President Donald Trump is seeking to “rehabilitation” the opioid crisis by ending the mandatory death penalty for drug offenders.
But the administration is facing growing calls from some lawmakers for the president to rethink the plan, arguing it could lead to a surge in deaths and a spike in addiction.
And a panel of experts from the White House, Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse is warning that it’s likely to exacerbate the problem even further by making it harder for people to get clean and start reintegrating back into society.
They are calling on Trump to make the plan permanent and to take a harder line on the death penalty.
They also say it will make it harder to find people who can get treatment for addiction, even as they grapple with the consequences of opioid addiction.
“We have not seen a comprehensive and coordinated approach that has resulted in effective and sustained treatment of the opioid overdose crisis,” said Dr. David McNally, a drug addiction expert who served on the panel that produced the report.
“We are not seeing the kind of comprehensive treatment strategies that can effectively address the opioid addiction crisis.”
They say that while the death penalties are supposed to be temporary, the White Trump administration’s approach has been to delay their termination, which has led to thousands of people dying while awaiting trials.
In a statement to reporters on Tuesday, Trump called the plan “an important step toward rehabilitating our nation’s drug problem.”
“The administration will continue to fight for the death sentence as a deterrent to drugs that are so deadly that even those who are found guilty cannot be released from prison,” the statement said.
But experts say it could also lead to more people dying and a surge of addiction, which could lead them to be sent back to prison even though they’ve completed treatment.
“It will increase the demand for more prison beds and increase the amount of people that we incarcerate,” said David Cohen, who served as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2011.
The Trump administration did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump, however, has been a strong supporter of mandatory death sentences for drug crimes, even after his daughter Ivanka Trump called for the reinstatement of the death sentences in February.
In the wake of that call, Trump’s attorneys argued that his administration should “revamp the system so that it is not only fair, but also humane and effective.”
But the Trump White House has repeatedly insisted that its proposal will “reactivate” the death sentencing process, and that the goal is to rehabilitate drug offenders and stop their recidivism.
It’s unclear what the White the Trump Justice Department will do to try to reintegrate people back into the community, but Trump administration officials have repeatedly said that the strategy is designed to stop drug dealers and dealers who have not committed a crime from returning to society.
The panel recommended that the administration should reevaluate the plan and consider whether it can be extended for at least 10 years, rather than 10 years for those already serving prison terms.
And it also called for a “plan for the prevention of reoffending” and “a plan to mitigate the effects of the reinstatment.”
But as of this month, the plan has not been finalized.