By Steve Birr
President Donald Trump will continue his call to crack down on drug traffickers with the “ultimate penalty” as he discusses his strategy for combating the opioid crisis Monday.
Trump, along with first lady Melania Trump, will formally announce in New Hampshire his plan for tackling rising overdose deaths throughout the country. The president is asking the Department of Justice to use the death penalty for narcotics traffickers, arguing tougher penalties are needed to deter the drug distribution that feeds addiction across the country, reports KPCC.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to join Trump for the announcement, where he will also call on Congress to pass a law lessening the amount of illicit opioids needed in an individual’s possession to trigger mandatory minimum sentences.
“These people can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them,” Trump recently said at the White House opioid summit. “We need strength with respect to the pushers and to the drug dealers. And if we don’t do that, you will never solve the problem. The answer is you have to have strength and toughness. The drug dealers and the pushers are — they are doing damage. They are really doing damage.”
Trump is also advocating for opening access to treatment and rehabilitation programs, including screening every federal inmate for opioid addiction. His administration also intends to cut overall prescriptions for opioid painkillers nationwide by one-third over the next three years.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50, killing more than 64,000 people in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The increase is driven primarily by opioids, which claimed 42,249 lives in 2016, a 28 percent increase over the roughly 33,000 lives lost to opioids in 2015.
Opioid overdose made up a staggering 66 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2016, surpassing the annual number of lives lost to breast cancer. Deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl, a painkiller roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, experienced a particularly dramatic increase, more than doubling from 9,580 lives in 2015 to 19,413 lives in 2016.
Officials say the epidemic is contributing to declining life expectancy in the U.S. Life expectancy dropped for the second consecutive year in 2016 for the first time since an outbreak of influenza in 1962 and 1963.
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