“We’re spending a lot of time here talking about the threat of ISIS and in the meantime, we’ve got this other threat that is killing, in my state, two or three hundred people a year,” King said at the nominee confirmation hearing for the new commander of the U.S. Southern Command before the Senate’s Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

King, who sits on the committee, was addressing nominee Vice Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, USN. 

“We are, at this moment in time, suffering — literally — from a heroin epidemic all over the country, including, tragically, in my state of Maine,” King said. “What is it that you need to interdict more of those ships (carrying heroin)?”

Tidd, if approved by the Senate, would be the top commander for all U.S. military activity in Central and South America. And while an estimated 50 percent of the heroin imported illegally in the U.S. comes from Mexico — which is in the military jurisdiction of the Northern Command — most of the remaining heroin is imported to the U.S. from Central and South American countries that are in SOUTHCOM’s jurisdiction.

“Obviously, we need to talk about treatment and prevention and all of those issues,” King said, “but supply is part of it, and my understanding is a great deal of this heroin is coming up through south of our borders.”

Earlier this year, Gen. John Kelly, the current SOUTHCOM commander, told the committee that 100 percent of the heroin entering the U.S. is produced in Latin America.


Answering King’s question, Tidd said that demand for heroin has more than doubled since 2007, and that in response, criminal organizations have increased heroin production in Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala.

According to Tidd, Mexican criminal organizations that control drug trafficking across the Southwest border are moving to expand their share of U.S. illicit drug markets, particularly in heroin.

The Department of Defense spends about $1 billion a year on efforts to stop the flow of illicit drugs into the U.S.  

“Given the nature of how heroin is produced and smuggled,” Tidd said, “I believe the most effective way to address this threat is to focus on building the capacity of regional partners to detect and eliminate the criminal networks engaged in this activity, and to interdict the flow of dangerous drugs like heroin and methamphetamine as close to the point of origin as possible.”

Tidd went on to say that because heroin is often smuggled in small quantities and along well-established routes, it “is extremely difficult to intercept once it is en route.”

“I would caution that there will be no single source, no single-point solution to this problem,” Tidd said. “If there were, it would have been discovered and implemented a long time ago.”  


Republican Gov. Paul LePage has said he will call on the state’s National Guard to aid in stopping drug trafficking in the Pine Tree State. And while some lawmakers have criticized LePage for suggesting the state’s military should be used in a law enforcement role, others have said the depth of the state’s drug problem warrants that level of intervention.

LePage signed a financial order Wednesday authorizing the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency to hire 10 additional agents in an effort to catch and prosecute drug traffickers in the state.

State legislative leaders have also agreed they will pass legislation that will fund the cost of the new agents.

In a letter to state Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, LePage thanked them for their support and said he would authorize hiring the agents immediately.

“As you know, the hiring and training process can take months,” LePage wrote. “We need these agents to hit the streets as soon as possible.”

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