March 29 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump, who's expressed a keen interest in fighting drug abuse in the United States, on Wednesday named New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a lieutenant in the White House's effort to combat opioid dependence.
Trump made the announcement during a "listening session" on opioid abuse at the White House, where the president heard from experts and officials close to the matter.
Christie, whose place in Trump's administration has long been the subject of speculation, will work with state and local governments and the law enforcement and medical communities in his advisory role.
"We want to help those who have become so badly addicted," Trump said. "Opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999. This is a total epidemic."
Trump has long signaled his desire to address drug abuse in the United States and Wednesday said opioid dependence among millions of Americans is underaddressed.
"We are fortunate to have Gov. Chris Christie with us, a friend of mine ... he's avery effective guy," the president added.
Trump said the effort will involve officials from inside and outside of the federal government and family members on the front lines of drug addiction. At Wednesday's meeting, he acknowledged some of those relatives.
Opioid dependence is an issue former President Barack Obama also made a priority -- dedicating millions of dollars to the fight by spurring medicine-based treatment for Americans dependent on opioid painkillers and heroin.