As overdose deaths rise, Pompeo says the U.S. struggles to halt drug trafficking

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Tuesday painted a bleak picture of the United States’ current efforts and ability to halt the influx of drugs from foreign countries.

Pompeo appeared before a Senate committee focused on ways to stop the flow of illegal drugs into this country.

His grim outlook was mirrored by Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who chairs the Senate International Narcotics Committee.

Cornyn said the U.S. currently had no comprehensive international plan to halt narcotics trafficking into the country. The lack of a blueprint, he said, continued to fuel the increase in overdose deaths and made his home state into an operating zone for cartels looking to move illegal products over the border.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the committee, said that an estimated 5,000 died from overdoses in California in 2017.

“The global narcotics trade requires us to address, both our own demand issues as well as foreign supply,” Feinstein said.

The seven-member committee sought to use Pompeo’s testimony to inform its efforts to develop a comprehensive plan to stop international drug trafficking into the country.

Pompeo called the effort a State Department priority, saying the issue was “personal” for him.

“I know many people that have been impacted by this set of issues,” Pompeo said. In a 10-hour period last month, the former Kansas congressman said, seven Kansans died from drug overdoses.

An estimated 70,000 Americans died of overdose deaths in 2017.

Pompeo said that there is “no silver bullet” to solve the problems. He said that U.S. officials can see and track close to 85 percent of the narcotics being trafficked from South and Central America, but the government is only able to actually intercept about 15 percent of those products.

Sen. David Perdue, a Georgia Republican, blamed a lack of national focus for the continuing problem.

“If a cartel was sending a cruise missile into Dallas, Texas, and killing 70,000 people, I think our response would be a little less measured than it is today,” Perdue said.

Cornyn asked Pompeo if he thought continuing discussions with Mexico over limiting migration could also help halt drug cartels.

“I have never seen Mexican officials appear to step up and to engage as it looks like they are doing now on this Central American migration issue,” Cornyn said before asking Pompeo if he thought this level of engagement could lead to progress on halting or deterring the shipment of illegal drugs over the border with Mexico.

Pompeo said that he’s hopeful that the Mexican government will do more to help stem the flow of illegal drugs coming over the southern border as a result of last week’s tariff-avoiding discussion at the White House.