HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — First lady Melania Trump offered her support to those dealing with the nation's opioid epidemic while touring a drug recovery center for infants Tuesday in West Virginia, the state with the highest rate of babies born dependent on drugs.
Lily's Place, the first of its kind in the nation, works with addicted mothers' newborns who are enduring the torment of drug withdrawal. It also offers treatment to parents.
"I want to be here to support you and give a voice to Lily's Place and also for the opioid epidemic," the first lady said during a roundtable discussion. "We need to open the conversation to children and young mothers how it's dangerous to use drugs and get addicted to it."
The nonprofit facility was opened in 2014 by a group of volunteers and health care workers. Its website says the facility provides care for about 100 infants each year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia has the nation's highest rate of babies born dependent on drugs at 33.4 per 1,000 hospital births, compared with the national average of 5.8. West Virginia also by far has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths.
The CDC says signs of drug withdrawal in babies include fevers, tremors, seizures, excessive crying, poor weight gain and dehydration.
During the discussion, also attended by presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, the first lady sat across from recovering addict Rachel Kinder, who held her young son, a former patient at the facility.
"It's done a lot for me," Kinder said, then singling out a facility social worker. "Anytime I need anything, I can call her, even if it's just to talk."
Lily's Place Executive Director Rebecca Crowder was part of a group of experts and people affected by drug addiction who went to the White House last month at Mrs. Trump's invitation.
On Tuesday, Crowder said getting funding and insurance coverage are major challenges for the 12-room facility. Still, it offers a less costly way of treating newborns than typical hospital stays and relies heavily on donations, including money and items such as diapers, sanitary gloves, baby wipes and detergent.
"We recognize we are a model for the nation, for programs for these parents," Crowder said. "If we can get past these little humps, we can help more families. We can serve more babies."
Mrs. Trump later spoke in private with two families currently enrolled at the facility.
"It is my hope that we can find ways to create more of the opportunities afforded by places like Lily's Place, so that we can continue to help infants and children grow into happy, healthy adults," the first lady said.
President Donald Trump said in August he will officially declare the opioid crisis a "national emergency," but he has yet to issue a formal declaration.
Mrs. Trump didn't take questions from reporters a day after the president's first wife, Ivana, referred to herself as "first lady" in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Ivana Trump said she tries not to call her ex-husband too much because "I don't want to cause any kind of jealousy or something like that because I'm basically first Trump wife. I'm first lady, ok?"
On Monday, Melania Trump's spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, called that comment "attention-seeking and self-serving noise."