Trump Lavishes Praise On China For Use Of Death Penalty To Punish Fentanyl Drug Distributors

Experts say that use of the death penalty to deter drug dealers from selling is not an effective strategy.

China's President Xi Jingping, left, receives a pat on the back from U.S. President Donald Trump.
Thomas Peter / Getty Images

Experts say that use of the death penalty to deter drug dealers from selling is not an effective strategy.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday lavished praise on China’s President Xi Jinping for agreeing to tackle the fentanyl drug epidemic, saying that use of the death penalty to deter dealers and distributors of the drug from selling it was the proper choice to make that will benefit both nations.

In two tweets addressing the issue, Trump said he was thrilled with the move.

“One of the very exciting things to come out of my meeting with President Xi of China is his promise to me to criminalize the sale of deadly Fentanyl coming into the United States,” Trump wrote in his first tweet. “It will now be considered a ‘controlled substance,'” he added.

Under Chinese law, distribution of “controlled substances” in that nation’s jurisdiction carries with it the maximum penalty of death, according to reporting from CNN.

Trump seemed aware, and happy even, of that fact in his second tweet. Fentanyl is “considered to be the worst and most dangerous, addictive and deadly substance of them all,” he wrote, stating that “over 77,000 people died from Fentanyl” last year.

“If China cracks down on this ‘horror drug,’ using the Death Penalty for distributors and pushers, the results will be incredible!” he added.

Trump’s numbers exaggerated the problem. Although an epidemic does exist, numbers from the Centers for Disease Control suggested that there were 70,327 deaths from drug overdoses in general in 2017. There were more than 28,000 deaths from synthetic drug abuse (which includes fentanyl).

Experts have also taken issue with Trump’s insistence that the death penalty be used to curtail drug abuse. In March of this year, Trump, speaking in front of an audience in New Hampshire, made comments suggesting he’d be open to using capital punishment to go after drug dealers.

“If we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we are wasting our time,” Trump said then. “And that toughness includes the death penalty.”

At the time, experts on drug abuse weighed in by condemning such methods, pointing out that drug dealers are often victims of drug abuse who need help themselves, according to separate reporting from CNN eight months ago.

“We can’t execute our way out of this epidemic. To be talking about the death penalty sounds to me like a step backwards,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University.

Others agreed. “Criminal justice can play a complementary role in addressing the opioid crisis, but relying on the criminal justice system to address public health problems has proven unwise, costly, ineffective and often counterproductive,” Dr. Guohua Li, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University, said.

Using the death penalty as a means to deter crime doesn’t typically work in the United States, either. On the issue of homicide, for example, studies have demonstrated states with death penalties are more likely to have higher murder rates than states without the death penalty, according to reporting from Huff Post.