MANCHESTER, N.H. — President Donald Trump on Monday unveiled his plan to tackle the nation’s ever-growing opioid epidemic. His first targets, he said, are drug dealers and “big pharma”.
“Ninety percent of the heroin in America comes from our southern border, where eventually the Democrats will agree with us and we’ll build the wall to keep the damn drugs out,” Trump told a crowd, who responded with cheers.
Trump called for stricter penalties for drug dealers, up to and including the death penalty for those convicted of selling drugs illegally.
“Some of these drug dealers will kill thousands of people during their lifetimes,” the president said. This is about winning a very, very tough problem, and if we don’t get tough on these dealers, it’s not going to happen.”
Trump pointed out that leaders of other nations have told him that they do not have a serious drug problem because they have “zero tolerance for drug dealers.”
“Take a look at some of these countries where they don’t play games,” he said. “They don’t have a drug problem. We have court cases that last 10 years and then they get out at the end.”
“We have to be tough. We have to be smart. We have to change the laws and we’re working on that,” the president vowed. “The ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty,” he said.
A White House proposal on the issue leaked to Politico shows Trump is already working toward implementation of the death penalty for drug dealers in “certain cases where opioid, including Fentanyl-related, drug dealing and trafficking are directly responsible for death.”
In response to the president’s proposal, the Justice Department cited 18 USC 3591(b) and 21 USC 848(e), declaring “under current law, the federal death penalty is available for several limited drug-related offenses—for example through violations of the ‘drug kingpin’ provisions”.
The president met the Justice Department’s reply with calls for new legislation that would expand death penalty eligible drug-related crimes on the federal level. Further, President Trump called on Congress to pass laws lowering the drug-possession threshold to trigger mandatory minimum sentences.
Turning his aim toward drug companies, Trump said big pharma is as equally responsible for the drug epidemic as the dealers who illegally sell their product.
“Our Department of Justice is looking very seriously into bringing major litigation against some of these drug companies. We’ll bring it at a federal level,” he said.
Trump, who campaigned heavily on addressing the drug crisis as part of his efforts to “make America great again” last year declared the opioid crisis a national health emergency.
“I don’t want to leave at the end of seven years and have this problem,” Trump told the crowd.
The president also said he would support alloting federal dollards toward research into developing a vaccine for opioid addiction.
“It’s central,” Dr. David Rosenbloom, a professor of public health at Boston University, told CNBC. “You need research dollars for the basic research, and you need significant research for clinical trials.”
But experts in the addiction field warn that, even if developed, addiction preventing vaccines are no magical cure.
“This is not any kind of magic bullet,” Dr. John Franklin, the chief of addictions in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern, told CNBC. “This is another tool to give opioid users a chance.”