Trump vows tougher borders to fight opioid epidemic

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report MORE vowed on Monday to toughen the country’s borders as a way to fight the opioid crisis that’s killing more Americans per year than traffic accidents.

Trump unveiled his plan to combat the epidemic in New Hampshire, a state that’s been hit hard by the epidemic and one that Trump once referred to as a “drug-infested den.”  Trump spent a portion of his speech slamming sanctuary cities, promoting policies to beef up border security and blaming the lack of an extension for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on Democrats.

"Ninety percent of the heroin in America comes from our southern border, where eventually the Democrats will agree with us, and we'll build the wall to keep the damn drugs out,” Trump said.

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Deaths involving opioids increased nearly 28 percent from 2015 to 2016. Addiction advocates have been calling on Congress and the administration to reverse this trend by bolstering treatment, prevention and recovery services — and shying away from a law enforcement approach.

In his speech, Trump quickly turned to enforcement measures, calling for some drug traffickers to face the death penalty and bringing up statistics aimed at bolstering the point that tougher border security measures are needed to stop immigrants from entering the country illegally. 

“In 2017, [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] arrested criminal aliens with 76,000 charges and convictions for dangerous drug crimes,” Trump said.

Trump touted his immigration policies throughout the speech. He blamed Democrats for a current stalemate on DACA protections, which allow immigrants brought into the United States illegally as children to work and go to school. The White House and congressional Democrats both rejected competing DACA offers over the weekend. 

“They don’t want to go with DACA because they don’t care about DACA, but they’re trying to tie the wall to DACA, and DACA to the wall,” Trump said. “And they want to keep DACA for the campaign instead of getting it approved, which we could do very easily.” 

He added: “We’ll make it part of the campaign also, and we’ll win because we’re going to win on those issues.”

Trump also repeated his frequent scorn for sanctuary cities — which refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities — calling on Congress to block funds for sanctuary cities.

“Ending sanctuary cities is crucial to stopping the drug addiction crisis,” Trump said, and, in an impromptu move, brought an ICE agent up on stage to say brief remarks. 

The speech marked the unveiling of the White House’s plan to combat the opioid epidemic, consisting of a three-pronged approach:  reducing the demand and over-prescription of opioids, cutting off the supply of illegal drugs and boosting access to treatment.

The plans aims to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions by one-third over three years. It also includes measures that addiction advocates have supported in the past, including increasing access to the gold standard of addiction treatment and incentivizing states to move to a national database monitoring opioid prescriptions to help flag people requesting numerous prescriptions.

In a controversial move, the plan is also seeking stiffer penalties for high-volume drug traffickers, which includes a mandate to the Department of Justice to seek the death penalty when appropriate under current law. 

A Justice Department official wrote in an email that, “under current law, the federal death penalty is available for several limited drug-related offenses—for example through violations of the ‘drug kingpin’ provisions in 18 USC 3591(b) and 21 USC 848(e).” 

“If we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we’re wasting our time,” said Trump, who has been praising other countries’ use of the death penalty for drug traffickers for weeks.

The move faces high hurdles with advocates and some lawmakers slamming the measure as the wrong approach to curbing the crisis.

“We cannot arrest our way out of the opioid epidemic — we tried that and ended up with an even bigger addiction problem and the world’s largest prison population,” Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinCongress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal Overnight Defense: Transgender troops rally as ban nears | Trump may call more troops to border | National Guard expects 3M training shortfall from border deployment | Pentagon to find housing for 5,000 migrant children MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said in a statement. “Everyone from doctors to law enforcement understands that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing that can be beaten simply by getting ‘tough on crime.’”