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Drugs & the Death Penalty: How Will President Trump Combat the Opioid Crisis?

can you get the death penalty for drugs

On March 19th, 2018, President Donald Trump proposed an official plan to combat the opioid crisis in America. The three-pronged policy, which can be found on the Whitehouse.gov website, outlines the Trump Administration’s top initiatives for stopping opioid abuse and reducing drug supply in the U.S.

A portion of Trump’s plan focuses on expanding addiction treatment opportunities for those in need. It also outlines which steps will be taken against the over-prescription of opioid drugs. Expectedly, however, most of the plan emphasizes a need for tougher law enforcement when it comes to drug supply. This has been a focus of the President since his election in 2016 and has remained a constant throughout his time in office: we must get tough on drug trafficking. But there’s one, cited policy in this plan that is catching many experts off-guard: The death penalty for drug dealers.

Trump first announced his plan to a New Hampshire audience last month. He explained, “Drug traffickers kill so many thousands of our citizens every year. And that’s why my Department of Justice will be seeking so many, much tougher penalties than we’ve ever had, and we will be focusing on the penalty that I talked about previously for the big pushers, the ones that are really killing so many people. And that penalty is going to be the death penalty.”

You may be here now as you are curious about America’s most current policies and penalties for drugs, drug users, and drug dealers. You may be asking, “Can you truly get the death penalty for drugs?” Perhaps you have heard something about drugs and the death penalty in recent news, and are now wondering the deal. You’ve come to the right place. In this article, Turnbridge will walk you through what President Trump has proposed for fighting the opioid epidemic, and what treatment experts and law enforcement professionals have to say in wake of his plan.

President Trump on Drugs & the Death Penalty

At the core of Trump’s plan to reduce drug supply and demand in our country, is the desire to cut off the source of illicit drugs. President Trump’s Opioid Initiative aims to crack down on international and domestic illicit drug supply chains, in efforts to stop the influx of dangerous drugs that are taking lives.

In addition to securing our borders, shutting down online marketplaces, and penalizing corrupt or “criminally negligent” doctors and pharmaceutical companies, President Trump suggests that the Department of Justice strengthen criminal penalties for drug dealing and trafficking of opioid drugs, such as fentanyl. As cited in the Whitehouse fact sheet:

  • The Department of Justice will seek the death penalty against drug traffickers, where appropriate under current law
  • The President also calls on Congress to pass legislation that reduces the amount of drugs needed to invoke mandatory, minimum sentences for drug traffickers who knowingly distribute certain illicit opioids that are lethal in trace amounts (i.e. fentanyl)

“If we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we’re wasting our time,” the President said in his New Hampshire speech. “And that toughness includes the death penalty.”

Is the Plan Enforceable?

According to FactCheck.org, the death penalty against drug dealers is possible if the dealer or trafficker is directly tied to a homicide or murder. And, as made possible by the expanded Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994, the death penalty may be sentenced for those who traffic in very large quantities of narcotics, even if the crime does not directly include a killing.

In an instance where someone is transporting 24 kilograms of the deadly opioid fentanyl, statutorily, the Trump Administration has the power to pursue the death penalty. However, according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, “No administration, Republican or Democrat, has acted on that statutory authority.”

What Drug Treatment Professionals Have to Say

Time and time again, addiction treatment professionals agree that a criminal approach to drug abuse and addiction is not effective in preventing others, including our youth, from using drugs. As we previously cited in our article, “Should Drug Addicts Go to Jail?”, studies also back this up.

Drug addiction is a disease. Much like diabetes or other chronic conditions, it requires long-term, ongoing treatment. It is complex and very difficult to control on one’s own. Clinically called a substance use disorder, addiction happens after a period of repeated drug use – a user’s body becomes physically and psychologically dependent on drugs to function. Chemical changes take place within the brain, altering the way a user thinks and behaves. Anyone can become addicted; drug addiction is not a choice.

Drug addiction is also not a moral failing, though this is a common belief that people often carry. It is often one of the biggest inhibitors to drug treatment. Many people do not seek out professional drug rehab in fear of being judged or looked down upon – despite the need for it. It is this stigma that is leading many people to prioritize punishment over treatment for drug addicts, and the stigma that’s preventing many people from getting the help they truly deserve.

Of course, law enforcement does have a role to play in this war against drugs. Law enforcement professionals are authoritative figures that can change the stigma surrounding drug abuse and addiction, according to Turnbridge’s family outreach specialist, Diana Clark. She says in an interview with New Haven Register, “If we could have law enforcement be part of the conversation of addiction being a disease and not a crime, we could make a difference. I don’t necessarily condemn the idea that there needs to be some law enforcement, but I think the best use for law enforcement would use law enforcement to connect people with treatment.”

Many other authorities believe that there are some holes in the President’s proposed plan. Daniel Nagin, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, for example, told FactCheck.org that “law enforcement has a role to play,” but there’s “universal acceptance [among experts] that you can’t incapacitate your way out of drug dealing because someone will replace them.” Others agree with this statement. If a drug trafficker is taken off the streets, whose to say someone won’t take his place? And will this strategy target the “kingpins” of the drug trade, who hire people to traffic drugs for them?

Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian, who has worked to get effective addiction treatment resources in his Middlesex County, Massachusetts, jurisdiction, told Teen Vogue, “We can’t arrest — or execute — our way out of addiction. If the death penalty is simply a [method] to keep people from selling drugs, long prison sentences do that.”

Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center also calls out the fact that it’s virtually international law that, if a country does not enforce the death penalty, they will not release a suspect into the custody of a country that uses capital punishment and plans to seek it. For example, if a big cartel person from Mexico is wanted in the United States, you can guarantee they will not be sent here if the death penalty is on the table.

Rather than focusing on the death penalty for drugs, President Trump, the Administration, and law enforcement authorities should put their attention towards expanding drug treatment options for those in need and focusing on the whole issue at hand. As Diana Clark at Turnbridge said, “We need long term, more robust, more emphasis on the whole person than just ‘stop using drugs. Until we address that human as more than just a person that takes drugs, that they have psychological issues that need to be addressed, we continue to have a problem.”

If your loved one is battling a drug problem and at risk of getting in trouble with the law, it is important to seek help immediately. You can keep your loved one safe and put him/her on the path towards recovery. Call Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 to learn about our young adult drug rehab programs.