ICYMI: Chairman Johnson Discusses Heroin Epidemic and Border Security with Expert Panel

WASHINGTON — Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and retired Gen. John F. Kelly, former commander for the U.S. Southern Command, discussed the fact that America’s borders are not secure and that this contributes to America’s insatiable demand for drugs during a hearing Wednesday. Cheryl Healton, the former president and chief executive officer of Legacy, the leading foundation dedicated to tobacco control, also testified about the need for heroin and opioid abuse prevention among America’s youth.

VIDEO: Watch Chairman Johnson and General Kelly’s exchange here.

Johnson asked, “As somebody that has been on the front lines, for years, and in command of others with heroic efforts trying to win the war on drugs on the supply side, are we winning that war?”

Kelly responded, “I will just simply say, we think that an unlimited amount of drugs get into this country in the hundreds of tons — not even counting marijuana, in the hundreds of tons of cocaine and heroin and methamphetamine, it gets in. No problem. It gets all the way to Portland, Maine, as fast as it gets to San Diego. We know that tens of thousands of people coming into this country —  I’m not talking about the kind of economic people seeking a better life, I’m talking about the sex workers and other people. They get here no problem. Millions and millions of items of counterfeit industrial type items like electronics get in. This very question was posed to me in my last (Senate Armed Services Committee) hearing and I gave the same answer. If all of that is getting in no problem, then I would argue that our border is not secure.”

VIDEO: Watch Chairman Johnson’s remarks here.

Johnson questioned the panel on what makes public service messages effective. “Why has the ad campaign against tobacco use been so effective versus the war on drugs? Why didn’t it work on the war on drugs?” he asked. He asked whether broad-based TV ads against drug abuse were ineffective if a small share of the population actually took hard drugs.

Healton replied that the main focus of anti-tobacco advertising was not smokers but “those who have never started. The Truth Campaign was not targeting existing smokers. As a matter of fact existing smokers intensely disliked the Truth Campaign, they felt put down by it. … The bulk of the change was people never starting. The goal of a primary prevention education campaign is to stop kids from ever starting and you must include in this campaign the dangers of using opioid medication, period. The kids have to directly know because they are being handed it by doctors in sports medicine clinics, in their college campuses, their dental offices and from their friends for a price.”

Johnson will host a hearing in Wisconsin Friday on the heroin and opioid epidemic. Details can be found here.

Watch Wednesday’s full hearing here.

Chairman Johnson’s opening remarks can be found here.

Witness testimony can be found here.