As early as next week, the White House may unveil a plan that will allow people who sell opioids to face the death penalty, according to a report from Politico.
Trump called for the death penalty for drug dealers recently at a Pennsylvania rally but did not specify sellers of opioids would be targeted.
The plan "includes a mix of prevention and treatment measures that advocates have long endorsed, as well as beefed-up enforcement in line with the president's frequent calls for a harsh crackdown on drug traffickers and dealers," according to Politico, which reviewed two versions of the plan.
The plan does not sound like it would make any punishment for users of the drug:
"Public health advocates say the nation's opioid epidemic should be treated as a disease, with emphasis on boosting underfunded treatment and prevention programs. But some law enforcement officials back tougher punishments as a deterrent, especially for drug dealers."
The opioid crisis disproportionately impacts white Americans: in 2015, 82 percent of the people who died from opioid overdoses were white.
The death penalty has undoubtedly put innocent people to death. Since 1977, 1,469 people have been executed in the United States. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 161 people on death row have been exonerated since 1973. On average, people spend 11.3 years behind bars between being sentenced to death and their exoneration. There are also defendants whose sentences are commuted or their convictions are reduced because there is reasonable doubt that they are guilty.
A study published in 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) estimates that 4.1 percent of people — or about 1 in every 25 — sentenced to death are actually innocent. The authors call the number "a conservative estimate."
The authors believe that the number of innocent people who have been executed is likely not very high — but innocent people who were sentenced to death may just be serving life sentences instead:
"Our data and the experience of practitioners in the field both indicate that the criminal justice system goes to far greater lengths to avoid executing innocent defendants than to prevent them from remaining in prison indefinitely. One way to do so is to disproportionately reverse death sentences in capital cases in which the accuracy of the defendants' convictions is in doubt and to resentence them to life imprisonment, a practice that makes our estimate of the rate of error conservative. However, no process of removing potentially innocent defendants from the execution queue can be foolproof. With an error rate at trial over 4%, it is all but certain that several of the 1,320 defendants executed since 1977 were innocent."
Trump strongly favors the death penalty. In 1989 he publicly called for the death of five Black and Latino teens who were wrongly accused of raping a white woman. The teens, dubbed the Central Park Five, were the subject of four full-page ads Trump placed in New York City's daily newspapers. He spent $85,000 on the ads and wrote, "Muggers and murderers should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes."
The boys, now men, say they were coerced by detectives into confessing to the rape. DNA has never tied them to the crime
Matias Reyes, a serial rapist and killer, confessed to the crime in 2002. His DNA connected him to the assault.
Decades later, while on the campaign trail, Trump suggested that he still is not convinced the men are innocent.
"They admitted they were guilty," he said in a statement to CNN's Miguel Marquez. "The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same."
He makes numerous mentions of the death penalty on Twitter. An archive of his tweets shows he has mentioned it at least 20 times since 2012. He often calls for "fast trial and death penalty."
The racial implications of Trump's focus on the opioid epidemic also cannot be ignored. As DiversityInc previously reported:
"The opioid epidemic is eerily similar to the cocaine/crack outbreak that victimized the United States three decades ago — but the response could not be more different. The stark contrast from then to now is twofold: approach and demographic.
"Back in the 1980s the 'war on drugs' became a household term, under then President Ronald Reagan's firm, zero tolerance handling of the crisis that primarily affected the inner cities and lower income areas throughout the nation.
"Fast forward 30 years, and we are facing another drug that threatens to similarly tear at the moral and social fabric of the American population. That may be where the similarities end, however.
'The opioid crisis that faces us today infiltrates the suburbs instead of the inner cities, and rehabilitation and treatment has replaced arrests and jail time. Trump and his commission portray addicts as victims who need help and support — not as criminals who should be placed in prison with maximum sentences, as was (and remains) the case with the 'war on drugs.'"