March 19 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump officially proposed punishing some drug dealers with the death penalty in remarks on the opioid crisis Monday in Manchester, N.H.
The president, who previously praised countries that use capital punishment to battle drugs, said he wants to "get tough" on traffickers.
"If we don't get tough on the drug dealers, we are wasting our time," Trump said. "And that toughness includes the death penalty."
He said he doesn't understand why the death penalty is used for a murderer who kills one person but not for drug dealers who "will kill thousands of people during their lifetime."
Still, Trump acknowledged it would be difficult to convince many Americans the punishment isn't too tough.
"It's possible that our country is not ready for that and I can understand it, maybe. Although personally I can't understand that," he said.
"I think unless you do that, unless you have really, really powerful penalties led by the death penalty for the really bad pushers and abusers, we are going to get nowhere."
But public health experts said stricter punishments for drug dealers doesn't help the epidemic and renews harsh anti-drug policies of the 1980s.
"We can't execute our way out of this epidemic," Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University, told CNN. "To be talking about the death penalty sounds to me like a step backwards."
In addition to targeting drug dealers, Trump said the administration was considering suing drug companies. He said the best way to beat the crisis is to stop people from getting addicted in the first place.
The administration would "make sure virtually all prescriptions reimbursed by the federal government follow best practices for prescribing. We'll ensure opioid addiction is not subsidized by the American taxpayer," he said.
Trump's speech Monday is part of his administration's ongoing efforts to stop opioid abuse in the United States, which killed an estimated 64,000 Americans in 2016. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is leading the effort and has created three task forces to examine legislative and regulatory changes, shut down online marketplaces that traffickers use and tackle opioid-related healthcare fraud.
"I can tell you that Jeff Sessions, who's here with us now, feels so strongly about this and they're working very hard and very effectively on that and so we appreciate that very much. Thank you. Thank you Jeff," Trump said Monday.