WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, issued the following statement into the record Thursday at a Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Issues hearing on “Cartels and the U.S. Heroin Epidemic”:
“As the United States continues grappling with the public health crisis posed by opioid and heroin abuse, today’s hearing offers a much-needed space to analyze the links between the dramatic increase in U.S. heroin use and the sharp rise in illicit poppy cultivation and heroin production in Mexico.
“In doing so, it is critical that we recognize how the epidemic of heroin-related deaths is ravaging communities across our country, including more than 575 such deaths in Maryland in 2014 alone. These figures – which touch far too many American families – require our urgent attention and it is imperative that we strengthen our cooperation with the Government of Mexico to combat the illicit heroin trade.
“Over the past five years, with U.S. heroin usage soaring, illicit poppy cultivation has multiplied rapidly in western Mexico. Estimates from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency project that between 2011 and 2015 illicit poppy cultivation grew some 150 percent, more than doubling Mexico’s potential production of pure heroin. Given the limitations of DEA data and diverging methodologies, the Mexican government maintains different projections on illicit poppy cultivation.
“Caught between these statistics is a series of unknowns. The remote locations of the crops and the presence of violent cartels severely limits information about the amount of land under cultivation, crop density, and changes in heroin production methods. The result is a lack of verifiable information about the true nature and scope of the problem.
“Against this backdrop, DEA reporting shows that Mexican cartels continue posing the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States, as well as a challenge to the rule of law in Mexico. These cartels prey upon the poor farmers growing poppies, are directly engaged in heroin production and trafficking, and profit heavily from moving massive volumes of illicit drugs from South America across the U.S. border. They ruthlessly wield violence and corruption against Mexico’s citizens, law enforcement, and government officials.
“In the face of these challenges and given that the U.S. cannot succeed in this effort on its own, we must work with Mexico to deepen a partnership based on shared responsibility and joint action. Together, we must take swift steps to advance a comprehensive strategy to tackle this problem.
“Given the lack of concrete data, expanded information and intelligence sharing are urgently needed, and it must be two-way communication. Our law enforcement and eradication efforts must be balanced with a strong commitment to sustainable development and to providing our citizens with real alternatives to becoming involved in the drug trade. We must collectively sharpen our governments’ tools to combat the illicit financial networks that make the drug trade possible. And, we must deepen our joint commitment to combatting corruption and strengthening the rule of law.
“As we pursue these steps, it is critical that we continue advancing domestic initiatives. We cannot waiver in our efforts to expanding access to treatment and life-saving medicines, like Naloxone. And, we must prioritize smart law enforcement investments, including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, which bring critical resources to the Baltimore-Washington corridor. The safety, health, and well-being of our citizens require nothing less.”