WASHINGTON — Vowing to “raise a drug-free generation of American children,” President Donald Trump on Monday outlined his administration’s plan to tackle the nation’s opioid epidemic, including a proposal to execute some convicted drug dealers.
“If we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we’re wasting our time . . . and that toughness includes the death penalty,” Trump said at a campaign-style event in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Trump’s plan, according to details provided by the White House “will seek the death penalty against drug traffickers, where appropriate under current law.” Officials said the death penalty would apply to “very specific high-level cases” such as those covered under a federal law first passed by Congress in 1988 that allows prosecutors to seek a death sentence for murder “resulting from large-scale illegal drug dealing.”
The plan also calls for stricter sentencing standards for drug dealers, cutting opioid prescriptions by one-third within three years, and funding anti-drug education campaigns.
“The best way to beat the drug crisis is to keep people from getting hooked on drugs anyway,” Trump said, adding that his administration was “seriously” weighing “major litigation” against drug manufacturers.
The president’s push for the death penalty for drug traffickers mirrors controversial drug laws in China, the Philippines and Singapore, that have come under criticism from human-rights groups. Trump acknowledged there likely would be pushback to his proposal, telling the Manchester crowd, “The ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty . . . it’s possible that our country is not ready for that.”
Congress recently approved $6 billion in federal funding over the next two years to tackle the nation’s rising opioid addiction, but White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, speaking to reporters before Trump’s Manchester appearance, said the administration would push for at least $13 billion in funding as overdose rates rise.
There were more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, mostly involving opioids, according to the most recent figures available from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. On Long Island, Suffolk officials have projected that last year there were at least 400 deaths related to opioid overdoses, and Nassau officials projected some 195 deaths.
The president also tied his drug plan to his immigration enforcement agenda, calling on Congress to “build the wall” along the U.S.-Mexican border “to keep the damn drugs out.” He also urged lawmakers to block funding to so-called sanctuary cities, such as New York City, that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents.
Trump called for “spending a lot of money on great commercials” as part of an anti-drug campaign aimed at children, that would “scare them from ending up like the people in the commercials.”
Some drug policy experts called on Trump to focus on supporting more community-based drug-prevention programs instead of a broad national campaign, and argued Trump’s focus on the death penalty for drug dealers would distract from the need for increased access to addiction treatment programs and mental health services.
“If this administration wants to save lives, it needs to drop its obsession with killing and locking people up, and instead focus resources on what works, harm-reduction strategies and access to evidence-based treatment and prevention,” said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a Washington-based nonprofit that promotes “health-centered” drug policies.