Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Mayor of Tucson Regina Romero Remarks to Press

Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Mayor of Tucson Regina Romero Remarks to Press

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  It’s a great pleasure for me to be in Tucson today.  We spent some time this morning at our Western Passport Center, which is doing incredible work connecting Americans with the world by providing that little blue book, the American passport.  If you look back just a few decades ago, about 5 percent of Americans had passports; now we’re up to about 50 percent.  We issued more passports last year than at any time in our history and the demand’s only going up.  It’s because of the incredible work of the people at the Passport Center here that so many Americans are able to travel abroad for business, education, family, all of those things, and it all starts with a passport office, so it was great to see it.

And then I just finished with Mayor Morero – Romero looking around here at the call center to get a chance to see in action an incredible community effort to deal with one of the biggest crises that we have in this country, and that is synthetic opioids – fentanyl.  We see it affecting virtually every American community.  Forty percent of Americans know someone who died from an opioid overdose.  We had about 100,000 or so overdoses last year; about 75 percent of those were related to a synthetic opioid.  So this is a national crisis that this community, with the mayor’s leadership, is engaged with in a remarkable way, bringing together health care workers, law enforcement, housing, everything that it takes to address the problem.

So you might ask why someone in my position is interested in this – it’s because President Biden is determined that everything we’re doing around the world is first and foremost thinking about how is it having an impact here in the United States, dealing with the problem we have.  And this synthetic drug crisis is by definition both the most local thing imaginable, given that it’s affected so many of our communities, but it’s also global because, for example, the ingredients that go into making fentanyl are often made halfway around the world.  China, for example – chemical manufacturer – gets shipped over maybe to Mexico, synthesized, and fentanyl comes into the United States.  So we have to be able to tackle this around the world, get cooperation from other countries, and build coalitions to do that.

We’ve put together now a coalition of more than 150 countries who are seized with the issue of synthetic drugs, and that’s because what’s been happening here in the United States is also starting to hit other countries in a big way.  We brought all these countries together to share best practices, share information, and work to get ahead of this. 

We have intense cooperation with Mexico.  President Biden and President López Obrador have spent hours together working on the fentanyl crisis; supporting Mexico in law enforcement, in breaking up the cartels, breaking up the financing, prosecuting people, sharing information; working to strengthen our technology at the border so we can detect things coming in. 

And similarly, he’s worked with China now, because it’s so important that we get a grip on these chemical ingredients that are manufactured there and that wind their way over toward us and become something like fentanyl.  With the Chinese president he was able to get a very important agreement where China is starting to crack down on companies that are illegally diverting these ingredients that go into making fentanyl.  It’s a work in progress, but we’re starting to see results.

So it’s connecting the – what’s happening here, seeing firsthand, Mayor, everything that you’re doing in a remarkable way to bring together the entire community to deal with this, and then connecting it to what we’re doing, what the federal government’s doing, both here at home and around the world.

Last thing I’ll say is this:  The President’s put billions of dollars into dealing with this drug crisis, and a heavy focus for our communities in making sure that there is effective public awareness, prevention, treatment.  These are the critical things along with law enforcement that are really going to make a difference.  And then we’re trying to do everything we can around the world to get the cooperation of other countries.

So it’s wonderful to see what you’re doing in Tucson, and thanks for having us here today, Mayor.

MS ROMERO:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  I just want to welcome you to Tucson and thank you for having the Passport Center here in Tucson.  It is so good, especially because we are an international city.  Please give my thanks on behalf of the people of Tucson to the President.  It’s because of federal dollars that we have been able to create programs like the Community Safety, Health, and Wellness, the Housing First program.  And Department of Justice funds have helped us create the community service officer positions.  In four years we went from zero to 140 community service officers, and we created the Community Safety, Health, and Wellness program, purchased hotels so that we could house the unhoused as a Housing First program.  And so we are now seeing the effects of those funds for long-term efforts in our community and we realize all of the work that President Biden and you personally do around the globe.  You do it around the globe.  We do it right here.  This is the front lines of the much work that you do throughout the world.

So thank you so much for coming, for listening to the work that we do here.  And we’ve approached this issue holistically.  We’ve brought down the silos with the different departments that – and the new programs that we’ve created, and we are seeing incredible, incredible return on that investment.  So thank you, Mr. Secretary, for joining us and really learning what we’re doing here in Tucson, Arizona.  And by the way, the investment from President Biden into the ports of entry – $500 million into the Arizona ports of entry alone – that is where we see fentanyl being caught, right?  That’s the – that’s where we catch —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah, about 95 percent is coming in and through these legal ports of entry.

MS ROMERO:  And so that technology that is being reinfused into the ports of entry is equally important here in Arizona and here in Tucson.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, Mayor.

MR PATEL:  David Douglas, do you want to kick us off?

