In a speech to supporters in Huntington, West Virginia Thursday night, President Donald Trump renewed his call for a war on drugs, saying, “You have a big problem in West Virginia and we are going to solve that problem.”
“We are taking the fight to the drug dealers,” Trump said, adding that gangs like MS-13 have “brought terrible violence” to communities like this one.
The President said his administration is liberating American “communities from gangs” and “throwing them out of the country – and once they are gone we will not let them back in.”
Earlier, CNN spoke with Huntington Mayor Stephen Williams, who said his city has been dealing with the opioid crisis since 2013, and that “the gangs are not the problem.”
“I’m absolutely convinced this is the largest existential health threat facing our nation – we’re losing one and at risk of losing two generations,” Williams, who is a Democrat, said. “Every day our emergency services and police are out on multiple calls dealing with addicts or overdoses.”
He says the population of Huntington County is 96,000, and an estimated 10,000 of them are addicted to opioids.
Williams said local governments need a partner in the federal government, “not someone to come in and tell us how to do things.” The federal government needs to understand that “the job has to be to start saving lives not just arresting people,” he said.
The federal government also needs to “label opioid addiction a disease,” he said.
Williams said that research institutions need to start searching for a cure, and corporate America needs to start in investing in that, “before it’s on everyone’s doorstep.”
He said that one evening last summer, Huntington’s rescue services were called out to deal with 28 people who overdosed in one six-hour period.
He says drugs like Narcan saved 26 of the people who overdosed that night.
Narcan reverses the effects of an overdose almost immediately, with no side effects, and Williams said that all of the city’s paramedics, police and firefighters are given the drug to dispense wherever addicts turn up.
An all-encompassing approach is necessary, Williams said, and Huntington has found that partnering with hospitals, doctors, first responders and law enforcement is what’s needed to combat the crisis.
CNN White House Correspondent Athena Jones contributed to this report.