Jill Colvin

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump is vowing to step up efforts to combat the nation’s opioid addiction crisis, and he’s tapped New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to lead the fight.

Trump convened an emotional roundtable Wednesday with Christie, members of his Cabinet, law enforcement chiefs, recovering addicts and advocates. It was the first public event tied to the launch of a new addiction commission that Christie, a longtime Trump friend and former rival, will chair.

Trump listened intently as Vanessa Vitolo and AJ Solomon, two recovering addicts from New Jersey, described their harrowing battles with substance abuse. Both became hooked on prescription painkillers and quickly transitioned to heroin.

Trump also heard from a mother whose son died from an overdose after a long battle with addiction.

“We want to help those who have become so badly addicted. Drug abuse has become a crippling problem throughout the United States,” said Trump, citing statistics that show drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the country.

Christie has made the issue of addiction a centerpiece of his administration and spoke extensively about it during his own presidential bid. He has dedicated his final year in office to addressing the drug crisis. Last month, he signed legislation that limits first-time opioid prescriptions to five days’ worth of drugs and requires state-regulated health insurers to cover at least six months of substance abuse treatment.

“This issue causes enormous pain and destruction to everyday families in every state in this country,” said Christie, who has been working behind the scenes with White House officials since shortly after Trump’s inauguration.

As Christie was appearing at the White House, two former aides were sentenced for their roles in the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal. Bill Baroni was sentenced to two years in prison, while co-defendant Bridget Kelly was sentenced to 18 months after they were convicted last November on counts including wire fraud, conspiracy and misusing the bridge for improper purposes.

The scandal derailed Christie’s presidential aspirations and may have cost him a chance to be then-GOP nominee Trump’s running mate.