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Trump turns to 'toughness,' fear tactics to fight opioid crisis

President Donald Trump said he plans to take "tough" measures to fight the American opioid epidemic, like seeking the death penalty for traffickers, building a border wall to keep illicit substances out of the U.S., suing biopharmaceutical makers and launching television commercials aimed at scaring youngsters from trying the drugs.

During a March 19 speech in New Hampshire, where Trump officially unveiled his strategic plan to combat the opioid crisis, he repeatedly said the nation needed to get "tough" to tackle the issue.

"If we don't get tough on the drug dealers, we're wasting our time," Trump said, adding that "toughness includes the death penalty."

"We're going to solve it with toughness, because toughness is the thing that they most fear," he said.

White House officials, who had briefed reporters a day earlier on Trump's plan, declined to give specifics about the types of opioid trafficking crimes that would qualify for the death penalty, saying that would be left up to the Department of Justice.

But Trump praised the leaders of countries that have a "zero tolerance for drug dealers" and employ death as a punishment.

He did not identify those leaders in his New Hampshire speech, but he previously mentioned his admiration for places like Singapore and the Philippines for using capital punishment.

"Take a look at some of these countries where they don't play games," Trump said. "They don't have a drug problem. We have court cases that last 10 years, and then they get out at the end. That's why my Department of Justice will be seeking so many much tougher penalties than we've ever had."

"The ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty," he said.

Trump acknowledged that "maybe our country is not ready for that."

But, he added, "personally, I can't understand that."

"Unless you have really, really powerful penalties, led by the death penalty, for the really bad pushers and abusers, we are going to get nowhere," Trump said.

He said opioid makers also must be held accountable for their role in the epidemic.

"Our Justice Department is looking very seriously into bringing major litigation against some of these drug companies," Trump said. "We'll bring it at a federal level. Some states are already bringing it, but we're thinking about bringing it at a very high federal level."

He noted the Justice Department in late February formed a special task force, which has a particular focus on holding drug manufacturers and distributors responsible for any unlawful practices related to opioids.

Praise for rival Clinton-backed initiative

But Trump also had some words of praise for a handful of drugmakers — specifically those who develop naloxone and other opioid overdose-reversal agents.

He called out Adapt Pharma, which makes Narcan, a nasal spray version of naloxone, for its initiative to provide free supplies of the product to U.S. colleges and universities.

It is unclear if Trump knew the initiative was backed by the Clinton Foundation — the nonprofit launched by the husband of his presidential race rival Hillary Clinton.

Whether Trump was aware or not, Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, thanked him on Twitter for recognizing the foundation's work.

Trump's recognition of Narcan may have had a positive effect on the shares of Adapt's partner, Opiant Pharmaceuticals Inc., whose stock shot up 56% to $32.28 right after the mention, before closing at $26.34.

Trump also lauded kaléo for donating more than 300,000 doses of its injectable naloxone product Evzio to first responders.

Building the wall

Trump said his plan also includes building a wall on the border between Mexico and the U.S. — a pledge he made on the campaign trail and has pursued since taking office.

"We'll build the wall to keep the damn drugs out," he declared, adding that 90% of the heroin in America "comes from our southern border."

Advertising scare tactics

The president also said he plans to spend "a lot of money" on a large-scale roll out of "great commercials showing how bad" opioid addiction can be, so that children and teenagers "don't want any part of it."

"That's the least expensive thing we can do, where you scare them from ending up like the people in the commercials," Trump said. "And we'll make them very, very bad commercials. We'll make them pretty unsavory situations."

He said similar types of ads about smoking and cigarettes where "you see what happens to the body, you see what happens to the mind" have helped deter young people from trying tobacco products.

"We will raise a drug-free generation of American children," Trump said.

The White House also created a new website, CrisisNextDoor.gov, "where Americans can share their stories about the danger of the opioid addiction," he said.

Trump said his administration would be "spending the most money ever on the opioid crisis."

He noted that Congress authorized $6 billion in February to fight the opioid epidemic, although lawmakers have yet to designate how those funds will be spent.

But the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee may have some ideas. The panel is set to consider more than 20 pieces of legislation during a two-day hearing on March 21 and 22.

The hearing is part of a series the panel is holding on the matter.