HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (CN) - As President Donald Trump prepares to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, the director of a residential treatment facility in West Virginia hopes the renewed federal focus on the epidemic will help her save more of addiction's littlest victims.
Rhonda Edmunds is the director of nursing at Lilly’s Place, a treatment facility in Huntington, West Virginia, that cares for infants suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome, the name for a group of problems experienced by a newborn who was exposed to addictive opiate drugs while in the mother's womb.
The facility is currently providing care to four infants, and has room for up to 12 at any given time.
But Edmunds says there is so much more that needs to be done in communities like hers in southern West Virginia, which has seen an explosion in opioid deaths and addiction cases.
Besides making a declaration from the White House, Edmunds would like to see the president commit significant federal dollars to dealing with the growing crisis.
And she has reason to be hopeful.
Just last week first lady Melania Trump and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway visited Lily's Place to get a first-hand look at the problem and what Edmunds and her staff are doing to try to address it.
"She was very warm and friendly and receptive to the families [relying on our facility]," Edmunds said. "She spoke with them, held their babies, and was very, very kind."
But Edmunds said there was much more to the visit. "Melania Trump came here wanting to learn about this whole problem," the nursing director said. "She wanted to learn about what we are doing, and how we're trying to be proactive rather than reactive."
The scope of the crisis is staggering.
In July, a White House commission convened by Trump and led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie issued a report that said every day at least 142 deaths occur in America that can be directly attributed to opioid abuse.
The report equated this death toll to a "Sept. 11 occurring every three weeks."
Edmunds said that in 2015, the last year for which there are reliable numbers, 92 out of every 1,000 babies born in West Virginia had severe enough withdrawal symptoms to require treatment, and 150 out of every 1,000 babies born had addiction systems evident enough to be noted by medical professionals.
Under West Virginia law, if an infant tests positive for the presence of drugs, it is assigned a case worker from the state's Child Protective Services.
The case worker determines the appropriate treatment for the child and makes decisions related to where they will go once discharged. The staff at Lilly’s Place has no say in where the child is placed. That is left up to state authorities, Edmunds said.
The infants who make their way to Lily's Place are suffering from the mental and physical pain of withdrawal, are highly sensitive to light and noise, and easily become over-stimulated.
Within the facility, quiet and calm dominate. The lights are kept low, and the staff employs a range of comforting techniques to ease the infants' discomfort.
Edmunds, a former staffer with the neonatal therapeutic unit at nearby Cabell Huntington Hospital, said infants suffering from addiction and withdrawal-related issues typically stay at Lilly's Place for a period of three to six weeks.