Trump pledges to ‘smash the grip of addiction’ at Atlanta summit

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump headlined the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon. Here’s why he chose Georgia for this appearance. 

Follow us below for rundown of his visit: 

3:05 p.m.: Trump and Air Force One have left Atlanta. 

2:30 p.m.: Trump concludes his address by praising the audience of healthcare providers, drug abuse survivors and law enforcement officials. “You are America’s true source of strength, so let us resolve that together we will support, cherish and care ... for every American in need of recovery,” he said.“Every American deserves to know the glory of hope, the joy of belonging and the blessings of healing.”

“We will end this terrible menace. We will smash the grip of addiction."

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2:28 p.m.: Trump touts his administration’s “massive public awareness campaign” that he says have reached more than half of the nation’s young people.

“If you do it the right way, these young people, they won’t even start,” said Trump.

2:25 p.m. The president continues to pivot from prescription drug abuse to politics. In one aside, he claims he didn’t take any money from pharmaceutical companies and noted those big corporations have long benefited from the status quo. 

"I know about rigging the system, because I had the system rigged on me,” he said. “Unfortunately, that will be your soundbite tonight: The system was rigged." 

2:15 p.m. Trump gives way to a local police officer whose son died of prescription drug overdose. 

“People talk about a stigma with prescription drug abuse,” says the officer. “There is a stigma - and it needs to stop.” 

He gets the biggest applause - a standing ovation - of the afternoon. 

2:05 p.m.: After a brief interlude to bring a guest speaker on stage, Trump returns to the podium and promptly shifts his focus to the wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. He said it’s imperative to keep out illegal drugs that feed the epidemic.

He also takes another partisan turn, blaming Democrats for a "horrible, obsolete, weak and pathetic" immigration crisis that he could solve in “less than 45 minutes” if both parties came to the table. 

1:55 p.m.: The White House said this speech was tantamount to a “progress report” on the opioid epidemic and so far it is living up to that billing.

Trump is going through a check list of his administration’s priorities on drug abuse initiatives and criminal justice policies that help recovering addicts get out of prison and find jobs. 

“The great economy has made it much easier,” he said. “They are doing a spectacular job - not all of them, but they are doing a spectacular job.” 

1:52 p.m.:  Trump praises the Republican elected officials in the room, starting with Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. 

“The combination of Geoff Duncan and Brian (Kemp) has been pretty much unbeatable. Thank you,” said Trump. “And the Attorney General Chris Carr - thank you. Tough guy. He’s in there fighting for us.” 

1:50 p.m.: The president applauds the group for its goal of liberating prescription drug addicts from the grip of abuse, and highlights the Atlanta-based CDC’s goal of eradicating the HIV virus by 2030.

“We’re going to have it eradicated by 2030,” he repeated. “We’re going to do it.” 

1:48 p.m.: First Lady Melania Trump talks about her work visiting hospitals and treatment centers around the nation “to continue to raise awareness of the dangers of opioids” in infants before introducing her husband. 

“I’m proud of this administration’s historic actions to combat this crisis,” she said. “My husband is here today because he cares deeply about what you’re doing to help millions of Americans fighting this epidemic.” 

1:45 p.m.: Wonder if this will come up today: The national press corps is crackling with the news of the Washington Examiner report that the family of the late U.S. Sen. John McCain will back Joe Biden’s campaign in hopes of defeating Trump.

1:40 p.m.: U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky, opens the event by telling the audience that the Trumps “are making history by standing together” against the worst drug crisis in U.S. history. 

1:30 p.m.: A few thousand people are waiting at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta awaiting Trump’s speech, as a mix of oldies that often plays at campaign rallies blasts over the speakers. 

President Donald Trump waves as he arrives in Atlanta for an opioid summit on April 24, 2019.

1:05 p.m.:  President Trump and the first lady departed Air Force One and warmly greeted a line of Georgia dignitaries that included Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife Marty, Rep. Drew Ferguson, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and his wife Brooke, and Attorney General Chris Carr.  The group huddled around the Trumps for several minutes, trading jokes, before the Trump’s left for the hotel. We’re not quite sure what they were laughing about, but we tried to find out. 


 

12:45 p.m.: President Trump has arrived in Atlanta to headline a summit on the opioid crisis, as Air Force One touched down at Hartsfield-Jackson airport.


12 p.m.:  Protesters have gathered at Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta in advance of President Donald Trump’s appearance at an opioid crisis summit in Atlanta. 

Protesters prepare to march from Woodruff Park on April 24, 2019 near where Donald Trump is scheduled to speak at summit on the opioid crisis.

The president and first lady Melania Trump will address the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Atlanta, with a speech set for 1 p.m. 

Trump has allocated billions of dollars in his budget proposals to combatting the opioid crisis, which claimed nearly 48,000 American lives in 2017. The White House said the Trumps will each speak “about their fight to end the opioid crisis.” 

The president is not scheduled to hold any fundraisers or other events while he’s in Atlanta, but he’s set to be greeted by Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republican allies. Trump carried Georgia by 5 percentage points in 2016, but Democrats hope to flip the state for the first time since 1992.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the president views the summit as a “progress report” on his administration’s battle against opioid addiction, with a chance to amplify his initiatives and preview what lies ahead. 

She said Trump will tout the $2 billion in grants for states to address prescription drug abuse, which she calls an “indiscriminate crisis,” and push for the full implementation of the federal opioid package that passed with bipartisan support last year. He will also highlight criminal justice measures he signed into law that include funding for addiction treatment for federal inmates. The president is set to say that four months after the initiative was enacted, about 16,000 inmates are participating in new drug treatment programs. 

One of the next challenges is to expand awareness to the medical community about the dangers of over-prescribing, she said. She added the administration is encouraging the pharmaceutical industry to develop non-addictive opioids. 

“We want to break the culture of silence. That tiny little bottle contains legally prescribed medicine, it has a local doctor and pharmacy, and it was meant to help someone,” she said. “That education has to be in our schools, but it also has to go to the prescribers.” 

Asked about what the administration would do to support more medication-assisted treatment, Conway said healthcare officials have granted waivers that give states new flexibility to use Medicaid funds for residential treatment facilities. She also said the administration will push a standalone measure to increase penalties on drug traffickers bringing dangerous substances, like fentanyl, into the U.S. 

“A standalone bill to increase penalties will have broad bipartisan support,” she predicted. “We’ve shown what we can do in a bipartisan fashion.”

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said Trump’s visit to Atlanta presents a “great opportunity to enhance our partnership.”

“The better we can communicate on where the issues are, the more effective we can be,” Carr said. “We need to ask what we can do to address the crisis, how to leverage our resources and fill the gaps.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan called the opioid crisis “an epidemic.”

“We need all the air support we can get from federal authorities,” he said. “But we need to continue to strengthen this partnership. So much of this opioid abuse sneaks up on communities.”

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