MAXTON — U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis ended a two-tour of the area at the edge of Scotland County.
Tillis talked about several issues, inlcuding drug trafficking on Interstate 95 on Tuesday before taking a tour Wednesday of the Campbell Soup plant in Maxton. The stop was part of a statewide tour Tillis is taking while Congress is recessed.
The visit to the soup plant was closed to reporters, but Tillis did spend the day before with reporters along with members of the state Highway Patrol, a DEA agent and a counter-terrorism officer during a stop for lunch at Tar Packers Restaurant in St. Pauls.
“… It’s a real hotbed for drug trafficking,” Tillis said about I-95. “You see the corridor coming up through Atlanta and up from Florida coming up through this area, so its 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. Officers 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 also a route for moving 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 abandon their drugs of choice for 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 were confident in their ability to tackle the issue in North Carolina, but stressed the need to keep them properly equipped for that fight with 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, government, 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, Mountaire Farms and tobacco farm outside of St. Pauls. Tillis said adding law enforcement to the list was 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.
Reach Bob Shiles at 910-739-4322.