With opioid overdose levels skyrocketing, President Donald Trump unveiled a strategy Monday to counter the impact of deadly drugs nationwide – including capital punishment for high-level traffickers
In a direct message to dealers and traffickers, he threw down the gauntlet.
‘We will find you, we will arrest you, and we will hold you accountable,’ he said to applause during a speech in Manchester, New Hampshire..
And his version of ‘toughness,’ he said, ‘includes the death penalty.’
In a confusing moment on Monday, Trump stepped on his own messaging.
‘Unless you have really, really powerful penalties – led by the death penalty – for the really bad pushers and abusers, we are going to get nowhere,’ he said, appearing to equate drug ‘abusers’ with the dealers who supply them.
President Trump shared ideas he had for solving the nation’s opioid crisis, like putting drug kingpins to death and building his border wall with Mexico
But most of his pitch was a brushback pitch to the criminals who fuel between one- and three-quarters of a trillion dollars in U.S. illicit drug sales each year.
‘Some of these drug dealers will kill thousands of people during their lifetimes … and they’ll get caught, and they’ll get 30 days in jail, or they’ll go away for a year, or they’ll get fined,’ the president said.
Yet ‘if you kill one person, you get the death penalty or you go away for life.’
Unless that lopsided equation is righted, he said, ‘we are just doing the wrong thing. We have got to get tough.’
The president raised eyebrows when he first floated the idea of making the death penalty available to federal prosecutors in some drug trafficking cases.
That national head-scratch split into a serious policy debate last week when a leaked copy of a policy blueprint included the idea of capital punishment for kingpins.
Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters aboard Air Force One that the policy proposal ‘is about drug traffickers. This is high-level, very specific cases.’
President Trump spoke about the nation’s opioid epidemic Monday in Manchester, New Hampshire, a state that he heralded for his primary win, but also called a ‘drug infested den’
A senior administration official said Sunday night during a conference call with journalists that the Justice Department would only seek that penalty to the degree it is permitted ‘under current law.’
The White House has sought to de-emphasize the criminal justice aspects of the president’s rollout, focusing instead on prevention and treatment.
Trump played to that priority early in his speech Monday, declaring that ‘failure is not an option. Addiction is not our future.’
‘It will stop,’ he promised.
‘We will liberate our country from this crisis,’ Trump said, pledging that Americans ‘will raise a drug-free generation of American children.’
Trump also dipped his toe Monday into the unique political pond he’ll need to master a second time in the 2020 presidential primary season.
A 2017 poll of Granite State residents found that the scourge of illicit drugs was the single biggest problem they faced – scoring higher than jobs, taxes, health care and immigration.
First lady Melania Trump gave the introduction Monday for her husband, President Donald Trump, in Manchester, New Hampshire
It was the first time a majority of New Hampshirites ever told pollsters that any one issue outweighed all other concerns combined.
First lady Melania Trump introduced her husband Monday in New Hampshire, decrying the impact of opioid abuse on young mothers and children.
She said she hopes especially for a greater nationwide focus on educating women about the impact of opioids on unborn babies.
Trump’s overall approach blends attacks on illicit drug traffickers and over-prescribing doctors with greater funding of addiction counseling and treatment.
The White House says that, like international crises in Iran and North Korea, America’s illicit narcotics boom is a deep-seated sickness that Barack Obama left for him to cure.
The senior administration official suggested Sunday that deadly variants of opioid painkillers like Fentanyl have been allowed to proliferate because of Obama’s soft-glove approach to criminal justice.
‘I think it’s a shame that we’ve seen the prior administration did not prioritize enforcing the law as related to drugs,’ the official said.
‘That, I think, has been directly attributable to the rise and increase of Fentanyl, and the resulting overdose deaths.’
Conway said Monday that mandatory minimum sentences should be triggered at a different level for Fentanyl than for other drugs because just a ‘trace’ amount of it can kill.
Fentanyl is 100 times as powerful as morphine and 50 times the strength of heroin.
Accoding to current sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimums in place don’t kick in unless a trafficker is caught with 20,000 doses.
Some states have decriminalized marijuana in recent years, sensing a willingness of the Justice Department to leave the overriding federal laws against the drug unenforced.
But Trump’s DOJ has signaled a willingness to crack down, even where less potent ‘gateway drugs’ are concerned.
‘For states that are choosing to follow that path, it is a terrible mistake to not vigorously enforce the law as it relates to illicit drug use,’ the senior admininstration official argued.
Some experts say the same international pathways used by marjuana smugglers provide a conduit for harder drugs, including heroin, Fentanyl and cocaine.
A second administration official told DailyMail.com on Monday that ‘sealing the border with Mexico’ and ‘getting tougher at [sea] ports’ would have an impact on every facet of the illicit drug trade.
‘Even if you build the president’s wall, the problem isn’t going to dry up overnight,’ the official conceded, noting that some Drug Enforcement Administration figures indicate more narcotics come into the U.S. via ocean routes than by land.
‘But the last White House did a lot of nothing,’ the official claimed. ‘it feels like we’re starting from zero.’
Before his speech, President Trump (right) and first lady Melania Trump (left) visited the Manchester Central Fire Station, where he held onto a fireman’s hat
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump listen as Daniel Goonan, Manchester City Fire Chief, speaks during a visit the Manchester Central Fire Station on Monday
One direction out of the starting blocks is cutting back on the drug channels that don’t break any laws, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Monday morning.
Appearing on ‘Fox & Friends,’ he said his agency wants to slash legal prescriptions of opiates like OxyContin and Percocet by one-third in the next three years.
Azar compared the ‘over-prescription’ of those painkillers to a similar overuse of antibiotics, which has made some infectious diseases resistant to the medicines.
And he said the president’s openness to seeing major drug traffickers put to death shows his ‘seriousness.’
President Trump (left) and first lady Melania Trump (right) seen leaving the White House Monday en route to Manchester, New Hampshire
‘If you are involved in the distribution of illicit drugs – or if you are improperly using, selling, distributing even legal opioids – there should be serious penalties attached and serious enforcement,’ he said.
A different official said Sunday that the U.S. opioid addiction epidemic ‘is a very tricky thing. It starts often in the family medicine cabinet, the little bottle there has a label with the local pharmacy and the family doctor.’
Many people find themselves addicted to painkillers that were covered under Medicare or Medicaid, only to learn that the same programs won’t fund treatment programs.
The White House denies that choosing New Hampshire for Monday’s speech has a political component, even though longtime Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich has already visited the state and a parade of other water-testers is sure to follow.
‘It doesn’t carry any political weight tomorrow,’ a senior administration official insisted on Sunday, noting that the White House invited New Hampshire’s entire Senate and House delegations – all Democrats – to appear with the president in Manchester.
‘We would like them to attend,’ the official said. ‘I don’t think they are.’