QUESTION:  Yes, please.  Mr. Secretary, given what you mentioned with these illegal fentanyl precursors – excuse me – coming from China, and as you often say the leading cause of death for Americans 18-45 is fentanyl, are you satisfied with the actions that Beijing has taken?  And in addition to what you mentioned, what additional steps are you asking them to take to stop the export of these dangerous substances?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, it’s a good start but more needs to be done.  I was just in China about a week ago and this was a big topic on the agenda both with President Xi, with my counterpart the foreign minster, as well as with the head of public security who is dealing with this in China. 

So what they’ve done:  They’ve published new regulations to try to inform their companies that it is illegal to take these chemicals that they’re making for perfectly legal purposes and then transferring them to a criminal cartel that turns them into fentanyl.  And we’ve seen them start to take down some companies that were engaged in this practice.  But what we’d like to see now is public law enforcement action so that we see that – and people in China see that people are being prosecuted and convicted and companies are really being put out of business.

There is a whole process internationally where these chemicals are – the technical term is scheduled.  In other words, they’re on a list that makes them prohibited and you can’t trade in them easily.  There are more chemicals that China needs to put on that list.  Those would be important things.

And then going at the financial networks.  There are big connections between individuals and companies in China and other parts of the world with these criminal enterprises, and breaking the financing is a real good way to get at it.

The bottom line is this:  We want to see the flow go down.  That’s going to be the best measure.  And when that happens, you’re just going to see less getting in.  The – I think, Mayor, you were telling us and some of your colleagues were telling us that 50 percent of the fentanyl seized in this country is coming from this area, and of that I think we’ve found that something like 75 percent of the individual pills have a lethal dose in them.  So it’s – but we have to start at the very beginning of the supply chain and then work every piece of it along the way.

QUESTION:  And I know you mentioned the cooperation with Mexico —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  — and the mayor referenced the ports of entry and the new technology and the money that’s being spent to try to detect it at the border.  But are you satisfied with the cooperation from Mexico to stop it from coming across the border in the first place?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think we have more and better cooperation with Mexico than at any time that I’ve seen, and I’ve been doing this for about 30 years.  And that really starts with President Biden and the Mexican president, Lopez Obrador.  As I said, he’s spent hours with him on this working in very practical ways to strengthen that cooperation. 

And it’s everything from the information sharing that we’re doing.  It’s our own support and training for law enforcement.  It’s seeing them take action in taking down these cartels, breaking up the financing, working cooperatively on the border, which is a living border and so vital to both of our countries, but we want to make sure it’s safe and secure and not letting in bad things.  As the mayor was saying, this technology is so important because, as best we can tell, about 95 percent of the fentanyl that’s coming into this country is actually going through these legal ports of entry.  It’s not being smuggled across between them.  So the technology that detects it is hugely important.  All of that is being worked with Mexico.

So I’ve got to say, from my perspective, the cooperation is strong but you always want to do better.

MR PATEL:  News 4, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, Madam Mayor, thank you.  I heard that $35 million in federal funding will be coming to Arizona to help combat the crisis.  Where is that money going to be going towards? 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, there are a number of things.  And this is why, again, I think what the mayor is doing, what the county – what Pima County is doing, is so important.  It’s bringing together all of the different actors because it can’t just be a law enforcement issue.  Getting the public awareness – and so public awareness campaigns, bringing information out to the communities.  That’s hugely important.  We’ve got to spend the money on that.

Treatment, prevention, being able to intervene with something like Narcan to make sure that if someone has actually taken fentanyl, there’s an antidote to it.  All of these different aspects of the program – housing, as the mayor was talking about.  That’s critical because when you have someone who has a roof over their hear and they’re in one place, you can keep coming back and make sure they stick with a program if they’re willing to get into it. 

All of the funding is going across the board to these different enterprises.

MS ROMERO:  Mm-hmm, absolutely.  And both Pima County and the City of Tucson are holding hands in this, and next week, May 7th, we are going to – both the city mayor and council and Pima County board of supervisors, we’re going to approve a resolution declaring fentanyl and opioid misuse a public health crisis in our community, and we’re also going to approve an intergovernmental agreement on how to use the opioid settlement money and any funds that come into our region so that we can do it together.  And it is absolutely what the Secretary said, from public education campaigns to intervention strategies to Narcan to housing.  And this is going to be the work that City of Tucson and county are going to be doing together as we try to affect this and make it a long-term approach to really healing our community because of this.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  By the way, what we’re seeing here and what the mayor has done in bringing together 3-1-1 and 9-1-1, taking some of the burden off the police so that they don’t have to deal with every situation where some other actor in the system may be better placed to do it.  That’s a huge, huge initiative and I think it’s making a difference.  You were telling me that some 1,200 calls —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — diverted from the police to other actors in the system.  Three —

MS ROMERO:  3-1-1 and others in the system that are taking these calls and can take a longer time, frankly, with the caller to be able to connect them to the appropriate resources. 

MR PATEL:  Thanks, everybody.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, everyone.

MS ROMERO:  Thank you so much.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Mayor, great to be with you.

MS ROMERO:  Thank you so much.  Really appreciate it.


Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-and-mayor-of-tucson-regina-romero-remarks-to-press/

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