President Donald Trump on Thursday suggested using the death penalty on drug dealers to address the opioid epidemic, equating providing lethal drugs with murder.
"We have pushers and drugs dealers, they are killing hundreds and hundreds of people," Trump said at a White House summit on opioid abuse. "If you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people can kill two thousands, three thousand people and nothing happens to them."
Trump said countries that impose the death penalty on drug dealers have a better record than the United States in combating substance abuse.
"Some countries have a very, very tough penalty — the ultimate penalty — and by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do," he said.
The remarks follow media reports earlier this week that Trump has privately praised countries like Singapore that mandate the death penalty for drug traffickers, arguing a softer approach to substance abuse won't be successful.
The remarks are likely to rankle administration critics who have urged the White House to focus on the public health component of the opioid crisis. The president's remarks did not touch on health approaches like providing additional funding for treatment.
Trump also said his administration will unveil new policies to address the crisis over the next few weeks but did not provide any details, simply stating they would be "very, very strong."
He expressed support for going after pharmaceutical companies and distributors that supply prescription painkillers for their role in the crisis.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said this week that the Justice Department will file a statement of interest in litigation that includes hundreds of lawsuits by states and localities against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
The Justice Department will argue that the federal government has borne substantial costs due to the opioid epidemic and should be reimbursed for health programs and law enforcement efforts to combat the crisis.
Cities, counties and states are seeking to recover the costs associated with providing treatment and public safety, by targeting companies that they allege used false, deceptive or unfair marketing practices for prescription opioids.
Sessions also said the federal government is studying the possibility of initiating its own opioid litigation.
The federal government previously went after many opioid-makers in court a decade ago, with companies like Purdue Pharma pleading guilty to misleading regulators, doctors and patients about the drugs' risks of addiction and abuse.