WATCH: House Homeland Security committee hearing on DHS efforts against opioid epidemic

The House Homeland Security committee held a hearing Wednesday on the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.

Watch the hearing in the player above.

DHS witnesses included Brian Sulc, executive director of the Transnational Organized Crime Mission Center; Pete Flores, executive assistant commissioner of the Office of Field Operations for U.S. Customs & Border Protection and Steve Cagen, assistant director for Countering Transnational Organized Crime.

The hearing focused on what subcommittee Chairwoman Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., described as the influx of illicit synthetic opioids from outside the U.S., from places like China and Mexico, encouraged by demand created by the ongoing prescription opioid epidemic.

“With the increased prescription opioid dependence and addiction came an increased demand for synthetic opioids, which
transnational criminal organizations have exploited,” she said.

Barragán emphasized that, “despite the talking points I expect we will hear today from some of my colleagues … migrants seeking asylum are not responsible for the vast majority of drugs arriving in our communities.”

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Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., also said law enforcement and border security methods are only part of the solution.

“We must also tackle this crisis with treatment and recovery options to restore people’s health and break the devastating cycles of addiction. This must be a robust whole-of-government operation,” he said.

More than 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

U.S. overdose deaths have risen most years for more than two decades. The increase began in the 1990s with overdoses involving opioid painkillers, followed by waves of deaths led by other opioids like heroin and — most recently — illicit fentanyl.

Last year, overdoses involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids surpassed 71,000, up 23 percent from the year before. There also was a 23 percent increase in deaths involving cocaine and a 34 percent increase in deaths involving meth and other stimulants.

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