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Trump pledges to arrest drug dealers, pharmacists and manufacturers to tackle opioid crisis - as he repeats call for use of death penalty

The address is the most comprehensive speech from the president on the opioid crisis, and follows nearly a year after he first promised to act

Clark Mindock
New York
Monday 19 March 2018 19:48 GMT
Trump: Justice Department looking at bringing 'major litigation' against drug companies

President Donald Trump has said that his administration will confront the opioid epidemic in the United States, promising to crack down on those responsible for the drug problem that has torn communities and families apart across the country.

In his most comprehensive speech on the issue yet, Mr Trump announced a several-pronged approach to combat the epidemic that includes prevention and treatment, while at the same time sending a warning shot to culpable parties at all levels from drug dealers up to drug manufacturers, promising that his administration would punish those who contribute to the problem.

For drug dealers, Mr Trump reiterated his support for pursuing the death penalty in jurisdictions where that could be possible. For drug manufactures, the president said he had instructed his Justice Department to consider ways to bring a federal lawsuit against drug manufacturers that have pushed opioid prescription rates to unprecedented levels over the past several decades.

Mr Trump's administration has announced that they will begin to combat the opioid addiction through a combination of education, prevention, and treatment. Using $6 bn that Mr Trump said he has pushed Congress to include in next year's budget, the President said that he wants to target young people in the US through advertisements online and on television with the hopes that young Americans will think twice about touching opioids. He also said that he will work to cut opioid prescriptions in the US by a third, and will push for best practices for future opioid prescriptions that rely on federal healthcare funding.

"This epidemic can affect anyone, which is why we must educate everyone," Mr Trump said, suggesting that the advert campaign would help to deter primarily young people from trying opioids that could ruin their lives.

During the speech in Manchester, Mr Trump asked grieving parents to come up on stage with him and talk about their son who died from an opioid overdose after getting into their medicine cabinet, and brought pharmaceutical executive up to discuss lowering the price of prescription medicine in the United States — which the president promised to do during his opioid epidemic address as he promised to improve the federal approach to medical opioid abuse treatment options. His plan includes arming first responders with the life-saving drug naloxone, which reverses overdoses, and would look to use federal funding opportunities to incentivise state and local jurisdictions to participate in a nationwide overdose tracking system that the White House says would allow the federal government to respond quickly to developing hard-hit areas where drug misuse is becoming more and more prevalent.

Mr Trump also returned to several of his favourite themes during the speech, emphasising the need for tough law and order in the United States, and for a border wall to be built along the southern US-Mexico border where he says drug traffickers and criminals are able to pass freely between the two countries.

Saying that he believes Democrats — who have resisted the wall steadily since Mr Trump took over the presidency last year — would eventually come around to funding on the border wall, the president indicated that he would be "okay" with tying funding for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme to the wall.

"They don't want it to be approved," Mr Trump said of the Democrats he says are standing in the way of his border wall and in the way of comprehensive immigration reforms. Talk of the wall, which he pitched Monday as a way to help combat the opioid crisis, elicited chants of "build the wall" in the auditorium he was addressing.

The president continued to cast immigrants as one of the main drivers of the opioid epidemic in the United States. He pointed to the Salvadoran gang MS-13 for violence in the US and for importing drugs into the country. He also called out "sanctuary cities" in the United States, which shield some undocumented immigrants by refusing to coordinate with federal immigration requests if the individual is a non-violent offender.

President Trump declared the opioid crisis — which has led to two years of consecutive drops in American life expectancy as overdose deaths have reached catastrophic rates — a national public emergency in October, months after he took office with the promise to do something about the issue. But, in the immediate aftermath of that recognition of the opioid crisis as an

In calling the opioid crisis a "scourge of addiction", Mr Trump promised that he and his administration would act swiftly to address the issue, but did not immediately do so as many hoped he would.

Mr Trump's Monday speech received mixed reaction from activists, many of whom said that some of Mr Trump's plans to address the opioid crisis would be a positive and healthy step for the United States, and yet others saying that the decision to call for the death penalty for drug dealers would be illegal and inhumane.

"I'm excited to see President Trump and his administration finally take the first concrete steps to begin tackling the substance abuse crisis in America," Gary Mendell, the founder and CEO of the anti-addiction group Shatterproof, said in a statement. "This disease is preventable and treatable if we find the courage and determination to act on the solutions that we know will save lives. While I don't agree with everything in today's announcement, the White House plan does include several clear solutions to help people already addicted, and to prevent addiction and drug misuse in others."

The American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement of their own, warned against Mr Trump's insistence that going after drug dealers would solve the problem.

"The opioid crisis is a serious problem that requires a serious solution. But the Draconian law enforcement provisions included in this proposal are unconstitutional and absurd," Jessely McCurdy, the deputy director of the group's Washington legislative office said in a statement.

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