The fight against prescription opioid abuse, heroin, and fentanyl in America continues to intensify. Our political landscape may soon see even more drastic shifts because of it. Controversy and conjecture have surrounded many ideas brought to the table on both sides. Even the President himself has been behind some pretty divisive propositions. Then Monday, President Trump unveiled his plan for combatting the ongoing opioid crisis in America while in New Hampshire.
During his speech, the President talked up a few key elements of his plan; some we have heard of before, and others have only recently become a serious topic of conversation. As the administration puts the final touches on their proposals, we thought should take a look at some of the highlights and see which of his plans could actually work, and why experts and advocates believe others probably won’t.
Arguably, there are some pretty good ideas here… and some pretty bad ones, depending on who you ask.
An Opioid Vaccine
Let’s kick this off on a high note.
The Trump opioid plan includes supporting the search for a vaccine. This honestly seems like a good ambition to get behind, but will it work? Researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the National Institute on Drug Abuse developed an experimental heroin vaccine back in December. So far the compound has been tested with rats and mice. Their latest breakthrough found that antibodies in the vaccine bound to the heroin before crossing the blood-brain barrier. This reaction effectively prevents the euphoric effects of the drug.
While this is an exciting development, it is still a vast leap to go from treating mice to treating humans. We still have a long road ahead before this possible vaccine could be approved. However, more funding and resources from the federal government could make a big difference.
Even so, it is important to note that this vaccine will not be a cure-all answer that fixes everything. After all, we have seen opioid blocking methods before. Drugs like Vivitrol and other implants were also developed to hamper the effects of opioids, and they still haven’t stopped the crisis from growing. Experts are already saying this vaccine will only work in the short term and require repeated doses. It is expected to be an incredibly expensive treatment, and it may only be another variation of the Vivitrol shot. Still, some believe this vaccine, used alongside other treatment methods, could be a crucial tool in fighting opioids.
Big Pharma and Prescription Drugs
The Trump opioid plan also takes a look at prescription opioids. The President acknowledged the contribution of pharmaceutical companies and prescription drugs to the opioid crisis. In his statement, he indicated that this administration support research for opioid alternatives.
“That includes federal funding for the development of non-addictive painkillers.”
In talking about prescription drugs, President Trump said the administration also planned on addressing the issue of overprescribing addictive medications. He even touted the Justice Department’s new task force that may soon be fighting Big Pharma companies in court.
“Our Department of Justice is looking very seriously into bringing major litigation against some of these drug companies. We will bring it at a federal level.”
He acknowledges the recent work at the state level to hold Big Pharma accountable. President Trump said his administration will be working to reduce opioid prescriptions by 1/3 over the next three years. Hopefully, as time goes on there will not only be more accountability to those manufacturing these potent medications, but also more options for the thousands of people suffering from chronic pain who do need pain management.
This show we have seen (fail) before. The crisis probably isn’t going to get fixed with re-runs and reboots.
For a long time, Trump has been talking about creating a media campaign to try and combat the opioid crisis. In his remarks on Monday, the president said,
“We are thinking about doing a really large-scale rollout of commercials that show how bad it is for the kids… Scare them from ending up like the people in the commercials.”
Trump said he would spend a lot of money and direct people to make the commercials depict “pretty unsavory situations” claiming that this strategy has worked before with cigarette smoking.
Sadly, the reality is that we have tried this before. Using anti-drug messaging that specifically targets kids and young adults is exactly what was done with the “Just Say No” ad campaign of the 1980s and early 1990s, and the DARE program of the same period. Neither program was proven to be particularly effective in reducing drug use. Some have even argued it did the opposite and actually intrigued young people into drug use.
This is just one part of the Trump opioid plan that reminds people of the ideas pushed in the failed War on Drugs that already destroyed countless lives and only ended up making the problem worse.
So how will this new campaign be different?
The President also mentioned the importance of combatting the flow of illicit drugs like fentanyl and heroin into the country. He became particularly energized of course when talking about his proposed border wall with Mexico, saying,
“90% of the heroin in America comes from the southern border, where eventually the Democrats will agree with us and we will build a wall to keep the damn drugs out.”
