trump's ex-wife, Ivana Trump, sparked a public feud with the first lady.
Promoting her memoir, out Tuesday, Ivana Trump told ABC News she has the direct number to Trump at the White House, "but I don't really want to call him there because Melania is there and I don't really want to cause any kind of jealousy," joking that as his first wife, she was "first lady."
Trump fired back, issuing a statement through East Wing communications director Stephanie Grisham.
"Mrs. Trump has made the White House a home for Barron and the President. She loves living in Washington, DC and is honored by her role as First Lady of the United States. She plans to use her title and role to help children, not sell books," Grisham said, adding, "There is clearly no substance to this statement from an ex, this is unfortunately only attention-seeking and self-serving noise."
On Tuesday, Trump turned her focus back to the opioid crisis.
Rebecca Crowder, executive director of Lily's Place, said the center's goal is to support and lift up the mother.
"We tell them we're not here to judge you and there's nothing you can say that you haven't said yourself. We're here to help you and love you and make you stronger," Crowder told the first lady. "We just have to love them, love them through it, and that's what we try to do."
Every 25 minutes, a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a statistic described as a "dramatic increase."
The devastating opioid epidemic in the United States has only worsened in recent years, something President Trump vowed to address on the campaign trail. In March, the President signed an executive order establishing the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction, chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. And in August, he instructed the administration "to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis."
A White House spokesman told CNN the status of the formal national emergency declaration is still in flux.
"The President's policy advisers are working through the details with all of the relevant components and agencies. Right now these actions are undergoing a legal review," he said.
However, since the creation of the President's Commission in March, the President has been regularly briefed on the topic, and in May signed off on a requested $500 million towards the opioid crisis in his 2018 Budget.
"The statistic that 40% of babies born addicted to drugs are put into foster care is one that Mrs. Trump would like to see lowered, and Lily's Place was created with that in mind," Grisham said. "They recognize that parents who are working hard to overcome addiction will encounter barriers and need support."
Melania Trump held her first solo policy roundtable discussion last month at the White House on the topic of addiction. One of the attendees at the event was Crowder. Grisham confirmed the first lady learned about the existence of Lily's Place several months ago while researching and having conversations with experts about the opioid crisis.
Trump has said issues facing children will be the cornerstone of her official platform, including how they interact with the drug epidemic.
"Together, we must acknowledge that all too often it is the weakest, most innocent and vulnerable among us, our children, who ultimately suffer the most from the challenges that plague our societies," Trump said during a speech at the US Mission to the United Nations last month. "Whether it is drug addiction, bullying, poverty, disease, trafficking, illiteracy, or hunger, it is the children who are hit first and hardest in any country. And as we all know, the future of every nation rests with the promise of their young people."
Grisham added Trump also has an interest in helping remove the stigma and shame attached to drug use and recovery, another reason for her Tuesday visit.
"In all of her conversations and research about the crisis, the biggest barrier to getting treatment has been the stigma that surrounds drug addiction," Grisham said. "People are ashamed or afraid to seek treatment. She believes people need to talk openly and teach our children the real dangers of drugs."
After several hours in West Virginia, the first lady is returning to the White House in the afternoon.
This story has been updated to reflect new developments.