“Five hundred billion dollars…that makes the cartel business and the and the drug traffic just in Mexico coming across to the United States bigger than Walmart, so this is larger than our largest companies,” Perdue said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said the drug trade in the U.S. is valued anywhere from $426 to $652 billion dollars.
“I think we all know the drug trade in this country is really big business,” she said. “Its reach is global, its distribution is growing, its leadership is criminal. Like any business it adapts to market changes. Its motivation is power and profit at any costs.”
Walmart brought in $500.34 billion in net sales in 2018, according to Statista.
The hearing held by the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control drew broad agreement from both sides of the aisle that drug trafficking into the U.S. was getting worse, as well as the numbers of Americans dying from drug abuse.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), chairman of the caucus, said drug poisoning deaths remain the leading cause of death and injury in the U.S. “In American alone in 2017, more than 70,000 people died of drug overdoses,” he said.
“The idea that we would somehow lose 70,000 Americans in one year alone to drug overdoses and not consider this a national emergency is really staggering,” he said. He added that since 2006, Mexico has seen 150,000 people murdered from cartel violence.
Perdue added: “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.”
Feinstein, co-chairman of the caucus, said in California nearly 5,000 died in 2017, and worldwide it was 450,000 lives in 2015. “These estimates don’t consider the lives lost due to the violence associated with this illicit trade,” she said.
She added that this year, 22 countries have been identified as major transit or source countries for illicit drugs. More than 133,000 pounds of heroin, cocaine, meth, and fentanyl were seized in the U.S. last year, and nearly 101,000 pounds have already been seized this year.
Cornyn said there has been a dramatic increase in synthetic opioid-related deaths with the emergence of fentanyl as a significant contributor. However, he said the traffickers were “commodity agnostic.”
“They’ll traffic in drugs, migrants, in human beings for sex slavery, money laundering, counterfeit goods, whatever will make them a buck,” he said. “The groups fueling this cycle are becoming richer and growing their influence in the United States, and without intervention, their power will only grow,” he said.
“It’s not hyperbole to say we’ve reached a crisis point,” he said.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who was invited to testify on the State Department’s efforts to counter the global drug trade, said the issue was “personal” for him.
“I know many people that have been impacted by this set of issues. Just last month, there were seven Kansans who died in a ten hour period from a single overdose of cocaine laced with fentanyl,” he added. “This is a serious matter… We all know human lives that have been touched, and families that have been ripped apart by this.”
He said in terms of efforts by the State Department, the Trump administration has focused on China, due to the increase of fentanyl flooding into the U.S. over the past several years. He said the U.S. is working with Chinese officials to shut down labs inside China.
In Latin America, he said Mexico remains a production hub for methamphetamines and heroin, and a transit country for cocaine and fentanyl and other drugs.
However, he said when President Trump recently raised the specter of tariffs on Mexico, more progress was made “in the course of a couple of days” than in his time in office of just over a year. “I think it focused the attention of all of us….and made us more willing to set up true metrics,” he said.
Pompeo’s appearance was the first time a cabinet member appeared before the committee, Cornyn said.