MANCHESTER, N.H. — President Donald Trump announced Monday new efforts to combat the national opioid crisis — including the option of the death penalty for drug traffickers — which was met with praise from West Virginia politicians.
Trump spoke about his “Initiative to Stop Opioids Abuse and Reduce Drug Supply and Demand” to an audience at Manchester Community College in New Hampshire, a state that has been affected by the opioid epidemic much like West Virginia.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of drug overdose deaths in New Hampshire is 39 deaths per 100,000 people, the third-highest rate in the country. West Virginia leads the nation in fatal drug overdoses with 52 deaths per 100,000 people.
“Defeating this epidemic will require the commitment of every state, local and federal agency. Failure is not an option. Addiction is not our future. We will liberate our country from this crisis,” the president said.
Trump’s initiative is focused on reducing demand for current pain medication, providing security to address drugs coming into the country and expanding treatment opportunities. Yet the attention of Trump’s announcement focused on his argument to allow the Department of Justice to consider the death penalty for convicted drug dealers.
“If we’re not going to get tough on the drug dealers who kill thousands of people and destroy so many people’s lives, we are just doing the wrong thing. We have got to get tough. This isn’t about nice anymore,” he said.
Other parts of Trump’s blueprint are a nationwide public awareness campaign about the dangers of prescription medication, a safe prescriber plan with the goal of cutting the filled opioid prescriptions by one-third in three years, increasing treatment funding opportunities and building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, a promise Trump first made when he launched his presidential campaign in June 2015.
Trump spoke about the wall, taking an opportunity to swing at Democrats for their positions on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which protects young people who came illegally to the country as children — and the wall’s construction.
“They don’t want to go with DACA, because they don’t care about DACA. But they’re trying to tie the wall to DACA, and DACA to the wall,” he said. “They want to keep DACA for the campaign instead of getting it approved, which we could do very easily.”
The opioid initiative also includes engaging with China and Mexico to reduce the supply of illegal drugs and opioids coming into the United States.
The Department of Justice’s duties would also be scaled up to increase internet enforcement efforts and prosecute negligent doctors, pharmacies and distributors.
In a press release, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the president’s education and enforcement efforts will keep illegal drugs and excess pain medication away from people who wish to misuse the drugs.
“We also must get serious about providing funding to our communities for substance use disorder treatment and for critical efforts to prevent overdose deaths so that people have the chance to get clean and repair their lives,” he said.
A Manchin spokesman later said the senator supports the president’s position on expanding the death penalty to drug traffickers.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said this is another step in the Trump administration’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis, noting the creation of an opioid commission and October declaration to make the matter a national public health emergency as other important actions.
“(H)e has worked to raise awareness of the issue and — even more importantly — to explore and deliver solutions to fight it,” she said in a press release. “The plan the president announced today is a significant step forward in combating this epidemic, and it proves that the administration truly understands it is going to take a comprehensive, all-hands-on-deck approach to make real progress in this fight.”
A Capito spokesperson did not return a request for comment if the senator’s approval also includes the president’s position regarding the death penalty.
Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., called Trump’s initiative “bold,” noting it sends a “clear message” to drug dealers.
“In Huntington, we’ve seen dealers from Detroit coming to our city to sell drugs laced with fentanyl and carfentanyl — elephant tranquilizer — resulting in dozens of overdoses in a matter of hours. We must reclaim our communities and stop traffickers in death from profiting off addiction,” he said in a statement.
Carfentanyl is a substance used to sedate elephants and other large animals.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey — who is challenging Jenkins in the May 8 primary election to be the Republican nominee in this year’s U.S. Senate race — said actions proposed by the president compliment steps his office has taken regarding enforcement.
“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,” he said.
Morrisey announced on March 1 a request to put a lawsuit on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s drug quota system on hold. He said the federal government was not doing enough to prevent drug manufacturers and distributors from supplying the public with an excess of opioids.
He added U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ request to evaluate the system was a step forward, prompting the request to freeze the lawsuit’s progression.
The Feb. 9 federal budget agreement includes setting aside $6 billion over the next two fiscal years to combat the opioid crisis and mental health, with funding going toward prevention programs and law enforcement agencies.