NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Melania Trump joined in the children’s pastimes of blowing bubbles and playing with trains Tuesday as she promoted her “Be Best” campaign at a hospital and expressed her desire to help educate mothers and children about the dangers of drug misuse and dependency.
The first lady got an in-depth briefing from medical and other professionals at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt on their treatment program for babies born with drug dependency, also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. The hospital keeps mothers and babies together to improve outcomes.
“My passion is to shine a light on the opioid crisis,” Mrs. Trump told them. “I want to continue to learn and believe in starting early to educate young mothers and children about the dangers of drugs. I believe the more we talk about this, the shame and guilt will go away.”
In a written statement issued after her return to the White House, the first lady said she wants to work with medical centers around the country through “Be Best,” raise public awareness and help educate people about how drug use during pregnancy affects babies.
“It is through honest and real dialogue that we can remove the stigma of addiction and have a positive impact on those suffering from this condition,” she said.
It was Mrs. Trump’s first domestic trip to publicize “Be Best,” the initiative she launched in May to focus on child well-being, social media use and the opioid crisis.
She has promoted “Be Best” in the Washington area and during a recent stop in London, where she accompanied the president.
At the conclusion of the briefing, Mrs. Trump asked how she could use her role to help, said her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham.
“She is impressed by their goal here of keeping mothers and children together,” Grisham said. Reporters traveling with Mrs. Trump were escorted out of the room before the first lady spoke. Grisham later said the professionals wanted privacy to discuss specific patient cases.
Afterward, Mrs. Trump walked over to a playroom, where she hugged Essence Overton, a patient at the hospital, and they compared fingernails.
“Yours are all different colors. I like that,” the first lady told the 4-year-old. She took a seat in a child-sized chair and joined Essence and other child patients playing with the train. She moved to a corner of the room after a few minutes and began blowing bubbles with 18-month-old Elliegh Rasmussen.
Essence became excited when the first lady gave her a pink fleece blanket with the White House seal and asked how the first lady knew that pink was her favorite color, Grisham told reporters, who had left the playroom.
The first lady also spent about 30 minutes in private with the parents of an 8-day-old baby who was born early and will remain in the hospital for several days. She held the baby and listened as the 22-year-old mother talked about using drugs while she was pregnant, and the first lady “gave her words of encouragement,” Grisham said.
Mrs. Trump has done little personally to publicize the “Be Best” campaign around the country since she unveiled it at the White House in May.
A week after the announcement, the first lady underwent for kidney surgery, then spent several weeks out of the spotlight recuperating. She has since made two trips to the U.S.-Mexico border to meet with adults and children affected by the president’s policy of separating migrant families who enter the U.S. illegally.
Neonatal abstinence syndrome, the issue that took her to Tennessee, occurs when a baby withdraws from drugs — usually an opioid painkiller — that he or she was exposed to in the womb. Symptoms include irritability, muscle tremors, difficulty feeding and sleeping, and breathing problems, according to Dr. Stephen Patrick, a pediatrician and neonatologist at the hospital who participated in the first lady’s briefing.
Opioids are fueling the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in U.S. history. About 70,000 Americans died of a drug overdose last year, according to preliminary numbers released this month by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a 10 percent increase from the previous year.