- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Families wracked by drug addiction met with White House staffers who were moved to tears Wednesday during a roundtable discussion led by President Trump on efforts to combat the nation’s opioid addiction crisis.

Mr. Trump convened the meeting attended by Cabinet officials, law enforcement chiefs and recovering addicts to launch a new addiction commission to be chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an ally of the president who also lost a friend to addiction.

“This issue causes enormous pain and destruction to everyday families in every state in this country,” Mr. Christie said. “Addiction is a disease, and it is a disease that can be treated.”

Both Mr. Christie and the president spoke about their pro-life views in the context of addressing the crisis.

“He and I are both pro-life,” Mr. Christie said of the president. “We’re pro-life for the whole life. Not just for the nine months in the womb, but for the whole life. Every life is an individual gift from God and is precious. And no life is irredeemable.”

The president said he especially wanted to thank a New Jersey woman, Pam Garozzo, who lost her son last December to a drug overdose. “He will not have died in vain,” Mr. Trump told her.

In a particularly emotional moment of the roundtable that brought many participants to tears, including presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, recovering addict Vanessa Vitolo told Mr. Christie, “There is hope and there is a tomorrow, and there is a day after that. You just have to fight for it.”

“There is a better life,” Ms. Vitolo said. “We can change this, and that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever been a part of.”

The president vowed to step up efforts to stop drugs from being smuggled into the U.S.

“Drug cartels have spread their deadly industry across our nation, and the availability of cheap narcotics, some of it comes in cheaper than candy, has devastated our communities,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s really one of our biggest problems, our country has, and nobody really wants to talk about it. More importantly, we have to solve the problem.”

Mr. Christie told The Associated Press earlier Wednesday that he has “no interest in having a permanent role” in the Trump administration at this time, but that the president asked him to spearhead efforts to combat opioid and drug abuse as he completes his term as governor.

“He asked me to help with this, and I’m going to,” Mr. Christie said. “It’s an issue that I care about a lot in New Jersey and for the country, and so the president asked me to do this and I was happy to.”

The commission will be part of a new office led by Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner, whose father was prosecuted by Mr. Christie in his former role as U.S. attorney.

Mr. Christie, who had lunch with Mr. Kushner on Tuesday as part of his discussions about the administration’s policy, downplayed reports of tensions between the two.

“It was great,” Mr. Christie said. “We are talking about the opioid issue because it’s one of the things that’s going to be overseen out of his department and so we had a good lunch and a good opportunity to lay out what we need to do and what our goals are.”

Mr. Christie’s history with drug policy dates to his first elected position in county government more than 20 years ago. The issue became personal more than a decade later, when one of Mr. Christie’s best friends from law school developed an addiction to prescription drugs and died of an overdose in a New Jersey motel.

Mr. Christie’s position leading the commission is a volunteer one, and he has long maintained that he plans to complete his term as governor before moving to the private sector. Nonetheless, people close to him say that he is open to potentially joining the administration once his term ends.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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