Last Monday, President Trump released new details in his plan to fight the opioid crisis while visiting New Hampshire, which has the nation’s third highest rate of deaths from overdoses. With drug overdoses killing roughly 42,000 people in the United States in 2016 according to the CDC, Trump has declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency as of last October. West Virginia is effectively a “ground zero” for this epidemic, with the CDC stating that in 2016, 52 people per 100,000 in the state died due to drug overdose, the highest on record.
Trump’s proposed three-part initiative includes a public health education campaign centered around the dangers of opioids, as well as an overall goal to decrease the number of opioids prescribed in the United States by one third over the next three years, and efforts to enhance security to prevent drug smuggling and trafficking.
The proposed plan is drawing scrutiny from some due to the ‘toughness’ of the campaign. Trump stated in his address, “If we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we are wasting our time. That toughness includes the death penalty.”
On Mar. 20, Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a memo containing more details about what sort of crimes could be punishable by capital punishment. The memo states, “Congress has passed several statutes that provide the Department with the ability to seek capital punishment for certain drug-related crimes. Among these are statutes that punish certain racketeering activities; the use of a firearm resulting in death during a drug trafficking crime; murder in furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise; and dealing in extremely large quantities of drugs. I strongly encourage federal prosecutors to use these statutes. when appropriate, to aid in our continuing fight against drug trafficking and the destruction it causes in our nation.”
Through a combination of stricter punishments for drug dealers, an anti-opioid ad campaign targeted at children, and federal funds allotted for the development of non addictive painkillers, Trump hopes to reduce overall opioid usage in the United States over the next several years.
“Defeating this epidemic will require the commitment of every state, local, and federal agency. Failure is not an option, addiction is not our future,” he stated. “This scourge of drug addiction in America will stop”
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) supports Trump’s plan, distributing a press release on March 19 stating, “President Trump and I agree that we must fight the opioid epidemic by increasing public education; giving our law enforcement officials the tools they need to stop the spread of opioids; and expanding access to substance use disorder treatment and recovery centers, including for our military and veterans and for those in the criminal justice system. I’ve been fighting for these policies and more for years and I applaud the President’s leadership as we work to end this epidemic.”
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is also on board, saying, “President Trump’s initiative is a significant step forward and one that reinforces our call for broad cooperation within government toward a holistic solution that attacks opioid abuse from a supply, a demand and an educational perspective. The President’s leadership on this issue is imperative as there are some resources that only the federal government can bring to bear, such as funding for treatment and long-needed reforms to national drug policy, including my effort to fix DEA’s broken drug quota system.”
In his speech, Trump also promoted the website crisisnextdoor.gov, where Americans can share their personal stories of how addiction has affected them. Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the President, says, “We call it the crisis next door because everyone knows someone. This is no long somebody else’s community, somebody else’s kid, somebody else’s coworker.”
More information will be released as the plan is implemented and details are hashed out within the administration.