However, many are not so convinced that the wall will be especially effective in stopping drug traffickers. Support for the wall experiences ups and downs as negotiations over immigration continue. Then the President took the opportunity to scrutinize sanctuary cities, calling out California and claiming these places were harboring the most terrible kinds of criminals, including drug dealers.
If part of the Trump opioid plan is to apply even more pressure to sanctuary cities, we may see more back-and-forth when it comes to compromises on immigration policy reform. Recently the Republicans were using DACA as a bargaining chip with Democrats to get the infamous border wall built, but now Trump says Democrats are holding onto it so they can use the issue during the election cycle.
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers
Now, THIS proposal is the one part of the Trump opioid plan that is causing the most controversy, and understandably so.
UPDATE: Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent out a memo Wednesday officially asking federal prosecutors to pursue the death penalty in drug trafficking cases “dealing in extremely large quantities of drugs”. So the administration is now implementing President Donald Trump’s plan to ramp up “tough on crime” punishments in response to the opioid crisis.
In his speech, the President brought having the death penalty for drug traffickers to the forefront. This is an extreme even some of his supporters believed was more tongue-in-cheek than actual proposed policy. The details on this proposal were still pretty scarce at the time. Some support Trump pushing for the death penalty, saying this punishment would only apply to high volume, kingpin-level dealers. But what we should consider is this:
- The federal death penalty is available for a few drug offenses. This includes violations of the “drug kingpin” provisions in federal law.
- Reports indicate that Trump wants Congress to pass legislation that will reduce the amount of drugs needed to trigger mandatory minimum sentences for traffickers.
So should we assume that the President intends to expand what qualifies as “drug kingpin” activity to make the death penalty easier to enforce? If so, what does that mean exactly? And what does it mean for further enforcing other mandatory minimums?
The Justice Department has said it would seek the death penalty “when appropriate under current law.” While drug-related murder is already a capital offense, no one has ever been executed by those rules. However, President Trump says that he and the Justice Department are working very hard to change the laws. To do so would require an act of Congress, and many believe Congress is highly unlikely to expand the federal death penalty. So will any of this be changing soon?
In his comments, President Trump stated,
“If we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we are wasting our time. And that toughness includes the death penalty.”
President Trump’s call for the death penalty is being strongly met with condemnation. The proposal’s critics range from treatment advocates to law enforcement officials and civil liberty organizations.
Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement,
“If this administration wants to save lives, it needs to drop its obsession with killing and locking people up, and instead focus resources on what works: harm reduction strategies and access to evidence-based treatment and prevention.”
Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office, said,
“Drug trafficking is not an offense for which someone can receive the death penalty,”
McCurdy is referring to a Supreme Court precedent that puts constraints on using the death penalty for a convicted person who did not commit murder.
Furthermore, there are plenty of arguments that this kind of policy is not practical. Some say it would either be so broad it became unconstitutional, or so specific that it would be obsolete. This aspect of the plan has sparked nationwide debate. Americans everywhere are arguing whether or not a drug dealer should be responsible for the deaths of customers.
Sadly, this is so frustrating because past data does not hold with the idea that getting ‘tough’ on drugs is more effective than offering treatment opportunities. One of the best studies backing this is a 2014 study from Peter Reuter at the University of Maryland and Harold Pollack at the University of Chicago. Researchers determined that while simply prohibiting drugs to some extent does raise their prices, there’s no good evidence that tougher punishments or harsher supply elimination efforts do a better job of driving down access to drugs and substance misuse than lighter penalties.
In fact, many addiction advocates argue that harsher punishments can actually be counter-productive because they end up punishing people who need treatment, not incarceration. So the need for a more comprehensive approach to opioid addiction treatment is paramount. Hopefully, this administration will see the need to focus on support for treatment, instead of a primarily punitive focus.
Trump Opioid Plan on Treatment
This is a critical and commendable element of the Trump opioid plan, and I applaud some of its intentions. However, I wish we could talk a lot more about this and a lot less about captial punishment.
Still, I give them credit for saying they want to increase access to addiction treatment and adopting harm reduction. There isn’t much detail to go on though, as far as how this will happen. One aspect is to increase the use of medications such as methadone and buprenorphine.
