In Atlanta, President Trump, first lady tout 'tremendous' progress fighting opioid crisis
ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited Atlanta on Wednesday to discuss the nation's escalating opioid crisis.
Speaking at the 2019 Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit at a downtown Atlanta hotel, the first lady said saving Americans from opioid addiction was an issue "close to all of our hearts."
"I have seen firsthand the medical and personal results of this crisis," Melania said, speaking of her experiences touring medical facilities as part of her work in her "Be Best" initative.
Speaking about the damage the epidemic has inflicted on families, the first lady said she and the administration are committed to supporting additional treatment facilities that would help "both mothers and babies recover and replace the bond of addiction with the bond of love."
Melania Trump then introduced her husband, who came up to the stage to the song "God Bless the USA."
Trump began his speech thanking the doctors, nurses and first responders at the front lines of the epidemic.
"My administration is deploying every resource at our disposal to empower you, to support you, and to fight right by your side," Trump said. "We will not solve the epidemic overnight, but we will not stop ... We will never stop until our job is done."
The president said his administration was making "tremendous progress," despite the staggering number of deaths every year from the drugs. He touted the increase in distribution of an overdose-reversing drug Nalaxone by over 1 million units, as well as $2 billion grant funds to states to fight the epidemic.
The president went on to talk about his work signing bipartisan criminal justice, which provides addiction resources to inmates in prison, and his work getting medical treatment to veterans.
"We are lifting up all Americans from all walks of life, including those who have endured the pain of addiction," he said.
Trump also focused on the enforcement side of taking down "the deadly flow of drugs into our country," tying the creation of a border wall on the southern border to the epidemic. He highlighted what he called "cheap heroin, which is laced with fentanyl."
"Heroin alone kills 300 people a week, 90 percent of which enters through our southern border," the president said, highlighting his views on the need for heightened security to "protect America's children."
The president brought up a Virginia police officer whose son died from an overdose of heroin and fentanyl who conveyed the message of ending the stigma of addiction.
Trump also discussed what he called the oversupply of prescription drugs, pointing to the prosecution of defendants in cases involving opioids. On Tuesday, federal authorities leveled the first-ever charges against a pharmaceutical distributor executive over the opioid crisis.
"We are holding big pharma accountable. They should be accountable," Trump said, before joking about how the businesses "did not donate to my campaign."
"One year ago we pledged to cut nationwide opiod prescriptions by one third. Already during my time in office, we have reduced the total amount of opioids prescribed by 34 percent," he continued.
The work wouldn't be easy and the battle would have to be on multiple fronts, but the president said he was sure that America would prevail.
"Every American deserves to know the glory of hope, the joy of belonging and the blessing of healing," he said.
Through a combination of law enforcement, medical research, and a "renewed bond of family and faith," Trump said America could create a drug-free country.
"We will not let up. We will not give in, and we will never ever give up on saving American lives. We will end this terrible menace. We will smash the grip of addiction."
Trump has declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency and has pledged billions of dollars to fight the problem. The president also has called for stiffer penalties for drug traffickers, including the death penalty where appropriate.
SEE ALSO: Feds: 6 indicted in conspiracy to produce, distribute opioids
During his campaign back in 2016, he vowed to make fighting addiction a top priority at rallies in some of the hardest-hit states.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 130 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose. The agency also reports that nearly 70 percent of the more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid.
There have been signs of progress. The number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers filled in the U.S. fell substantially in 2017. Still, it's unclear whether the opioid problem is on the decline.
Keith Humphreys, a drug policy adviser in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations who now is at Stanford University, said some states are making progress in combating opioids abuse, but not because of Trump's actions. Humphreys cited Rhode Island and Vermont as examples. He also said some states have regressed.
Humphreys said the president's declaration of opioids addiction as a public health emergency in 2017 failed to translate into significant concrete action. Members of Congress, he said, "figured out they were going to have to do it themselves and they did."
Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump's top advisers, said Twitter and Google have helped the administration combat the opioid and drug crisis. So far, the administration has helped collect 3.7 million pounds of unused and expired medications - enough to fill seven Air Force One planes, she said.
The next "National Prescription Drug Take Back Day" is Saturday.
Conway said she met Tuesday with drug enforcement and officials from Google, which is helping the administration by displaying links to about 5,500 locations where people can drop off unused and expired pills.
SEE ALSO: Feds level first-ever charges against pharmaceutical distributor exec over opioid crisis
The Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit is billed as the largest national collaboration of federal, state and local experts working to challenge the abuse of prescription drugs. The four-day summit, in its eighth year, started Monday and ends Thursday.
Speakers in previous years have included Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and Kellyanne Conway.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.