President Donald Trump said on Thursday that as a solution to the opioid epidemic there should be a death penalty for drug dealers.
“We have pushers and drugs dealers, they are killing hundreds and hundreds of people,” Trump said at a White House summit on opioid abuse. “If you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them.”
He further stated that other countries that have imposed the death penalty on drug dealers have a better success in fighting substance abuse than the United States.
“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,” he said.
This comes after Axios reported earlier this week that Trump has privately praised countries like Singapore that mandate the death penalty for drug traffickers, arguing a softer approach to substance abuse won’t be successful. His remarks will probably sparkle a wave of criticism from those who are demanding that the White House needs to focus on the public health component of the opioid crisis.
Meanwhile, the president did not mention any type of health approaches including providing additional funding for treatment.
“It makes us all very nervous that the U.S. could move back to a penal-first approach,” said Andrew Kessler, who is the head of Slingshot Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in behavioral health policy that advocates for substance abuse treatment and prevention. “I have no love for high-level traffickers or cartels, but a very high percentage of people who sell drugs do it to support their own habit.”
Kessler also added that the government would have better results if it starts treating people for addiction instead of imprisoning them.
“We have done the experiment with extreme mass incarceration to shrink the drug market and it failed. Between 1980 and today, the number of drug dealers behind bars has gone up by a factor of 30 and the prices of heroin and cocaine have fallen more than 90 percent. So the problem with putting drug dealers in prison is there is another drug dealer in there to take his place,” said Mark Kleiman, who leads the crime and justice program at New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management.
He further added that it was also unclear whether harsh sentences for drug dealers lower the level of drug use in a country. While Singapore “has done a pretty good job of reducing drug consumption, countries like the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia still have huge drug problems.”
According to Politico, former Democratic Representative Patrick Kennedy, who is a member of the president’s White House Commission on Opioids, and was not invited to the summit, said that Trump should use the bully pulpit to promote an “orchestrated solution across many departments of government.”
“There is a certain easiness about talking tough when in fact we have been talking tough for years and it hasn’t gotten us anywhere,” Kennedy stated.