Tillis talks drugs during stop

U.S. senator makes pass through Robeson

By Sarah Willets - [email protected]

Thom Tillis

ST. PAULS — In between touring a Coast Guard station and a chicken plant, Sen. Thom Tillis stopped in St. Pauls for a bite to eat — and to chew on an issue with local, state and national implications.

The U.S. senator discussed drug trafficking on Interstate 95 over lunch at TarPackers Restaurant on Tuesday with members of the state Highway Patrol as well as a DEA agent from Asheville and a counter-terrorism officer based in Raleigh. The stop was part of a statewide tour Tillis is taking while Congress is recessed.

“… It’s a real hotbed for drug trafficking,” Tillis said about I-95, one of the nation’s largest and busiest highways. “You see the corridor coming up through Atlanta and up from Florida coming up through this area, so it’s a distribution point because of the roads that the bad guys use to get the drugs into the state and then carry them to parts north and up into the northeast.”

Tillis said officers described growing drug shipments moving across the state, as well as the added threat of gang activity. He said they recounted a recent bust in which as much as $300,000 in cash was seized in addition to drugs.

“As a matter of fact I think we’ve reached a point where they’re really expecting local law enforcement to handle things that may have been major busts many years ago … so they’re getting bigger and bigger, the networks and the gangs are getting more and more sophisticated, which is why we need to make sure that our law enforcement has the funds to combat them and the tools,” Tillis said.

Once known as a thoroughfare for cocaine transport, I-95 is now seeing more shipments of heroin and synthetic marijuana. While Robeson County has not seen the same rise in heroin use and arrests as coastal counties and other parts of the United States, local law enforcement have said that could change as prescription opioid abusers switch to cheaper heroin.

“They’re seeing a real surge in heroin use. A lot of that is in the urban areas but what we’re seeing is that as the cost of other drugs go up or the availability of prescription drugs that people are abusing, pain medications, are more and more difficult (to get), they’re shifting to heroin as the drug of choice and as a result we’re seeing a lot of overdoses and a significant increase in the number of deaths associated with overdoses,” Tillis said.

Tillis said officers he spoke with are confident in their ability to tackle the issue in North Carolina, but he stressed the need to keep them properly equipped for that fight with community support and tools to identify constantly evolving synthetic drugs and track patterns of criminal activity.

“I’ve asked them to really go back and think hard about what the state and federal agencies … ask them to do and figure out a better way to do it and I think they appreciated the call to action,” he said.

Tillis spent Monday touring a Coast Guard station in Elizabeth City as well as the Bonner Bridge and Oregon Inlet. Tuesday’s itinerary focused largely on agriculture, with visits to Smithfield Packing Company, Mountaire Farms and tobacco farm outside of St. Pauls. Tillis said adding law enforcement to the list was in line with his work on the N.C. House of Representatives and now on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

“It was something that we focused on in the state when I was speaker. We passed laws that really shut down most of the meth labs in the state … I worked a lot with law enforcement agencies to give them resources, so it’s a natural area for me and it’s an area of focus of mine,” he said.

Tillis plans to spend a second day in the Robeson County area with a visit to the Campbell Soup plant in Maxton today.

Thom Tillis
http://robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/web1_thom-tillis.jpgThom Tillis
U.S. senator makes pass through Robeson

By Sarah Willets

[email protected]

Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.

Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.

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