Trump Unveils Controversial Plan to Confront the Opioid Epidemic
President Donald Trump pushed law enforcement agencies to “get tough” on crime in a speech on Monday, outlining his plan to reduce deaths from opioid abuse. Although lacking details on specific measures, Trump called for the death penalty for drug dealers as well as a further crackdown on immigration.
The President gave the address in a packed room in Manchester, New Hampshire, one of the places hit hardest by the wave of heroin and prescription drug abuse in recent months. Flanked by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Surgeon General Jerome Adams, President Trump began by thanking police forces, the DEA, Border Patrol, and ICE in a show of support for their attempts to stop the drug trade.
After speaking briefly about increasing federal funding for treatment and addiction networks, the President quickly moved on to the primary focus of his statement: punishments for drug dealers. Trump declared that “the ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty” for those that distribute opioids.
The President referenced other countries that “don’t play games” and “have the death penalty for drug dealers.” This hardline stance, favored by authoritarian leaders like Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Xi Jinping in China, would be a substantial break from current laws, and may not even be constitutional.
The actual legality of the death penalty for drug dealers is a subject of contention. However, Ames Grawert, a senior council at the Brennan Center for Justice, doubted that Mr. Trump’s death penalty would ever be put in place, because “The Supreme Court has consistently refused to sanction the use of the death penalty in crimes other than homicide.”
President Trump also blamed illegal immigrants as a culprit for the opioid epidemic. Citing instances of MS-13 gang members trafficking fentanyl into New Hampshire and drug dealing by some “dangerous people,” the President once again called for the strengthening of the border, saying “eventually, the Democrats will agree with us, and we’ll build the wall to keep the damn drugs out.”
The responses to the President’s plan were mixed, with varying degrees of acceptance. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) criticized the speech saying, “we can’t arrest our way out of the opioid epidemic.” However, another Democrat, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), offered tentative support, stating “frankly, whether a drug dealer, after exhausting all of their legal appeals, gets the death penalty 20 years from now has no impact on our immediate crisis.”
Though President Trump spoke harshly in his speech, very little concrete information was offered on combating the opioid epidemic. The White House has yet to release a detailed plan, and no significant actions or executive orders have been signed.