Trump notes decline in drug prosecution, suggests preventative measures as he receives opioid briefing

With fatal opioid overdoses on the rise, Trump was briefed by Secretary Price.

"At the end of 2016, there were 23 percent fewer federal prosecutions than in 2011, so they looked at this scourge and they let it go by. We're not letting it go by," said Trump to reporters from his private club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he was receiving a briefing from Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

"The average sentence for a convicted federal drug offender decreased 20 percent from 2009 to 2016," he added, noting he "promised to fight this battle during his campaign."

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he was sending a group of federal prosecutors to a number of cities affected by rampant abuse to investigate drug crimes. The policy of Trump's White House predecessor Barack Obama was to relax sentencing for nonviolent drug-related offenses.

Trump addressed the severity of the issue Tuesday, saying "nobody is safe" and encouraging a focus on preventative measures.

The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place," said Trump. "If they don't start, they won't have a problem. If they do start, it's awfully tough to get off.

"Maybe by talking to youth and telling them, 'No good, really bad for you in every way,'" he continued. "But if they don't start, it will never be a problem."

The University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy examined death certificates and found that nationally, opioid- and heroin-involved death rates are more than 20 percent greater than reported rates, and opioid death rates were "considerably understated in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey and Arizona."

On CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday, the New Jersey governor said that the opioid epidemic is responsible for a "9/11-scale loss of life every three weeks."

"If that's not a national health emergency, I don't know what is," said Christie, whose commission on the issue wrote that "our citizens are dying" and that "the opioid epidemic we are facing is unparalleled."

Trump, who frequently talked about the drug epidemic during the campaign, has been criticized for remaining largely quiet about the crisis as president. Last week, in Huntington, West Virginia -- the state with the highest rate of drug overdoses in the country -- Trump only mentioned the epidemic once.

"You have a big problem in West Virginia, and we are going to solve that problem," said Trump.

But Christie said he's confident the White House will adopt the recommendations put forward by the commission.

"I'm convinced that the president is committed to this," said Christie during a conference call with the commission. Their final report is scheduled to be released this fall.