President Donald Trump will unveil a plan on Monday to combat the opioid addiction crisis that includes seeking the death penalty for drug dealers and urging Congress to toughen sentencing laws for drug traffickers, White House officials said on Sunday.
The White House plan will also seek to cut opioid prescriptions by a third over the next three years by promoting practices that reduce over prescription of opioids in federal healthcare programs, officials told a news briefing.
Trump will outline his proposals at an event in New Hampshire, which has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic.
‘The Department of Justice will seek the death penalty against drug traffickers when it’s appropriate under current law,’ said Andrew Bremberg, director of Trump’s Domestic Policy Council, in the briefing detailing the plan.
The White House did not offer any specific examples of when it would be appropriate to seek the death penalty for drug dealers and referred further questions to the Justice Department.
Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency in October. He raised the issue of using the death penalty for drug dealers at a rally in Pennsylvania earlier this month.
The president has repeatedly said individual drug dealers are responsible for thousands of deaths.
Last week, Trump said at a rally in Moon Township, Pennsylvania: ‘Think of it, you kill one person you get the death penalty, in many states.
‘You kill 5,000 people with drugs, because you’re smuggling them in and you’re making a lot of money, and people are dying and they don’t even do anything.
‘Then you wonder why we have a problem, and that’s why we have a problem. I don’t think we should play games!’
‘I never did polling on that, I don’t know if that’s popular. I don’t know if that’s unpopular. Probably you’ll have some people who say ‘Oh that’s not nice’, Trump continued. ‘But these people are killing our kids and killing our families! And we have to do something.’
Trump cited Singapore and China for their ‘zero tolerance’ policy on drugs.
In fact, 33 countries allow the death penalty for drug offenses, many of them in Asia, according to a 2012 report from Harm Reduction International.
Surprisingly, the US is among them, at least in theory.
In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in Kennedy vs Louisiana left open the question of whether the death penalty for ‘offenses against the State’ including ‘drug kingpin activity’ would be constitutionally permissible.
The US Code authorizes a sentence of death in certain large-scale federal drug trafficking convictions, even when murder is not a component of the conviction.
But in practice, no criminal has been executed in the US for a crime other than murder since September 1964, when Alabama executed James Coburn for robbery.
In the Philippines, more than 4,000 mostly poor drug suspects have been killed under President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug crackdown, according to the national police, although human rights groups have reported larger death tolls.
Last year, Trump congratulated Duterte for his efforts in eradicating drugs from the country, according to a leaked transcript of their phone call.
‘I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,’ Trump reportedly said in his call with Duerte.
‘Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.’
In 2016, every day an average of 175 people died of drug overdoses in the US.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50.
Trump’s plan will also call for the launch of a public awareness campaign about the dangers of narcotics and will support research to develop a vaccine to prevent opioid addiction.
The White House also wants to make sure first responders are fully supplied with naloxone, a lifesaving drug used to treat a narcotic overdose in an emergency situation.