Experts React to Trump’s Plan to Escalate Drug War and Impose Death Penalty for Drug Offenses

Trump’s Misguided Approach Will Worsen the Overdose Crisis

In New Hampshire today, President Trump announced a plan for his administration’s response to opioid addiction and overdose. Trump frequently characterized his plan as “getting tough” on drugs and reiterated calls for drug war strategies that evidence has shown fail to deter drug selling or drug use – including ramping up criminal punishment for drug law violations and resurrecting disproven “just say no” campaigns aimed at youth. Trump also repeated his support for imposing the death penalty for people who sell drugs. While Trump’s plan includes some modest efforts to expand access to naloxone and medication-assisted treatment, any progress could be derailed by an increase in drug enforcement efforts.

Earlier today, the Drug Policy Alliance hosted a tele-press conference with experts on human rights, law enforcement, drug policy and criminal justice reform. A recording of this tele-press conference is available here.

The following are statements from the speakers who participated in today’s call:

Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“President Trump’s proposed response to the overdose crisis today— with its call for the death penalty and harsher sentences, and its demonization of immigrants—would be both cruel and ineffective. It’s a cynical appeal to the worst instincts of his base. Instead, it should serve as a call to action to everyone who cares about health, life, and honest government, to demand real solutions to overdose. Trump’s failure to invest in harm reduction strategies that work, or to put resources behind evidence-based treatment, reveal a profound disdain for the many people now suffering due to this crisis.”

Nicole Austin-Hillery, Executive Director of US Programs, Human Rights Watch:

“President Trump’s proposal for addressing the opioid crisis emphasizes the same rights-abusing enforcement and extreme sentencing we witnessed in the 80s and 90s”, said Nicole Austin-Hillery, executive director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “If Trump were truly serious, he would focus on expanding proven health interventions and supporting sentencing reform, as Congress has been doing with bipartisan success. Instead, he continues to revive the drug war, now using the death penalty, which Human Rights Watch vehemently opposes and which is currently being questioned for its inhumanity and waning support. Simply put, use of the death penalty is a disproportionate approach that will have zero impact on trafficking or addiction.”

Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), Executive Director, Law Enforcement Action Partnership:

“As the opioid crisis destroys even more lives, we must reject any policy that doubles-down on the failed strategies that created this problem in the first place,” said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership. “I condemn lengthy prison sentences and the death penalty for drug traffickers because there’s no evidence they reduce addiction or overdose deaths. On the other hand, public health strategies, such as syringe exchange programs and safe consumption sites, are proven alternatives backed by years of success.”

Vanita Gupta, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Former Head of the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s Civil Rights Division:

“The opioid crisis is a national tragedy.  Unfortunately, the Trump administration is using the same failed, broken playbook on criminal justice. They are seeking a decidedly punitive approach to the nation’s drug problem – one that seeks to increase already disproportionate sentences for drug offenses and employ the death penalty. This is more than just a criminal justice issue – it is a public health issue. We cannot enact cynical policy that has purely rhetorical appeal. We cannot just do what feels good, or sounds good. We must take an evidenced-based approach to ending the opioid crisis.”

Marc Mauer, Executive Director, The Sentencing Project:

“Imposing harsher penalties for drug sellers is hardly a new idea. The United States has decades of experience utilizing punitive tactics to confront drugs that have had a limited impact on substance use. In order to achieve a better balance in our approach to drugs we need to invest more in proven methods of prevention and treatment.”