‘Death penalty for drug dealers’, urges Trump

Blurred lines: Many of the most dangerous opioids can easily be bought at pharmacies.

Would executing drug dealers solve America’s opioid crisis? Donald Trump is seriously suggesting this drastic measure. “We have to get tough”, he says. But his opponents are aghast.

Donald Trump likes to “get tough”. He has written a book called Time to Get Tough, and has vowed to “get tough” on terrorists, immigration, the Democratic Party, the Republicans — and now drug dealers.

This week the president is rolling out new plans to tackle the country’s opioid epidemic. The plan involves a ruthless crackdown on high-intensity drug dealers, including the possibility of the death penalty.

Every eight minutes an American dies of a drug overdose — similar to gun homicides and car accidents combined. Opioids, such as heroin, are the chief killers, and some 2.4 million Americans are estimated to be addicted to them. The crisis claimed an estimated 42,000 lives nationwide in 2016, and health officials believe the numbers carried on rising in 2017.

In October, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, calling it a “national shame” and a “human tragedy”.

The epidemic is particularly prevalent in towns in the Rust Belt and Appalachia, where the decline of industry has led to high unemployment. These were also the areas that favoured Donald Trump at the 2016 election.

Opioids are drugs formulated to replicate the pain-reducing properties of opium. They include illegal drugs like heroin and fentanyl, as well legal painkillers like morphine or oxycodone. More Americans use prescription painkillers than use tobacco.

And so Donald Trump is calling for an expansion of the federal death penalty at a time when its use is being increasingly curtailed across the US.

He has praised Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose war against drug dealers has led to extra-judicial killings. “Take a look at some of these countries where they don’t play games. They don’t have a drug problem,” said Trump on Monday.

Most advocates of the death penalty believe it is the right punishment for murderers. They argue that, by bringing tonnes of deadly drugs into America, those involved in the drug trade are morally equivalent to murderers.

Does Trump have the right answer?

Rough justice

Yes, say some. The deterrent argument must prevail. Look at Singapore: the country has one of the lowest rates of drug use in the world, and this has largely been credited to the introduction of death penalties for major dealers and traffickers. If the supply dries up, so will the demand.

This would be a cruel waste of money, reply others. The drug trade’s minor foot soldiers would inevitably bear the brunt of the punishment, while the crime bosses escape. And as Dr Jonathan Groner points out in NBC News: “The risk of arrest, a trial in which the death penalty is on the table…would hardly be a major worry to someone who faces death on a daily basis.”

You Decide

  1. Would executing drug dealers help solve the opioid crisis?
  2. Are drug dealers the moral equivalent of murderers?


  1. Class debate: “Is drug addiction a cultural problem or an economic problem?”
  2. Find out more about one of the drugs that is contributing to this epidemic. Prepare a two-minute presentation to your class explaining what it is, why it is dangerous and why people use it.

Some People Say...

“I think the reason to support the death penalty is because it saves other people's lives.”

George W. Bush

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
There has been a long-term rise in drug overdose deaths in the US. In some areas heroin is the main killer, but in others it has almost entirely disappeared and the problem is caused by other potent painkillers, such as fentanyl. Trump has now vowed to introduce the death penalty for people who traffic and sell the drug in high volumes.
What do we not know?
What the real reason for all this is. In many areas, the link between deprivation and drug use barely exists, leading many to believe the problem is more about culture, and is a symptom of a loss of meaning in Americans’ lives. We also do not know whether Congress would approve the plan. If it did, the resulting cases would almost certainly be stalled in legal battles for years, if not decades.

Word Watch

New plans
Trump’s plan will focus on law enforcement, as well as prevention and education through an advertising campaign. The plan also aims to help those impacted by the epidemic find jobs while fighting addiction.
Gun homicides and car accidents
In 2013, there were 11,208 gun homicides and 32,893 deaths in car accidents.
Rust Belt
A nickname given to areas in the Midwestern US which have lost manufacturing jobs in the last 70 years.
A range of mountains in the eastern US with the states of West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee at its heart. One of the US’s poorest regions.
The drug is prescribed by doctors for pain relief, but the fentanyl that is manufactured for street sale is illegal.
Increasingly curtailed across the US
19 states have abolished the death penalty—seven of which abolished it in the 21st century—New York and Illinois included.
Rodrigo Duterte
Duterte made his name as mayor of Davao City, where his ruthless tactics killed 1,400 suspected drug dealers.

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