As another highlight, Trump also asks Congress to repeal a rule blocking Medicaid payments to larger treatment facilities, which could provide a boost in the billions to inpatient clinics. Hopefully, this is one factor of the Trump opioid plan that will pan out, because one of the biggest issues the US faces with the opioid crisis is a limited access to adequate treatment options. If the White House allows Medicaid to reimburse larger treatment facilities, more people will be able to get effective care. Still, it is unclear how many resources the administration is willing to commit to treatment resources.
Hopefully, the Trump opioid plan will evolve and we will see a resurgence of resources going toward helping get people suffer the help they need. It is understandable to want to curb the rise of addiction through anti-trafficking measures and raising awareness, but we already have thousands and thousands of people struggling every day all over America who need help. Preventive steps are crucial, and the President is trying to push for them. But it is vital that we also give everyone already struggling more of a fighting chance. The possibility of more people having greater access could help create a huge shift.
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Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte proclaimed a bloody war on drugs back in June of 2016. As of 2017, the murderous “drug war” resulted in the deaths of more than 12,000 ‘suspects’, according to Human Rights Watch in the World Report 2018.
Each time his violent anti-drug campaign is questioned, President Duterte responds by harassing and threatening critics. From the beginning, officials have publicly reviled, humiliated and even jailed human rights advocates. Some contest that not only has Duterte resisted calls to end this bloody war on drugs but has actually gone on to use populist rhetoric to ridicule activists from investigating his chaotic crusade.
Recent remarks from American President Donald Trump are also being brought into question as he seems to believe executing drug dealers is a reasonable approach. Transcripts from a call Trump had with Duterte actually say that he was praising the Philippines President for encouraging carnage in his own streets.
A new report states that President Duterte has actually told his police and soldiers not to participate or cooperate in any probes against his militant anti-drug warfare. Will the Philippines President continue to resist any attempts to curb his brutal campaign?
Extrajudicial Killings and the Bloody War on Drugs
Firstly, let us clarify what an extrajudicial killing is (also called extrajudicial execution). This is when a person is killed by governmental authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or legal process. Essentially, these executions bypass due process and are mostly regarded as unethical. The Philippines bloody war on drugs is truly horrific considering their president has:
- Urged citizens to kill suspected criminals and drug addicts
- Ordered police to shoot-to-kill
- Offered bounties for dead suspects
President Duterte has even admitted to killing suspected criminals personally, and all of which seems to fit right into the category of extrajudicial killings. Duterte was a mayor in Davao for more than 20 years. During that time, he stalked the streets with the infamous Davao Death Squad in attempts to find and kill suspected drug criminals.
This is all pretty terrifying. Especially when you consider that out of the estimated 12,000 deaths:
- Approximately 4,000 occurred during police led operations
- The rest- estimated 8,000- we killings by “unidentified gunmen”
A huge factor to remember is they aren’t only killing suspected dealers, but also drug users or suspected addicts. When most of the world is working to make help available to those who desperately need it, this president thinks murdering addicts will eliminate the drug problem.
There has been mounting pressure from local and international entities to investigate the thousands of slayings by police. But in a speech delivered to elite armed police forces in Davao City, Duterte stated:
“When it comes to human rights, or whoever rapporteur it is, my order to you: Do not answer. Do not bother.”
Duterte defends his order toward security services, saying:
“Who are you to interfere in the way I would run my country? You know very well that we are being swallowed by drugs.”
This definitely is not the first time President Duterte has made some harsh comments while pushing back against outside influence.
Zero Tolerance for Any Interference
In 2016 a lot of things happened concerning the bloody war on drugs in the Philippines. We won’t break down the entire timeline. However, we encourage everyone to do a little reading into the series of disturbing events. At one point, the UN rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard was formally invited by the Philippines government to investigate the controversial deaths. Then, President Duterte had an abrasive change of heart, saying he would “slap” Callamard if she began her investigation.
Not only did Duterte attack outside influence, he also encouraged police to attack human rights advocates in the Philippines. He has reportedly told the police to shoot these individuals “if they are obstructing justice.”
Duterte publicly condemns the official Commission on Human Rights. He has even threatened to abolish this entity entirely, despite it being mandated by the country’s constitution. It seems as though the government of the Philippines is prepared to stop at nothing to continue waging this gruesome war on anyone and everyone connected to drugs. Now that means going to war with those fighting to defend their human rights.
