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Trump Seeks Death Penalty for Drug Traffickers to Curb US Opioid Abuse


President Donald Trump speaks about his plan to combat opioid drug addiction at Manchester Community College, March 19, 2018, in Manchester, New Hampshire.

U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited plan to combat the nation's opioid addiction crisis on Monday.

In a speech at an event in Manchester, N.H., Trump vowed to help create “a generation of drug-free children” saying, “together, we will end the scourge of drug addiction in America once and for all.”

Trump said in order to win, it is important to “get tough” with drug dealers.

“If we don't get tough on the drug dealers, we are wasting our time. And that toughness includes the death penalty," he said, to which the audience responded with applause.

Trump lamented that under the current law, a dealer could sell a drug that could kill thousands during their lifetime but only receive a short prison sentence.

“This is about winning a very, very tough problem. If we don’t get very tough on these dealers, it’s not going happen,” Trump warned.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned that the president's proposals need funding or they will end up being "more broken promises from the Trump administration."

“President Trump’s budget called for staggering cuts to Medicaid, CDC, and mental health and substance abuse funding that is essential to helping families afford treatment and overcome the tragedy of opioid addiction," she said. "He has worked to destroy the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and allow the sale of junk health insurance plans that do not cover substance abuse treatment. And now, President Trump darkly flirts with imposing the death penalty for drug crimes."

Andrew Bremberg, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, told reporters on Sunday that capital punishment would be sought against drug traffickers when appropriate under current law.

When asked to give examples, Bremberg told reporters to refer to the Justice Department for “specific legal analysis,” but added, "Obviously there are instances where that would be appropriate."

It remains unclear how prosecutors could seek the death penalty for traffickers without changing U.S. law. Some legal scholars have said the issue may need to be decided by the Supreme Court.

Trump explained the first part of his plan to combat the opioid crisis aims to reduce drug demand by preventing Americans from becoming addicted in the first place. That includes increasing federal funding for the development of non-addictive painkillers, a commercial campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of opioid misuse, and addressing the problem in overprescribing. The plan hopes to cut nationwide opioid prescriptions by one-third over the next three years.

The second part of the initiative targets the supply of illicit drugs across U.S. borders and within American communities. Trump told the audience that the nation needs a stronger southern border and a crackdown on sanctuary cities that he said supply drugs to the nation's heartland.

The third element focuses on helping people in the throes of addiction by expanding evidence-based addiction treatment and recovery services.

FILE - A Cataldo Ambulance medic holds used doses of naloxone after medics revived a man in his 40's who was found unresponsive from an opioid overdose in the Boston suburb of Salem, Massachusetts, Aug. 9, 2017.
FILE - A Cataldo Ambulance medic holds used doses of naloxone after medics revived a man in his 40's who was found unresponsive from an opioid overdose in the Boston suburb of Salem, Massachusetts, Aug. 9, 2017.

In recent speeches, Trump has expressed his preference for the “ultimate penalty” for some traffickers, but this would be the first time the idea became part of an official plan.

"Some countries have a very, very tough penalty. The ultimate penalty. And by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do. So, we're going to have to be very strong on penalties," he said earlier this month at a White House opioid summit.

This is Trump's first visit to New Hampshire as president. The state has been hit hard by the opioid crisis with the nation's third-highest rate of deaths from overdoses.

Opioids include illegal drugs such as heroin or fentanyl, as well as legal prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine.

Every day, 116 Americans die from opioid-related overdoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses killed roughly 64,000 Americans in 2016 alone, more than the number of Americans killed during the Vietnam War. About two-thirds of these drug deaths involved an opioid.