HUNTINGTON - Cabell County's own have - in whatever capacity they serve - toiled in relative obscurity toward undoing the opioid epidemic's damage done in their own backyard.

First lady Melania Trump's visit Monday therefore wasn't taken lightly, as she led a contingent of high-profile Washington players to Huntington to hear firsthand how the city and county were handling their part in the nationwide drug crisis.

Trump was joined by Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, as well as Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito and U.S. Rep. Carol Miller in a roundtable discussion on opioids with state and local officials at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.

This is the second time the current first lady has visited Huntington during her time in office. Trump toured Lily's Place in 2017 with an interest in how the opioid epidemic impacts children.

The same carried into the 2019 visit, with Trump again taking particular interest in how West Virginia's programs handle child welfare as it relates to widespread addiction.

"It certainly makes a statement that she would come back to Huntington, West Virginia, and continue to talk about the opioid epidemic," said Elizabeth Adkins, director of wellness at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. "It's a true honor to be recognized on our level at the national level. It's just very exciting, and it was a privilege."

The meeting allowed local officials to highlight the interagency partnerships they've built - joining public health, first responders, schools, treatment centers and the community at large - as a major means to containing widespread drug use, Adkins said.

For the Health Department in particular, it was a chance to directly let those in power know where the federal money they allocate funnels to at the local level, and how necessary it is for them to operate.

"We'd just like them to continue to support our efforts and know what we've done already, but we're still going to need federal support," Adkins said.

Cabell County's Quick Response Team was also a point of interest, particularly for Manchin and Capito, who both asked about funding for the project, said Connie Priddy, QRT coordinator with Cabell County EMS. The first lady also asked about the children the QRT encounters when they visit adult overdose victims to refer them to treatment.

"Overall, I think we were all taken aback by how attentive and interested everyone was," Priddy said. "It didn't seem like they were here for publicity, but like they were here to find out what's going on in Huntington."

Following the meeting at the Health Department, McAleenan, Manchin, Capito and Miller rode to the nearby Cabell County Courthouse for another discussion on Cabell County's drug court with its staff. Cabell County Circuit Judge Greg Howard, who oversees drug court, also praised the party's attentiveness, adding that McAleenan seemingly never stopped taking notes during the hour-long meeting.

"It was very cool to have people there that high up travel to see what impact we're making here," Howard said. "It's a big deal. There's no way to make light of it."

Though drug courts aren't uncommon across the country, Cabell County's is one of the most successful models, and the largest in West Virginia. The court has a success rate of over 50%, Howard said, which is well above the national average.

Howard particularly asked the group to strongly consider any legislation related to funding drug courts moving forward at the national level.

"In my 20 years in criminal justice, this is the one thing in the system that I can say is really making a positive impact," Howard said of drug court.


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