Examining the International Outcry
Last Tuesday, Duterte said he would accept the UN investigation into his brutal drug policies. However, he claims that Callamard is biased and that he will not cooperate if she was leading the investigation.
In February, another examination into the war on drugs in the Philippines was opened by the International Criminal Court (ICC). While this examination could eventually lead to charges of crimes against humanity, the process itself could take several years. By then, how many more victims could this ongoing onslaught claim? If Duterte continues to instruct law enforcement and military to resist investigations, how much harder could it be to stop the killing?
Human rights groups have said many of the killings by police have been outright executions. However, law enforcement officials deny these allegations. Even with surveillance footage that contradicts their claims.
So far, the killing has not stopped. Between December 5, 2017, and February 1, 2018, almost 50 people suspected of using and selling drugs were killed by officers.
The drug problem is serious; there is of course no denying that. Opioid overdose rates in America have continued to rise, and death rates related to drug use continue to be a leading cause of death in the US. However, the majority of experts agree that our own war on drugs was extremely flawed and ultimately failed, especially concerning the more punitive aspects, and it was not nearly as violent or aggressive as the actions we see now in the Philippines. If all of this teaches us anything, we should be able to see that aggressively attacking and executing addicts and suspected drug dealers is not going to solve this problem.
The best resource we have at our disposal when facing the addiction epidemic in America is innovative and effective treatment opportunities. Fighting the opioid crisis doesn’t mean fighting the addicts. Recovery means treating the underlying issues and helping as many people as possible find a way out. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
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One of the consistent topics in politics now is how the current administration plans to tackle issues concerning drug policy. There’s plenty of recent news, such as the Attorney General announcing a plan for the Justice Department to support states suing Big Pharma opioid makers, while also claiming that marijuana is partly responsible for the opioid crisis. Reports have indicated China is willing to work with the US to fight fentanyl trafficking, but critics are still worried about the massive cuts President Trump proposed for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
But that isn’t the only proposal made by President Trump that has inspired debates about drug policy.
This past Thursday, while speaking at the White House event on opioid issues, many believe that a few of Trump’s comments endorse the idea of executing people who sell illegal drugs. Shocking as it may seem to some people, the concept isn’t all that new. In fact, we see people all the time in the comment section of many articles on opioids who seem to think this is an acceptable idea.
We have asked the question before if drug dealing should be considered homicide, with mixed responses. However, now it seems we should be asking- is drug dealing punishable by death?
President Trump Admiring the Philippines
If we take a look back, President Trump has supported this strategy before. Just last year the leaked transcript of a phone call with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines quoted Trump praising the nation’s bloody and brutal War on Drugs. In recent years, thousands of extrajudicial killings have taken place in a country fully immersed in a violent vendetta against drugs. The president was quoted saying:
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
However, not everyone shares the president’s admiration. An inquiry by the International Criminal Court is actually investigating the killings of the Philippines drug war. Not to mention, others would argue that the brutal crackdowns in the Philippines haven’t exactly worked out either. In December, the head of the country’s drug enforcement agency publicly stated that they have been unable to stop dealing at the street level.
President Trump on Drug Dealers
This isn’t the only reported instance of the president supporting this extreme tactic. Just days before his Thursday remarks there was a story that Trump had privately told a number of people, including leaders in Congress, that he supports executing drug dealers.
So what did President Trump say at the White House Thursday? In general, he thinks sellers of illegal drugs don’t get punished severely enough in the US, stating:
“We have pushers and we have drug dealers that kill hundreds and hundreds of people and most of them don’t even go to jail,”
“If you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people [who sell drugs] can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them.”
Even back in January, President Trump made comments that some think was a precursor to this conversation. In another report, the president suggested he had an idea for a change in drug policy that might be too dramatic for the country.
“No matter what you do, this is something that keeps pouring in. And we’re going to find the answer. There is an answer. I think I actually know the answer, but I’m not sure the country’s ready for it yet. Does anybody know what I mean? I think so.”
There is not yet any indication the president has committed to go this far. And yet, he has repeatedly vowed to be “much tougher on drug dealers and pushers.”
President Trump also said that his administration will be rolling out policy over the next three weeks, promising it will be “very, very strong.” This administration is definitely consistent with its focus on stricter enforcement and tough-on-crime tactics for the drug problem. So is this recent stir surrounding the president’s comments well-founded? Or is the president’s support for dealing with drug dealers with the death penalty just an opinion of his that won’t go into any actual policy plans?
