When President Donald Trump once again praised Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte for his encouragement of the extrajudicial killings of drug dealers and drug users last week, many in the audience in Moon Township, PA., probably thought this was more authoritarian posturing from a president who has made no secret of his respect for strongmen like Duterte, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"I don't know if it's popular. I don't now if that's unpopular," Trump said, after asserting that some drug dealers are responsible for thousands of deaths.
But it looks like Trump will soon learn the answer to what many probably thought was a rhetorical question.
Because as it turns out, Trump was actually providing a sneak peak into his long-awaited comprehensive plan to combat the opioid epidemic.
To wit, the president is expected to released a plan on Monday to combat the opioid epidemic. And moving to impose the death penalty for some drug dealers is a cornerstone of said plan, per the Hill.
Trump will make the announcement during his first visit as president to New Hampshire, state that has been hit hard by the opioid crisis. The epidemic of drug abuse featured heavily into Trump's pre-primary rhetoric. And later, after winning office, Trump famously brought up New Hampshire as an example of the heavy toll that heroin takes on a community, adding that, in some places, drugs are "cheaper than candy bars."
Per Reuters, the White House will also seek to cut opioid prescriptions by a third over the next three years by "promoting practices that reduce overprescription."
Of course, while "death to drug dealers" is bound to grab some headlines, the Trump proposal comes with a major caveat: The death penalty will only be sought "when it's appropriate under current law."
That means dealers will probably need to be found responsible for multiple deaths.
"The Department of Justice will seek the death penalty against drug traffickers when it’s appropriate under current law," said Andrew Bremberg, director of Trump’s Domestic Policy Council, in the briefing detailing the plan.
However, the White House was vague about when such extreme sentencing measures would be appropriate.
The White House did not offer any specific examples of when it would be appropriate to seek the death penalty for drug dealers and referred further questions to the Justice Department.
Current federal law allows for the death penalty in certain drug cases including murder related to a drug trafficking offense and murder committed during a drug-related drive-by shooting, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit capital punishment monitor.
Kellyanne Conway, who is nominally in charge of the White House's response to the opioid crisis, said fighting opioid abuse is a bipartisan issue.
"The opioid crisis is viewed by us at the White House as a nonpartisan problem searching for bipartisan solutions, and the Trump administration remains committed to fighting this epidemic from all fronts," Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president, said on a call with reporters Sunday.
In a policy that echoes the Reagan-era war on drugs - policies that liberal harm-reduction advocates say don't work - Trump will also seek to lower the quantities needed to trigger mandatory minimum sentences "to match the new reality of drugs like fentanyl, which are lethal in much, much smaller doses..."
In addition to pursuing street dealers, the plan directs the Justice Department to aggressively pursue criminally negligent doctors and pharmacies and to take criminal and civil actions against opioid manufacturers that break the law. Indeed, attorneys generals from dozens of states are suing opioid manufacturers for allegedly misleading doctors and the public about the addiction potential of their drugs.
Finally, the proposal will also seek to expand access to treatment facilities to help the addicted get treatment.
As the Daily Mail points out, 33 countries allow the death penalty for drug offenses, many of them in Asia.
Surprisingly, the US is among them, at least in theory.
In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in Kennedy vs Louisiana left open the question of whether the death penalty for "offenses against the State" including "drug kingpin activity" would be constitutionally permissible.
Late last year, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national health emergency, a measure that provided some more resources for combating the epidemic, but stopped short of the national emergency designation that would've opened up access to disaster relief funds.