During her “Be Best” townhall talk, FLOTUS challenged the media to give the opioid crisis “the same amount of coverage that you do to idle gossip or trivial stories.”
Dressed in a navy blue shirt and white pants, FLOTUS entered half full Theater at Westgate Las Vegas for her town hall address at 1pm.
Here is the full transcript of her speech as prepared for delivery:
Thank you Eric. I am honored to be with you again.
I’d also like to take a moment to thank you for the strength you have shown, despite what I know to be the grief you and Adrienne deal with each day. People who are able to use a profound loss to help others, are an inspiration to all of us. You honor your son each day by shining a light on this nation’s opioid crisis and by the lives I know you are saving. Thank you again for allowing me to be part of such a heartfelt and impactful event.
The United States is by far the largest consumer of opioids, using more pills per person than any other country in the world. In fact, overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999 and now account for the majority of fatal drug overdoses. These overdoses are being driven by a huge increase in addiction to prescription painkillers, heroin, and now, fentanyl. No part of our society or our country has been spared from the deadly disease of drug addiction.
As most of you here know, my husband and his entire Administration are committed to fighting the nation’s opioid epidemic. As the statistics very clearly demonstrate, it is the worst drug crisis in American history, and as such, the President declared it a public health emergency and directed all executive agencies to use every appropriate emergency authority to fight this crisis.
I have been honored to work alongside many of those agencies – including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and now joining us later today, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency. Together, and with all of you here today, I know we can make a real difference and save lives. I do believe we can be known as the generation that ended the opioid epidemic.
I am so proud of the hard work and results that have already been demonstrated, including the work being done alongside doctors and medical professionals to carry out best practices for safe opioid prescribing, and requiring federally-employed prescribers to receive special training to reduce over-prescribing and increase access to evidence-based treatments.
This Administration also supports first responders and medical professionals’ access to the tools they need to prevent deaths through life-saving overdose medications, and is currently distributing over $1.4 billion in grants for addiction prevention and treatment, and over $50 million to support law enforcement programs that assist those facing prison and addiction.
The United States Postal Service has strengthened its inspection of packages coming into our country, to try and stop the flow of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and manufactured in China.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched an awareness campaign called RX Awareness and will soon be launching another anti-stigma campaign called “Crisis Next Door”, in partnership with the White House. This campaign will give a voice to those affected by the opioid crisis by allowing them to share their stories and Eric Bolling was one of the first to share his family’s story, inspiring hundreds more who have followed his lead.
When I took on opioid abuse as one of the pillars of my initiative BeBest, my focus has mainly been on Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which are conditions that occur when a baby withdraws from the drugs it was exposed to during pregnancy. After they are born, these innocent babies endure nausea, pain, anxiety, sleeplessness, and trouble eating – the same as adults who undergo detox. We must do all that we can to educate young mothers on the dangers of abusing drugs and I encourage medical facilities around the country to implement programs such as the Maternal Addiction, Treatment, Education and Research program at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their vital program has been helping mothers and children since the 1970s, offering treatment programs designed to support both mothers and their babies.
Less than a year later, and after meeting so many families with heartbreaking stories, I have started to expand my focus with the goal of helping children of all ages. I have visited many hospitals and facilities dedicated to helping all who have been affected by the disease of drug addiction. I’ve spent time with adults who are addicted, babies born addicted, and families coping with the addiction of a loved one – and every time I am struck by just how many people have been touched by drug addiction. Whether it is because of personal use, or that of family members, friends, coworkers, or neighbors – opioid addiction is an illness that has truly taken hold of our country. I have learned that we have a responsibility to not just ourselves, but also those who may be struggling around you.
I have said this before – but it bears repeating: while you may never personally become addicted, the chances of you knowing someone who struggles with it are high. And if you, or someone you know needs help, please be brave enough to ask, or strong enough to stand with them as they fight through the disease. Please educate yourselves so you know the signs of addiction, and also feel secure enough to talk about it, and keep talking about it until help arrives.
If even one of you leaves here today and talks to a friend or family member about the potential to end this crisis, then we have succeeded. Ending this epidemic will require continued effort by the entire country, including the government, neighborhoods and communities, and private organizations.
I’d also like to take a moment to challenge the media to cover this very real issue as often as possible. In 2017, we lost at least 72,000 Americans to overdoses—that’s 197 lost American lives per day – more than 8 lost lives per hour. I challenge the press to devote as much time to the lives lost – and the potential lives that could be saved – by dedicating the same amount of coverage that you do to idle gossip or trivial stories. When we see breaking news on TV, or the front pages of newspapers – it is my hope that it can be about how many lives we were able to save through education and honest dialogue. We all have a real opportunity to help this country save lives, and I know these are the real issues that people care about.
By thinking of this epidemic not just in terms of statistics, but as a human story, we have the potential to not just reduce, but eliminate the statistics I mentioned earlier. Together, we can support our next generation and work together to strengthen fragile families and communities.
I look forward to hearing from the rest of today’s guests, and from the people who have asked questions via social media. I also want to thank each of you for taking the time to be here, and of course Westgate Arena for hosting such an important and potentially life-saving event.
God bless you all and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.