The Trump administration said it will seek stiffer penalties against drug dealers — including the death penalty where appropriate under current law — and it wants the number of prescriptions for powerful painkillers to be cut by one-third nationwide as part of a broad effort to combat the opioid crisis.
Administration officials said Sunday that the measures are part of a three-pronged approach to fighting the opioid epidemic, which killed tens of thousands of people in 2016. The White House said it aims to reduce the demand for opioids by slowing overprescribing, cutting off the supply of illicit drugs and helping those who are addicted.
“The opioid crisis is viewed by us at the White House as a nonpartisan problem searching for a bipartisan solution,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said.
The White House said it wants people who deal fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that has caused deaths to skyrocket nationwide, to be prosecuted more aggressively. The administration had considered making trafficking large quantities of fentanyl a capital crime, because tiny amounts can kill many people, but it said Sunday that the Justice Department will seek capital punishment for drug traffickers under current federal law.
The law allows for the death penalty to be applied in four types of drug-related cases, according to the Death Penalty Information Center: murder committed during a drug-related drive-by shooting, murder committed with the use of a firearm during a drug-trafficking crime, murder related to drug trafficking and murder of a law enforcement officer that relates to drugs.
The administration is looking for new ways to crack down on fentanyl traffickers, calling for Congress to reduce the threshold needed to impose mandatory-minimum sentences on people who are convicted of dealing fentanyl and other powerful opioids that can kill people in trace amounts. It also is calling for a more aggressive policing of the Internet, where fentanyl is often purchased, and mail, where it is shipped from countries including China.
The administration’s increased focus on additional punitive measures has alarmed some who say states and municipalities have already increased arrests and prosecutions.
“The idea that we can ratchet up punishment and penalties of various sorts to address the supply is based on exactly zero evidence of the probability that this will work,” said Leo Beletsky, a professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University.
The White House wants to sharply reduce the number of painkillers that are prescribed nationwide, aiming to slash opioid prescriptions by one-third over three years. It also wants to tighten the number of opioid prescriptions…