Pubdate: Mon, 28 Apr 2014
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Jerry Pacheco
Page: 5


Throughout history, the U.S. and Mexico have shared a border, common 
cultures and economic base. Unfortunately, the two countries also 
have long shared a common scourge - the drug trade.

As the influential 1960s rock band the Velvet Underground sang in 
their song "Heroin," "Heroin, it's my life and it's my wife." For 
everybody from the street addict to the sophisticated drug cartels, 
this lyric is truer than ever in both countries.

Heroin has become a particularly dangerous drug because of its 
widespread availability. Years ago, it was mostly found in the larger 
cities of the U.S., and was only sporadically available in Mexico. Up 
until a decade ago, Afghanistan produced more than 80 percent of the 
world's opium, which is used to manufacture heroin. According to the 
most recent reports, Mexico's production of opium increased more than 
six times during the past decade, making this country the current 
number two producer of opium in the world.

Today, heroin is not only found in U.S. and Mexican inner cities, it 
is found in smaller towns and rural areas.

The state of New Mexico has had the unenviable title of leading the 
nation in percentage of heroin deaths at various points in the past 
few years. In northern New Mexico, Rio Arriba County, with a 
population a little more than 40,000, is routinely reported as 
leading the nation in heroin use and deaths per capita. Recent 
reports state that the percentage of high-school age kids in Rio 
Arriba using heroin is higher than in cities such as New York City or 
Los Angeles.

In my hometown of Espanola, the largest city in Rio Arriba County 
with slightly more than 10,000 people, heroin has long been a 
destroyer of youth and families. When I was growing up, what was 
referred to as Mexican black tar heroin was prevalent not only in 
Espanola, but in smaller adjacent villages such as Alcalde and 
Chimayo. Today, heroin use and heroin-related deaths are much higher 
than when I was in high school.

When I first started working in Mexico more than two decades ago, 
drug use was highly frowned upon and relegated to the shadows. 
Marijuana and cocaine were the drugs of choice for users. It was 
recently reported in a national survey that drug use in Mexico 
increased by 87 percent during the 2002to-2011 period. Today, the 
huge production of heroin has made this drug widely available and 
created a set of new addicts within that country.

As the consumption and price of synthetic opiate drugs used for 
pharmaceutical painkillers have increased in the U.S., so has the 
supply shift in Mexico. Mexican farmers, who previously planted 
marijuana, have begun to plant poppies, because of the popularity of 
opiates in the U.S. and the severe decrease in marijuana prices. In 
many markets, marijuana commands only a fifth of the price it did a 
few years ago.

Unlike marijuana use, which accounts for much fewer overdoses, heroin 
is proven to be a killer drug. Due to modern technology and 
efficiencies, the purity of heroin has increased, making it easier 
for people to become addicted. These two factors also have made 
heroin cheaper than many of the commonly abused prescription drugs. A 
"hit" of heroin is now as cheap as $4. The result is the infiltration 
of this previously expensive drug to virtually all socioeconomic sectors.

Heroin doesn't only wreak havoc on the lives of the addicts, it 
causes destruction in the communities where it is prevalent. Medical 
costs due to overdoses and rising crime attributed to addicts needing 
to feed their addiction can turn communities upside down. The cost to 
society at multiple levels is high.

Legitimate trade between Mexico and the U.S. hit a record $506 
billion last year. One economist told me that this equates to 
approximately $1 million dollars of trade crossing the U.S.-Mexico 
border every second. However, trade between the two countries isn't 
only relegated to legal cross-border flows, but also to the more 
illicit trade in drugs. It is this type of trade that can be 
accounted for not only in billions of dollars, but also by the dead 
bodies, broken families, and damaged communities it leaves in its wake.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom