By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will unveil a plan on Monday to combat the opioid addiction crisis that includes seeking the death penalty for drug dealers and urging Congress to toughen sentencing laws for drug traffickers, White House officials said on Sunday.
The White House plan will also seek to cut opioid prescriptions by a third over the next three years by promoting practices that reduce overprescription of opioids in federal healthcare programs, officials told a news briefing.
Trump will outline his proposals at an event in New Hampshire, which has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic.
The roll out of the plan will be the latest White House action aimed at addressing a U.S. drug abuse crisis that is causing thousands of overdose deaths a year. Trump has said the United States will need “toughness” to reverse these trends.
“The Department of Justice will seek the death penalty against drug traffickers when it’s appropriate under current law,” said Andrew Bremberg, director of Trump’s Domestic Policy Council, in the briefing detailing the plan.
The White House did not offer any specific examples of when it would be appropriate to seek the death penalty for drug dealers and referred further questions to the Justice Department.
Current federal law allows for the death penalty in certain drug cases including murder related to a drug trafficking offense and murder committed during a drug-related drive-by shooting, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit capital punishment monitor.
It is unclear how this new plan will affect federal prosecutions.
Trump raised the issue of using the death penalty for drug dealers at a rally in Pennsylvania earlier this month. He has repeatedly said individual drug dealers are responsible for thousands of deaths.
The White House is also asking lawmakers to lower the amount of drug possession that triggers mandatory minimum sentences for certain opioids “to match the new reality of drugs like fentanyl, which are lethal in much, much smaller doses,” Bremberg said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016, the latest year with publicly available data.
In addition to pursuing street dealers, the plan directs the Justice Department to aggressively go after criminally negligent doctors and pharmacies and to take criminal and civil actions against opioid manufacturers that break the law.
The proposals will also seek to help those addicted to opioids by expanding access to treatment facilities.
(Additional reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Peter Cooney and Sandra Maler)