What Rubio Learned on the Campaign Trail About the Heroin Crisis

Part of aggressive agenda at Western Hemisphere subcommittee

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks with Roll Call in his office recently. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks with Roll Call in his office recently. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 26, 2016 at 5:05am

Usually when people talk about the lessons of an ill-fated White House bid, they are referring to what’s been learned about political strategy.  

But the scourge of opioid addiction is so clear in the state that played host to the first-in-the-nation primary that Sen. Marco Rubio can’t forget it.  

“What happened in New Hampshire was I met a lot of families that had been impacted by the epidemic. I mean, people who lost children or had children going through rehab and trying to recover from this terrible disease,” the Florida Republican said in an interview.  

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He’s chairing a Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere hearing Thursday morning featuring testimony from the State Department and the Office of National Drug Control Policy about heroin addiction, as well as the importance of securing the borders and  combating violent cartels.  

“Florida is impacted because we had a very unique problem with pill mills,” Rubio said. “These supposed medical facilities that were handing out opiate pain medications, and a lot of people got addicted.”  

“When those pills became impossible to get because of changes in the law, these people … now relied on street heroin.”  

Also set to testify is Teresa Jacobs, the mayor of Florida’s Orange County, which includes the city of Orlando. Rubio visited Jacobs in the Sunshine State early last week, and he said it was important for federal officials to hear her concerns.  

In the interview, Rubio said he expects Jacobs will discuss the toll opioids have taken on communities in Florida.  

“The other thing she always talks about is they have nowhere to take people who are going through this disease,” Rubio said. “If they’re arrested, and they’re addicted, there’s no treatment programs. The treatment is basically to go through managed withdrawal in the prison system.”  

Thursday morning’s hearing is just one of many issues on the senator’s schedule for his subcommittee before he leaves the Senate at the end of this Congress, having already decided not to seek another term.  

Rubio said the panel is keeping an eye on developments in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras with the Alliance for Prosperity initiative between the three countries and the United States.  

“That instability in that part of the world is a driver of illegal migration to the United States, but it’s also a breeding place for the sort of transnational criminal groups that are trafficking in heroin and fentanyl and things of this nature.”  

Rubio also took the opportunity to mention that he is continuing to push for President Barack Obama to pressure people affiliated with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.  

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“My hope is that the Organization of American States here fairly soon will invoke the Democratic charter, and that we continue to put public pressure on the Maduro regime to allow the referendum to move forward,” Rubio said.  

According to reports, the Maduro government is working to halt an attempted recall .  

Rubio said there are people who live in the United States involved in repression in Venezuela.  

“They spend all week oppressing the people of Venezuela and then they spend their weekends enjoying the money they’ve stolen in Miami,” he said.  

Contact Lesniewski at NielsLesniewski@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski.

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