MANCHESTER, N.H. (CBS/AP) — President Donald Trump unveiled his plan to combat the nation’s deadly opioid addiction in a speech Monday in New Hampshire, a state ravaged by the drugs.
Trump said “failure is not an option” and vowed that “addiction is not our future.”
At Manchester Community College, Trump said tougher borders were needed to prevent the flow of drugs to the United States. He told the audience that the nation needed a stronger southern border and a crackdown on sanctuary cities — including nearby Lawrence, Mass. — that he says supply drugs the nation’s heartland.
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Trump said the nation “must get tough” with drug dealers, which includes utilizing the death penalty.
“Some of these drug dealers will kill thousands of people during their lifetime… and they’ll get 30 days in jail… We have got to get tough,” Trump said.
Trump declared the need for a nationwide public relations effort to convince Americans, and particularly children, to not start using drugs.
He announced a new website — crisisnextdoor.gov — that warned of the dangers of opioids, including fentanyl. He also called for broadcasting “great commercials” during “the right shows” that demonstrate to children “how bad” drugs are.
In 2017, New Hampshire had the third highest drug overdose death rate in the United States, according to the CDC.
Many of those who came to hear him speak clutched pictures of sons and daughters lost to opioids. One New Hampshire mom was completely surprised when the president called her up to speak.
“Adam was our oldest son, he was a great kid, he was a smart kid,” said Jeanne Moser, who lost her son to fentanyl.
“I think the president showed a lot of compassion,” Moser said after the speech.
But about the death penalty for dealers, Moser and other grieving parents said they were not fans of the president’s proposal.
Trump vowed to help create “a generation of drug-free children.” And he complained that, under the current law, a dealer could sell a drug that could kill hundreds but only receive a short prison sentence.
It was the president’s first time in the state since the 2016 campaign. Last year, he drew criticism from politicians and residents of the state after he said it was a “drug-infested den” during a call with Mexico’s president.
The plan will focus on prevention through education, more funding for treatment, and stiffer punishments.
Trump also wants Congress to pass legislation reducing the amount of drugs needed to trigger mandatory minimum sentences for traffickers who knowingly distribute certain illicit opioids, said Andrew Bremberg, Trump’s domestic policy director, who briefed reporters Sunday on the plan Trump unveiled Monday in New Hampshire.
The president was joined by first lady Melania Trump, who has shown an interest in the issue, particularly as it pertains to her focus on child welfare.
Death for drug traffickers and mandatory minimum penalties for distributing certain opioids are just two elements under the part of Trump’s plan that deals with law enforcement and interdiction to break the international and domestic flow of drugs into and across the U.S.
Trump has mused openly in recent weeks about subjecting drug dealers to the “ultimate penalty.” The president told the audience at a Pennsylvania campaign rally this month that countries like Singapore have fewer issues with drug addiction because they harshly punish their dealers. He argued that a person in the U.S. can get the death penalty or life in prison for shooting one person, but that a drug dealer who potentially kills thousands can spend little or no time in jail.
“The only way to solve the drug problem is through toughness,” Trump said in Moon Township.
He made similar comments at a recent White House summit on opioids. “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,” Trump said. “So we’re going to have to be very strong on penalties.”
The Justice Department said the federal death penalty is available for several limited drug-related offenses, including violations of the “drug kingpin” provisions of federal law.
Doug Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, said it was not clear that death sentences for drug dealers, even for those whose product causes multiple deaths, would be constitutional. Berman said the issue would be litigated extensively and would have to be definitively decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, killed more than 42,000 people in the U.S. in 2016, more than any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trump has declared that fighting the epidemic is a priority for the administration but critics say the effort has fallen short.
Last October, Trump declared the crisis a national public health emergency, short of the national state of emergency sought by a presidential commission he put together to study the issue.
“We call it the crisis next door because everyone knows someone,” said Kellyanne Conway, a Trump senior adviser. “This is no longer somebody else’s community, somebody else’s kid, somebody else’s co-worker.”
Other elements of the plan Trump discussed Monday call for a nationwide public awareness campaign, which Trump announced last October, and increased research and development through public-private partnerships between the federal National Institutes of Health and pharmaceutical companies.
Bremberg said the administration also has a plan to cut the number of filled opioid prescriptions by one-third within three years.
Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.