U.S. President Donald Trump presented his plan to address the opioid addiction crisis in New Hampshire, which included tightening sentencing laws for drug traffickers and pursuing the death penalty for dealers.
Speaking with reporters during a meeting in the Oval Office last Thursday, Trump called the opioid crisis a “national health emergency,” and called upon Americans to “liberate [their] communities from the scourge of drug addiction.”
“The Department of Justice will seek the death penalty against drug traffickers when it’s appropriate under current law,” said Andrew Bremberg, director of Trump’s Domestic Policy Council.
White House officials are also hoping to cut opioid prescriptions by one third by 2021.
In a memo sent out on March 20th from the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, followed up on the president’s statements asking the federal prosecutors to pursue the death penalty in those drug trafficking cases which are “dealing with extremely large quantities of drugs”. The memo goes on to highlight the extreme issue going on with the opioid crisis right now in the United states stating:
“The opioid epidemic has inflicted an unprecedented toll of addiction, suffering and death on communities throughout our nation. Drug overdoses, including overdoses caused by the lethal substance fentanyl and its analogues, killed more than 64,000 Americans in 2016 and now rank as the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. In the face of all of this death, we cannot continue with business as usual.”
It is possible for the federal prosecutors to do this under a law that was signed under President Bill Clinton in 1994 when the country was undergoing a crime increase due in part to crack cocaine proliferation.
However some do not think this is headed in the right direction. Mark Kleiman, a drug and policy expert at the Marron Institute at New York University has stated;
“We did the experiment. In 1980, we had about 15,000 people behind bars for drug dealing. And now we have about 450,000 people behind bars for drug dealing. And the prices of all major drugs are down dramatically. So, if the question is do longer sentences lead to a higher drug price and therefore less drug consumption, the answer is no.”
In Canada, as well, the drug policy experts seem to lean towards less punitive policies and more responsible opioid prescribing, more treatment, more harm reduction and better systems to deal with mental health issues within the communities as the answer to solving the opioid crisis. It can be very difficult to differentiate between who is a trafficker or drug dealer and who is a user. In a 2017 Bureau of Justice statistics report it was found that “nearly a third of drug offenders (30 percent of state prisoners and 29 percent of jail inmates) said they committed the offence to get drugs or money for drugs”.