Should Drug Dealers be Executed?
Surely, we will see plenty of arguments in the comments here. There are bound to be some very strong opinions. Some people do believe that drug dealers are the cause of countless deaths and that they should face the harshest punishments possible.
One person might say ‘an eye for an eye… trade one lethal injection for another.’ But we still need to ask ourselves if this is actually effective.
Many would argue that a lot of street-level dealers are addicts themselves, who peddle their own prescription medications or other illegal substances out of desperation. They might still be people suffering from an illness that leads them to do things they might not otherwise do.
You might say- well, then we should only execute people who provide drugs that lead to a death. But there are plenty of cases where this strict of a penalty seems extremely cruel and unusual. And there are already instances where the individual providing drugs to someone who overdosed has been charged with manslaughter. Some were even charged with second-degree murder. For example, there was the case of Joshua Lore. Lore had gotten himself high on heroin and then prepared and administered a dose for his friend, 23-year-old Kody Woods. After Woods died from the overdose, Lore was charged with second-degree murder. The coroner ruled the death accidental. However, the law still allowed for him to be charged as if he had intentionally shot his friend down in the street.
Would anyone argue that maybe he should face the death penalty because maybe his friend paid him for the drugs? What if?
Criminal Charges for Overdoses
In 1986, Boston Celtics draft pick Len Bias’s death was deemed cocaine-relate. The federal government then implemented stiff penalties on drug dealers whose sales can be directly tied to overdoses. This includes a minimum of 20 years, and up to life in prison. But there is the still scrutiny to prove the allegations against dealers. Back in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a drug can’t just have contributed to death. It needs to actually be proven as the cause of death.
So where do we draw the line there? Because in some cases an individual may not die directly due to an overdose, but because the drug causes a reaction in the body with a pre-existing condition or counteracts other drugs it turns deadly. What if someone buys drugs from multiple dealers in one day, then dies? Does each dealer get put to death just in case?
Let us say we are only going to consider the death penalty with king-pins and large-scale traffickers. Kellyanne Conway, who is the head of the White House’s anti-drug effort, supposedly told Axios the proposal from President Trump is more nuanced and would only apply to “high-volume dealers who are killing thousands of people.” Fair enough. But how do we measure that exactly? Will it depend on the drug? Are we going to have someone with marijuana farms being executed next to fentanyl traffickers, even though the substance they sell is considered legal in several states?
It all becomes a much deeper conversation about where the mindset of our world is right now. These days it seems our society has continued to embrace the idea of choosing the lesser evil. And we can argue all day about whether or not people think this is ‘right’… but would it even work?
Sadly, even if President Trump were to make the necessary distinctions, there are still going to be people who think all drug dealers should face death. But is trying to fight drugs by making an example out of dealers a practical solution? If people say drug use is still a voluntary act, should selling drugs constitute the death penalty if drugs aren’t forced into the victim’s body? And if we say yes, many also want to know if the president will support holding Big Pharma executives who engaged in corruption and shady marketing to the same standard.
Sure, maybe killing some drug dealers might scare a few others, but it won’t scare them all. If a dealer is taken off the streets, odds are another will take their place. Experts are sometimes split on whether attacking addiction at the supply-side has not been an effective strategy. Some say it makes drugs harder to get and more expensive. However, others say the open market inspires more dealers to take advantage of scarcity with higher prices. Studies even suggest there is no hard evidence that harsher penalties or supply elimination reduces drug use.
The tragic truth is there are already people who think we shouldn’t even be doing so much to save the lives of addicts. They say those who overdose should be left to die.
Is that who we are now? We see the people in our communities in pain and we leave them to die?
President Trump seems to believe a less punitive approach won’t work. So do the people agree? Should we have more compassion or convictions? If we stopped trying to arrest and punish our way out of the opioid crisis, could we be making more lives better?
Should we really be relying on the lesser evil?
The pain of losing a loved one to addiction is undeniable, and the desire for justice is understandable and natural. Even though we see addiction as a disease, we have to know we take our lives into our own hands every time. Sadly, sometimes we don’t make it back. But if you do, take it as an opportunity to make a change. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398