After visiting the White House Opioids Summit last week, Kathy O’Keefe is optimistic that the government is working to resolve the country’s opioids epidemic, but she knows that a lot of work has to be done and it needs to “stay front and center.”
O’Keefe’s 18-year-old son, Brett Morgan O’Keefe, died from an accidental drug overdose in March 2010, and Kathy O’Keefe immediately “knew we had to do something. She founded Winning the Fight (WTF), a Flower Mound-based nonprofit geared toward drug awareness among school age kids and their parents.
Since he was elected president, Donald Trump has declared the country’s opioids epidemic a national public health emergency, bringing the issue of these addictions and overdoses to the forefront of the national political and media spotlight.
Earlier this year, O’Keefe heard an idea that encouraged those who have lost a child to overdoses to send Trump a Valentine’s Day card with a photo of their children in it. O’Keefe said she liked the idea and in early February, she sent the president a card with Brett’s photo, a Winning the Fight brochure, a DVD of WTF’s documentary called “Not Me 2” and a packet of photos of about 80 other young people who have died from drug-related issues within a 15-mile radius of Flower Mound.
“I figured if it doesn’t get to Trump, that’s fine, whoever opens it will be affected by it, and that’s the purpose,” O’Keefe said.
Later in the month, O’Keefe got an email and phone call from a White House employee who said they couldn’t pay for it, but they invited her to the White House Opiates Summit.
O’Keefe decided to go and is “grateful I went.”
The event featured a lot of household names: Melania and Donald Trump spoke, and it was moderated by White House aid Kellyanne Conway. One panel of White House Cabinet leaders included HUD Secretary Ben Carson and another included Attorney General Jeff Sessions. O’Keefe said the first panel discussed prevention, treatment and recovery. After a Q&A session, the second panel discussed reducing the amount of drugs coming in from other countries and other things that can be done to the legal system to help the cause.
“It’s nice to see each department is working on its own toward the same thing,” O’Keefe said. “It’s very exciting to see they’re actually doing something. They’ve got a plan, and it’s the first time I’ve seen (the federal government) looking to combat the national crisis.”
O’Keefe said she is more optimistic now than she was before attending the summit, but she said she knows it’s still a huge, complex problem that will take a lot of time and work to solve.
“One thing that was really disappointing, but not really surprising, was that Big Pharma was not brought up,” O’Keefe said. “I guess it’s because they don’t have deep enough pockets and Big Pharma does.”
O’Keefe said she will continue to keep the issue front and center as best she can, and she hopes the White House will continue to do so, too.
“We can’t be quiet about it anymore,” she said.