President Trump announced Wednesday the White House will dole out a record $91 million to support 730 “drug-free communities” across the country, saying the 20-year-old grant program is a proven success in fighting addiction.
“We’ve never done anything this large, or where we reached out to so many people,” Mr. Trump said at the White House.
The Drug-Free Communities Support Program is a bipartisan initiative that’s been around since the late 1990s and seeks local solutions to drug abuse and addiction. Grant funding under the program has grown from $10 million in 1998 to more than nine times that much today.
At the White House, Mr. Trump heard from young people across the country whose communities have benefited from the grant program. In particular, they said the grants are highly effective in helping local coalitions stamp out marijuana and alcohol abuse, which are sometimes viewed as gateways to stronger drugs.
“It remains today the most effective program for consistently reducing youth drug use,” said Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican who as a House member co-authored the law that established the program.
The senator praised the White House for awarding 25 grants in his state, which is reeling from the opioid-fueled addiction crisis.
Drug-overdose deaths surged by 10 percent from 2016 to 2017, largely due to the rise of synthetic-opioid use, and Mr. Trump is treating drug addiction to be a public health emergency.
Mr. Trump rattled off a series of efforts his administration is taking to combat the opioid crisis, from a TV-ad awareness campaign to a crackdown on traffickers of deadly synthetic opioids. He reiterated his push to give the worst offenders the death penalty.
“The punishment is getting stronger and stronger and maybe at some point we’ll get very smart as a nation and given them the ultimate punishment,” Mr. Trump said.
Capitol Hill lawmakers have thrown billions of dollars at the problem, to expand treatment options and the use of overdose-reversing drugs, though they’re starting to eye major policy changes, too.
House passed a series of opioid-related bills in June, and the Senate GOP wants to move on its own opioids package in the coming weeks.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said none of his GOP members have objected to sweeping legislation that packages dozens of measures from a quartet of Senate committees.
“The ball is in the other court,” Mr. McConnell said Tuesday. “We’re hoping Democrats will be able to clear theirs as well, and that this is something we can reach a consent agreement on, to set up a vote after Labor Day.”
The package includes the STOP Act, which requires the U.S. Postal Service to demand advanced electronic data on 70 percent of foreign packages by the end of this year.
Customs agents say the data is a critical tool in targeting packages for extra scrutiny and rooting out potent fentanyl from clandestine labs overseas, especially in China.
Under the bill, the postal service must demand advanced data on all foreign packages by 2021.