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Trump praises countries with death penalty for drug dealers at opioids summit

After praising those countries, he suggested that harsher punishments for "drug pushers and drug dealers" would help combat America's opioid crisis.
Image: Donald Trump attends opioid summit
President Donald Trump speaks during the White House Opioid Summit in the East Room of the White House on March 1, 2018.Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday praised countries that impose "the ultimate penalty" on drug traffickers, suggesting that harsher punishments for "drug pushers and drug dealers" would help combat America's opioid crisis.

"And, by the way, [those countries] have much less of a drug problem than we do," he said in remarks at a White House summit on the epidemic. "So we’re going to have to be very strong on penalties."

The president's comments come several days after Axios reported that Trump talks privately about executing drug dealers, like Singapore and the Philippines do. NBC News has not independently confirmed the report.

Addressing the group Thursday, which included Attorney General Jeff Sessions as well as families and individuals affected by the opioid epidemic, Trump promised action from his administration "over the next three weeks."

He also said that he'd spoken to "Jeff" about wanting to bring lawsuits against some opioid manufacturers, saying the companies were responsible for killing thousands of people, but had not been punished for it.

Trump's interaction with his attorney general at the summit was notable, given that the day before, he called Session's handling of a Justice Department inquiry into Republican allegations of surveillance abuses by the FBI "disgraceful." Trump's Twitter attack, the latest in a series of public critiques the president has levied against the nation's top law enforcement officer, prompted Sessions to defend himself in a rare statement.

During Thursday's press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if Trump had any plans to remove his attorney general.

"Not that I know of," she said.

Trump has repeatedly said that combating the opioid crisis is a priority for his administration. He declared it a national public health emergency in October of last year.

"As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue," Trump said at the time. "It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction."

But advocates pushing the president to make good on his promise have said that so far, his administration's efforts, like Sessions' recent "statement of interest" in supporting local governments that go after manufacturers, are likely to fall short.