Washington, D.C. — Today, President Donald Trump announced his proposal for addressing the epidemic of opioid misuse in the United States. As part of this plan, the Trump administration will seek harsher sentences—including the death penalty—for individuals convicted of certain drug trafficking charges. Ed Chung, vice president of Criminal Justice Reform, issued the following statement in response:
President Trump’s plan to seek the death penalty for a larger number of drug trafficking convictions is a backwards approach to addressing the real and tragic effects of America’s current substance misuse epidemic. His admiration for how authoritarian regimes address substance use in their countries should be a cause for alarm now that he is proposing the same policies for the United States.
Clearly, the Trump administration is returning to the failed war on drugs that criminalizes substance use disorder, drives mass incarceration, and unjustly affects communities of color, even though decades of research demonstrates that increasing lengths of sentences are ineffective in addressing substance use disorder or improving public safety. By reviving a 1980s approach to the current crisis that increases prison sentences for drug crimes at all levels, the administration undermines the more promising measures it proposes to combat the rise of opioid misuse. The administration could achieve true bipartisan support if it focused on expanding treatment options, funding for treatment and prevention, and equipping first responders with lifesaving overdose reversal drugs. Those were the types of evidence-based recommendations provided by the president’s own Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.
To effectively address opioid misuse, we must focus on strengthening prevention and treatment—not punishment—for substance use disorders. With opioid deaths on the rise nationwide, we need a comprehensive plan to expand access to treatment and reform our sentencing laws. Instead, the president’s efforts to cut access to health care, including Medicaid, and increase the use of unfair and unduly harsh punishments will only worsen the epidemic.
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