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August 2, 2017

Two big new Trump Administration efforts to address the opioid epidemic ... neither of which call for new or increased sentences

This week has seen two big notable developments concerning addressing the nation's opioid epidemic coming from the Trump Administration: (1) on Monday, the Administration’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis presented this interim report of policy recommendations; (2) today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the formation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which this press release describes as "a new Department of Justice pilot program to utilize data to help combat the devastating opioid crisis."

Both the Commission report and the AG Sessions' comments rolling out this new DOJ unit talk about the importance of criminal law enforcement as part of a national strategy to deal with opioid problems.  But, as I note in the title of this post, neither the Commission report nor AG Sessions calls for new or increased federal sentences as part of the criminal justice response.  Of course, federal (and state) criminal punishments for opioid and heroin offenses are already pretty severe in lots of settings.  But in prior eras, it would be common to hear politicians and others say that already tough sentencing schemes were "obviously" not tough enough when a problem persisted.  (Also, it should be recalled, the US Sentencing Commission reduced all guideline drug sentences by two levels back in 2014.  It would certainly be easy for AG Sessions to call for the heroin guidelines sentences to be restored to their pre-2014 levels.)

For those concerned about increased federal criminal prosecutions in drug cases and the potential impact on federal incarceration levels, the mere lack of a call for new or increased sentences surely will not be seen as a cause for celebration.  Nevertheless, I still think it notable and intriguing that a tougher sentencing scheme is not (yet) expressly part of the opioid agenda coming from the Trump Administration.

August 2, 2017 at 04:02 PM | Permalink



That is because the prior drug suppliers were mostly black, brown or yellow skinned people who brought their drugs into this country by boat or mule. The primary suppliers of the opioids are pharmaceutical companies and medical doctors who write prescriptions fulfilled at a pharmacy . No one wants to be seen to be tough on doctors or pharmacists. For one, medical professional have a lot of money and political capital. Two, if you anger them they might let your appendix explode.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 2, 2017 4:29:02 PM

Nice to see that you're so complimentary of the Trump administration's enlightened justice initiatives. There will surely be more to come. What a relief.

Posted by: anon | Aug 2, 2017 10:56:02 PM

We need to sentence the doctors who prescribe opiodes to those who do not really require them. Like if you are not dying of pain then you can use aspirin.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Aug 3, 2017 7:48:39 AM

The bar is so low that we congratulate them for not doing something so obviously stupid as increasing already tough sentences.

Your headline with Obama would have been harsh about not supporting reform.

Posted by: Paul | Aug 3, 2017 1:23:10 PM

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