Faith & Service

Opioids: A National Crisis

By Mitzi Bible, February 26, 2019

TOWN HALL EVENT LEADS TO MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR LIBERTY TO MAKE AN IMPACT IN THE FIGHT AGAINST OPIOID ABUSE

On Nov. 28, 2018, Liberty University hosted a televised town hall featuring its highest-profile Convocation speaker to date, First Lady Melania Trump. Although it was a special honor to host such a distinguished guest, the university had a much more significant purpose behind the visit: to save lives.

With deaths from opioid abuse at a record high in the country, and numbers rising within the college age group, the event was meant to bring awareness to the epidemic sweeping the nation and to inform students and the general public of ways they can help combat the problem.

Former Fox News personality Eric Bolling organized and hosted the event, choosing Liberty’s Convocation as the first site to kick off a series of televised town halls across the nation. Bolling lost his 19-year-old son Eric Chase to an accidental opioid overdose in 2017 and is using his media platform to join forces to battle the crisis. Liberty’s event served as the pilot episode for Bolling’s TV show, “America,” and was aired nationally on Sinclair Broadcast Group stations.

“I can honestly say that beginning such an important task of opioid awareness at Liberty University was a gift sent from my son,” Bolling said. “From the student body attending, to First Lady Melania Trump’s participation, to the hospitality Becki and Jerry Falwell gave me, the whole experience was nothing shy of miraculous. I look forward to a continued collaboration with Liberty, Sinclair, and of course the first lady. Together we will save many lives.”

According to Bolling, the first lady is slated to join him for more town hall events, including one in Las Vegas on March 5.

Across the nation, untold millions suffer from drug addiction. More than 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses involving opioids since 2000. From 2014 to 2015, deaths from synthetic opioids increased by 72 percent. In 2017, more than 72,000 died from drug overdoses, with the majority being from opioids.

The first lady did not hesitate to accept the invitation to Liberty’s stage; saving lives from opioid abuse is an issue close to her heart. It is a main pillar of her BE BEST initiative to improve the health and well-being of today’s youth. The Trump Administration has worked to make sweeping changes to regulations concerning opioid abuse, declaring the crisis a nationwide Public Health Emergency in October 2017. Since President Donald Trump took office, more than $1 billion has been allocated or spent directly addressing the drug addiction and opioid crisis.

TV host Eric Bolling (left) moderates a town hall on the opioid crisis featuring First Lady Melania Trump, U.S. Sec. of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and U.S. Sec. of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

Melania Trump was joined on the stage by two cabinet members who are involved in the Trump Administration’s daily efforts to battle the crisis: U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. With staggering statistics, the leaders described the seriousness of the epidemic and the steps that the government is taking to prevent illegal opioids from entering the country. They also discussed treatments for those who are struggling with an addiction to legally prescribed painkillers and are continuing down a path to using illegal opioids.

In all, 14 town halls have been planned through the end of April in different cities throughout the U.S. The “Your Voice, Your Future — National Roundtable Discussion, Opioids: A National Crisis with Eric Bolling,” events are being produced and distributed by Sinclair. Each town hall focuses on a particular aspect of the issue and includes local and national leaders who are committed to ending the crisis.

After the success of the first town hall on Liberty’s campus in November, the university’s administration sought ways to assist Bolling in future events. Liberty has partnered with Sinclair to sponsor four town halls, including one on Feb. 19 at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, S.C. The topic of that event was millennial engagement and conversation in the crisis. Panelists included President Jerry Falwell and his wife, Becki. (For more information, visit Liberty.edu/News).

“We heard so much great feedback from our town hall here in November, and we wanted to help keep the momentum going to other U.S. cities,” President Falwell said. “As parents, Becki and I are concerned about this crisis and the many families who are being affected nationwide. We applaud the work that the Trump Administration, First Lady Melania Trump, and Eric Bolling are doing to combat the crisis and to give hope to those who are struggling with addiction. We are proud to partner with them to save more lives.”

Liberty will also sponsor town halls in Baltimore, Md., on March 14 (addressing what U.S. cities and towns are doing to combat the crisis); West Palm Beach, Fla., on March 27 (discussing the gateway for drugs and entry into the U.S.); and Little Rock, Ark., on April 16 (on the prevention and solutions to the crisis).

Scott Livingston, vice president of news for Sinclair, said the company is excited to once again partner with Liberty to broadcast programs that will have a major impact.

“Our goal is to not only raise awareness but to focus on finding solutions to this epidemic, which is a national health crisis. We’re proud to partner with Liberty University in this important and potentially lifesaving discussion.”

PRESIDENT JERRY FALWELL, BECKI FALWELL TAKE PART IN TOWN HALL

Liberty President Jerry Falwell and his wife, Becki, played a special role in November’s town hall event. They joined in a discussion with host Eric Bolling on stage, explaining how they ran into Bolling at an event in New York, learned the story of his son, and saw how passionate Bolling had become about the need to bring discussions on opioid abuse to a national audience. The Falwells offered the school’s Convocation — already a popular event that regularly draws high-profile speakers — as a perfect venue for the first show.

During the town hall, the Falwells spoke from the point of view of not only college leaders but as parents; their daughter is currently a freshman and their two sons and daughters-in-law graduated from Liberty. They shared how important it is to create a nurturing environment on college campuses so that drug abuse does not become a problem. They noted that Liberty’s campus excels in making students feel safe and supported, and it provides so many healthy, recreational activities.

Becki Falwell said the difference at Liberty is that faculty, staff, and students are “more like a family — it’s a big community.”

“You have to create an atmosphere where drug use is discouraged, not encouraged,” President Falwell added. “There has to be peer pressure in the right direction.”

As a mother, Becki Falwell reminded the students that their parents love them and told them to never feel shame or fear the consequences if they need to reach out to them for help.

“Your parents would rather have you for the rest of their lives,” she said.

UPDATE: Following publication, the Falwells joined Eric Bolling for two more town halls addressing the opioid crisis. On March 5, the Falwells joined First Lady Melania Trump in Las Vegas. Other special guests at that event included Wayne Newton, Drug Enforcement Agency Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon, and David and Jackie Siegel, friends of the Falwells who lost their 18-year-old daughter Victoria to an opioid addiction. On Feb. 19, the Falwells were part of a panel of guests in Charleston, S.C., that ranged from local law enforcement and state government officials to those involved in the treatment and recovery of addicts.

MORE STORIES:

>Alumnus who suffered from drug abuse now ministers to others

>Two students who took part in the town hall share their stories on how they have been affected by the opioids crisis

 


Anyone battling addiction is encouraged to call 800-662-HELP (4357). At Liberty, students can call Student Counseling Services at (434) 582-2651 or contact an LU Shepherd at (434) 592-5411.

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