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Reps react to Trump opioid plan

WASHINGTON — Members of Ohio’s congressional delegation reacted on Tuesday to President Donald Trump’s announcement of a plan to tackle the opioid epidemic.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, said Trump has recognized the crisis since before he was elected.

“As a member of his Presidential Task Force on Opioids, I’ve witnessed firsthand his dedication to this important issue,” Johnson said in a statement. “I certainly agreed with the president’s decision to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency; there is no good reason not to call it what it is — burying our heads in the sand and wishing it would go away isn’t the answer.

Johnson praised the president for “his bold vision,” and said his announcement laid out a clear plan on the crisis, by reducing demand and preventing overpresciption.

“It also cuts off the flow of illegal drugs across our borders and within communities, toughens criminal penalties for major drug traffickers, and expands opportunities for proven treatments,” Johnson said. “Ohio, particularly Eastern and Southeastern Ohio, has been hit particularly hard by the opioid crisis. There isn’t a single day that goes by that I do not hear or read another heartbreaking story.”

Johnson called for an across-the-board approach to the issue.

“I’ve said many times before, and will repeat today, this is not a problem we as a country are going to be able to arrest, incarcerate, spend, or legislate our way out of – we all must work together, as Americans,” he said. “I’ve visited and met with countless volunteers and others dedicated to turning the tide locally. They recognize, as do I, that addiction does not discriminate by age, race, social class, economic status, or political affiliation. Enough is enough, and it’s time to extinguish this scourge of opioid addiction from our communities.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he is ready to work with the White House on public health approaches to combat the addiction epidemic.

However in a statement released by his office also stated “Ohioans need action, not talk.”

His office said the senator is working to secure funding for Ohio in the budget Congress will pass this week and that he is also pushing to fully fund the INTERDICT Act, which he introduced and got signed into law by Trump, to give Customs and Border Protection agents the tools to detect and stop illegal fentanyl at the border.

Brown’s office said the president’s plan includes initiatives the senator has called for, including eliminating a cap on the number of beds at substance abuse treatment facilities that can be covered under Medicaid, increasing access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and increasing access to naloxone.

“The president said a lot of the right things today, but Ohioans need action,” Brown said in statement. “I am ready to work with the Administration to get Ohio communities and law enforcement the resources they need to prevent and treat addiction, starting with the budget Congress will approve this week.”

Trump’s plan, unveiled Tuesday in New Hampshire, also calls for stiffer penalties for drug traffickers, including the death penalty, when appropriate under current law. He also called for passage of legislation reducing the amount of drugs needed to trigger mandatory minimum sentences for traffickers who knowingly distribute certain illicit opioids.

The president was joined by first lady Melania Trump, who has shown an interest in the issue, particularly as it pertains to her focus on child welfare.

Death for drug traffickers and mandatory minimum penalties for distributing certain opioids are just two elements under the part of Trump’s plan that deals with law enforcement and interdiction to break the international and domestic flow of drugs into and across the U.S.

Other parts of the plan include broadening education and awareness, and expanding access to proven treatment and recovery efforts.

The Justice Department said the federal death penalty is available for several limited drug-related offenses, including violations of the “drug kingpin” provisions of federal law.

Doug Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, said it was not clear that death sentences for drug dealers, even for those whose product causes multiple deaths, would be constitutional. Berman said the issue would be litigated extensively and would have to be definitively decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, killed more than 42,000 people in the U.S. in 2016, more than any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story