Opioids: Trump’s death penalty solution
“The Trump administration finally has an ambitious, detailed plan for combating the opioid epidemic,” said Eric Levitz in NYMag.com, and the proposal is “simultaneously encouraging and horrifying.” President Trump’s multipronged approach, unveiled in Manchester, N.H., this week, “includes some evidence-based reforms that public-health experts have been recommending for years.” The good news is that Trump plans to use $6 billion allocated by Congress to increase access to the overdose antidote naloxone, and to the medications buprenorphine and methadone, which can reduce cravings and help addicts get off heroin and opioid pills. Medicaid enrollees will get “easier access to in-patient addiction treatment.” Those sensible ideas were overshadowed, though, by Trump’s proposal to pursue the death penalty against drug dealers, said Dara Lind in Vox.com—an idea likely inspired by Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte, “who has overseen mass vigilante killings of alleged drug dealers and users.” Trump was vague about the details, but said dealers complicit in overdoses should be executed. “If we don’t get tough,” he said, “we’re wasting our time.”
“‘Death penalty for drug dealers’ is a good sound bite,” said Jonathan Groner in NBCNews.com, particularly given the gravity of this crisis. Some 64,000 people died from overdoses in 2016—more than the number of firearm homicides and car crash victims combined. Unfortunately, though, it’s unlikely executing traffickers “will prevent a single opioid-related death.” Many heroin kingpins don’t live in the U.S., and street dealers already face high risks and are easily replaced when arrested or killed, with little impact on the lucrative flow of illegal drugs. And what about the real villains of this crisis: the pharmaceutical executives “who saturated our country” with prescription opioids such as OxyContin—fueling “the most severe epidemic to affect our country in a generation”?
Trump’s plan is also deeply “vulnerable to a constitutional challenge,” said Robert VerBruggen in NationalReview.com. The Supreme Court has limited the death penalty to the most extreme cases of intentional murder; it’s even barred its use to punish child rapists. Sadly, Trump’s proposal to kill drug dealers is “a reflection of desperation, not rational thinking,” said David Harsanyi in TheFederalist.com. It’s far easier to deploy tough-sounding “bluster” than it is to figure out “why so many Americans are turning to opioids for their pain.” ■