President Donald Trump today called the opioid epidemic “a tremendous problem” in the U.S., while calling for measures to “prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place.”
Speaking from his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Trump was joined for the briefing by first lady Melania Trump, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, key advisers Kellyanne Conway and Jared Kushner, and other top White House officials.
The meeting follows the release last week of an interim report by Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. In that draft report, the commission’s members called on Trump to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency.
Below are Trump’s full comments, including his headline-making response to a question about North Korea:
THE PRESIDENT: “Thank you very much, Secretary Price, for your work to address the crisis of opioid, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines. It is a tremendous problem in our country, and we’re going to get it taken care of as well as it can be taken care of, which hopefully will be better than any other country which also has the same problems or similar problems.
“Nobody is safe from this epidemic that threatens young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural communities. Everybody is threatened. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, and opioid overdose deaths have nearly quadrupled since 1999. It is a problem the likes of which we have not seen.
“Meanwhile, federal drug prosecutions have gone down in recent years. We’re going to be bringing them up and bringing them up rapidly. At the end of 2016, there were 23 percent fewer than in 2011. So they looked at this scourge and they let it go by, and we’re not letting it go by. The average sentence length for a convicted federal drug offender decreased 20 percent from 2009 to 2016.
“During my campaign, I promised to fight this battle because, as President of the United States, my greatest responsibility is to protect the American people and to ensure their safety. Especially in some parts of our country, it is horrible what’s going on with opioid and other drugs. But the opioid is something that nobody has seen anything like it.
“Today, I am pleased to receive a briefing from our team on ways we can help our communities combat this absolutely terrible epidemic and keep youth from going down this deadly path.
“The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place. If they don’t start, they won’t have a problem. If they do start, it’s awfully tough to get off. So we can keep them from going on, and maybe by talking to youth and telling them, “No good; really bad for you” in every way. But if they don’t start, it will never be a problem.
“We’re also working with law enforcement officers to protect innocent citizens from drug dealers that poison our communities. Strong law enforcement is absolutely vital to having a drug-free society. I have had the opportunity to hear from many on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, and I’m confident that by working with our healthcare and law enforcement experts, we will fight this deadly epidemic and the United States will win.
“We’re also very, very tough on the southern border, where much of this comes in. And we’re talking to China, where certain forms of manmade drug comes in, and it is bad. And we’re speaking to other countries and we’re getting cooperation, but we’re being very, very strong on our southern border and, I would say, the likes of which this country certainly has never seen that kind of strength.
“So we’re going to do our job. We’re going to get it going. We’ve got a tremendous team of experts and people that want to beat this horrible situation that’s happened to our country — and we will. We will win. We have no alternative. We have to win for our youth. We have to win for our young people. And, frankly, we have to win for a lot of other people, not necessarily young, that are totally addicted and have serious, serious problems.
“So we thank you all for being here. And we’re going to get on with our meeting. Thank you very much. Thank you all.”
Q: “Any comment on the reports about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities?”
THE PRESIDENT: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury, and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.