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President Donald Trump has finally outlined a comprehensive approach for dealing with the nation’s opioid crisis. He appears to understand that the issue is complex. But his plan to address it is precisely backward in its priorities, underfunded and vague about how it would be carried out.

In a long and rambling speech last Monday in Manchester, N.H., the president seemed most enthusiastic about imposing the death penalty on major drug dealers, increasing mandatory minimum sentences for lesser drug dealers, building his famous wall along the border with Mexico to keep drugs from coming into the country, and producing a series of ominous television commercials.

Never mind that most hard drugs enter the United States through legal border crossings.

On the positive side, he acknowledged the importance of greater access to medically based treatment programs and the need to repeal a law that bans Medicaid payments to treatment facilities with more than 16 beds. He wants to reduce the number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers by a third over three years. These are all excellent ideas that would mean progress in a crisis that sees an average of 116 Americans a day die of opioid overdoses.

The Manchester speech was Trump’s third crack at the opioid issue. Opioid addiction disproportionately impacts low-income rural voters who are a major part of his base. A presidential commission, chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, last summer produced a superb road map for progress that has been widely ignored.

It asked Trump to declare the crisis a “national emergency” that would trigger access to federal disaster funds. Instead, Trump opted in October to declare a “public health emergency,” a largely symbolic gesture.

The commission said it would cost upward of $50 billion to deal with the crisis. Congress so far has allocated only $6 billion over two years, though Trump’ has asked for $7 billion more. On Monday, Trump was vague about money but specific about his tough-on-crime proposals.

“These are terrible people,” Trump said, adding that “we can have all the blue-ribbon committees we want, but if we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we’re wasting our time.”

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He said “that toughness includes the death penalty.”

Since 1980, when Congress began enacting tougher penalties for drug dealing, the number of people incarcerated for the crime has increased from 15,000 to 450,000. Drugs are still easily available. Nor is it clear that executing drug dealers would even be constitutional.

Trump believes deeply in the power of TV, so he wants to “spend a lot of money” producing some “very, very bad” (meaning scary) commercials that will convince kids to avoid drugs.

If the failed four-decade war on drugs has taught us anything, it’s that when “just say no” is the primary appeal to potential users, you should rethink the plan.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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