For the second time in less than 24 months, first lady Melania Trump visited Huntington this week to learn about what is being done to reduce the damage opioid addiction has on children.
First ladies often choose causes to promote. While they themselves may have little impact, they do serve to bring issues to public attention. Jacqueline Kennedy restored a sense of grandeur and respect to the White House after decades of neglect. Lady Bird Johnson promoted highway beautification, in particular reducing litter and the number of billboards. Michelle Obama focused on child nutrition. And now Melania Trump wants to bring attention to how adults' use of opioids affects children, from the womb through their school years.
When she visited Huntington on Monday, she met with local officials to hear about how programs such as the Quick Response Team handle children's problems and if there are prevention efforts in local schools. She heard about how communities in Charleston and Martinsburg are trying to reach children early. Sometimes those are when children are found at the scene of drug busts or overdoses, while some look to identify school-age children showing signs of adverse reactions to drug use in the home.
As with any such event involving the White House, this one was scripted, and access by the public was limited. It has to be to keep the visit on message and for the security of the first lady. In the end, the question will be whether the first lady's visit will accomplish anything or if it was just a media event designed to make the White House look good.
Another question could be, did the visit hurt the Huntington area? Does calling attention to programs such as Lily's Place or what's going on in public schools to identify addiction-related problems do any harm?
The answer to whether the visit helped or hurt can't be answered now. The answer will come when we learn if more federal, state and local resources will be directed to helping the most innocent victims of the opioid epidemic, whether through prevention or treatment. Or, if more resources aren't coming, if the ones that are available will be refocused to where they can do the most good. What role a first lady can play in this is uncertain. In theory she has the president's ear.
As a side note, it's good that Huntington is in the spotlight as a model of how problems such as addiction can be addressed. It's not a trial we wanted, but as long as it's here, it's good that local authorities are fighting it on several fronts, from making the city a home to treatment centers to sending social workers along with police on drug busts as a way of getting people the help they need.
If the Trump family still lives in the White House two years from now, perhaps Mrs. Trump will visit us again and take back more good news from the local fight against addiction. Maybe by then another city will have become the bellwether for dealing with this problem. That would be good, too. We're not alone in this, and we can all learn from each other.