In March of 2018, President Trump announced a three-part plan in his Administration’s efforts to addressing the current American drug addiction epidemic. Included in that plan were a few approaches that had long been anticipated by the American people. However, one approach that Trump put forward in his plan was entirely unanticipated, and it actually reminds us a lot of President Rodrigo Duterte’s approach in the Philippines. This is his plan to enforce the death penalty on drug dealers.
Yes, as un-American and as uncivilized as it might sound, President Trump announced in New Hampshire last March that he would like to institute the death penalty on a federal level for drug dealers. Trump wants medication-assisted treatment. Trump wants more police on the streets cracking down on drug crime. Trump wants more government-funded treatment centers. Trump wants to hold Big Pharma accountable for the life-threatening products they make. Trump wants more education and awareness in our schools and in our communities. But it was his support of the death penalty for drug dealers that got the most attention by far.
By and large, the Trump Administration’s pursuance of the death penalty has been all but completely opposed. This is really reaching here by even putting the death penalty option on the table. Criminal justice absolutely has a part to play in addressing a drug addiction epidemic, but to rely on it to the extent that the current Administration desires to rely on it will likely be unproductive.
The American opioid epidemic claimed sixty-four thousand lives in 2016. We don’t know the numbers for 2017 yet. More than half a million Americans have died from opiates since 2000. That we do know. Opiates have rapidly become the single greatest cause of accidental death in the United States by far. But is killing more people through execution really going to make things any better?
One expert spoke out strongly about the benefits of taking a public health approach to the opiate problem. Much of what Trump wants to put into action does involve public health. However, executing drug dealers does not involve public health. That is a very criminal and law enforcement-based approach, not a health approach. According to Dr. Guohua Li, professor of anesthesiology and epidemiology at the Columbia University and an expert on the opiate epidemic:
“Criminal justice can play a complementary role in addressing the opioid crisis. But relying on the criminal justice system to address public health problems has proven unwise, costly, ineffective and often counterproductive. Like the epidemics of Ebola and Zika, the opioid crisis will ultimately be resolved through a public health approach by public health professionals working in the CDC, state, and county health departments, and academic institutions in collaboration with other government agencies and community organizations across society.”
From President Trump himself, the proposed tactics for addressing the addiction epidemic include:
The American people can get behind this plan almost completely, but most of us tend to draw the line at executing drug dealers. However, according to President Trump himself:
“You know it’s an amazing thing. Some of these drug dealers will kill thousands of people during their lifetime – thousands of people – and destroy many more lives than that. They’ll get caught, and they’ll get 30 days in jail, or they’ll go away for a year, or they’ll be fined. So 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. Toughness is the thing they most fear. Whether you are a dealer or doctor or trafficker or a manufacturer, if you break the law and illegally peddle these deadly poisons, we will find you, we will arrest you, and we will hold you accountable.”
From his perspective, President Trump seems to be very focused on punishing those responsible for dealing drugs and killing others through drugs. To an extent, that makes sense, However, many still disagree with him.
Whether we agree with the President’s approach or not, we can all do our part to prevent drug abuse in our communities by raising awareness about the problem and by spreading the true information about drug and alcohol abuse and the risk factors involved with drug and alcohol abuse.
It is so easy for us to get wrapped up in, “What the President is doing” or “What the government will do” and whatnot when in reality we should be far more focused on our own communities in the here and now. The government, in the end, is not going to be the presence that saves our lives or our communities for us. If they are, they’re going to take a long time in doing it. We need to take matters into our own hands and we need to take control of this situation. It is the American people ultimately that will reverse this terrible epidemic. Not the government.