At the Major Cities Chiefs Association Winter Conference in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 8, President Donald Trump reinforced his campaign promises of disrupting drug trafficking and expanding access to substance abuse treatment.
In front of police chiefs and sheriffs from across the country, the president talked about immigration, the safety of law enforcement officers, terrorism, drug trafficking and substance abuse.
“As part of our commitment to safe communities, we will work to address the mental health crisis,” Trump said. “Prison should not be a substitute for treatment. We will fight to increase access to life-saving treatment, to battle the addiction to drugs that is afflicting our nation like never, ever before.”
Trump said he met with law enforcement officials the previous day, and the leaders told him that drugs impact between 75 and 80 percent of all crime.
“We’re going to stop drugs from pouring in,” Trump said. “We’re going to stop those drugs from poisoning our youth, from poisoning our people. We’re going to be ruthless in that fight. We have no choice.”
The president’s word choice led to speculation that the commander in chief might support a drug war similar to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s. Duterte was elected last June after promising to rid his country of drugs, and since then police and suspected vigilantes have killed more than 7,000 people in a wave of drug-related violence. The Philippines suspended the drug war in January following evidence of corruption and extrajudicial killings.
Trump spoke with Duterte on the phone in December. After the conversation, Duterte told the media that the American president supported the Philippines’ drug war and that Trump said Duterte was doing things “the right way.”
On Feb. 8, Trump reiterated the commitment to dismantling drug trafficking that he’d promised on the campaign trail throughout 2016.
“We’re going to take that fight to the drug cartels and work to liberate our communities from their terrible grip of violence,” Trump said.
The president continued to indicate that a wall along the Mexican border was his main strategy for preventing illegal drugs from entering the United States. He said he “wasn’t kidding” about building the wall after announcing Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly would lead the fight against drug trafficking.
“Secretary Kelly will be the man to do it. And we will give him a wall, and it will be a real wall. And a lot of things will happen very positively for your cities, your states,” Trump told law enforcement at the conference.
Trump also urged law enforcement to identify illegal immigrants who commit crimes and to send their names to the Department of Homeland Security. The president promised that those people would be deported quickly.
“It’s time to dismantle the gangs terrorizing our citizens,” Trump said. “It’s time to ensure that every young American can be raised in an environment of love and decency and support.”
Trump has not appointed a director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a position that was once a component of the president’s cabinet. Former President Barack Obama removed the director’s position from cabinet status shortly after he became president.
The director of the ONDCP is commonly referred to as the country’s drug czar. The director leads the nation’s drug policy efforts and coordinates prevention, treatment and enforcement between the departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Justice, State and Homeland Security.
For now, Trump seems to be relying on Kelly to coordinate law enforcement efforts to disrupt drug trafficking. Michael Botticelli, the director of the ONDCP during the Obama administration, has already spoken out against Trump’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” Botticelli believes repealing “Obamacare” will negatively affect people with addiction.
“I think we are likely to see significant increases in mortality for people who lose their insurance coverage and are not getting timely access to addiction treatment,” Botticelli said at a press conference in Baltimore in January.
Botticelli told Baltimore’s WBAL-TV 11 that he has not had direct conversations with the Trump administration since the president was inaugurated. Several of Trump’s other appointments are waiting to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.