The recent massacres at drug rehabilitation centers in Mexico represent yet another tragic result of what Hillary Clinton has called America's "insatiable" appetite for illegal drugs.
The Mexican police have reported that two of the country's six major drug cartels have been operating treatment centers and forcing newly recovering substance abusers to join their ranks or be killed. In other cases, cartel members have checked themselves into clinics posing as patients and then taken control by threatening to kill employees.
While the exact motivations behind the latest attack--in which 19 people were killed at the Faith and Life Center in Chihuahua city--are still unclear, what is clear to me is our responsibility in Mexico's drug wars. The U.S. fuels Mexico's drug earnings, which now represent a full 10 percent of the country's economy. Every year, a whopping $25 billion in drug proceeds is smuggled into Mexico from the United States. Of the roughly 330 tons of cocaine, 20 tons of heroin, and 110 tons of meth that are sold in the U.S. each year, the Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates that the majority of it comes from the across the borders. Even more marijuana is brought in from Mexico--or grown domestically in fields run by Mexican drug cartels.
It's time for the United States to step up and take responsibility for its role in Mexico's booming illegal drug business and the crime that arises from it. Unless we can diminish our demand for illicit substances in the US, drug rehab centers in Mexico will continue to be targets of violence--rather than places where those who want to get healthy can go for help.
Fortunately, we now have an administration that views our nation's drug problem as a public health crisis, not simply as an interdiction issue. For the first time, our government recognizes that our best hope of surmounting this crisis is to stop focusing on the criminal justice, public safety, and medical costs of addiction--and expand prevention and treatment options. This is the first step toward rectifying our misguided "War on Drugs," which--as the tragedies at the Faith and Life Center, Gratitude Refuge clinics and other 'treatment programs' illustrate--has had ripple effects far beyond US borders. However, in the words of John Carnevale, an internationally recognized expert in the field of drug policy, "It appears that this historic policy stride has some problems with its supporting budget." In 2011, President Obama plans to increase drug control spending to a record high of $15.5 billion--of which the majority (approximately $10 billion) will go toward interdiction and law enforcement. Once again, treatment and prevention will get the shorter end of the stick.
Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske has acknowledged this discrepancy and reminded the public that "nothing happens over night." Still, I remain hopeful that progress will continue--and that funding for prevention and treatment will eventually catch up to the new thinking. We owe it to ourselves and to our neighbors across the border to do more to reduce our insatiable demand for drugs in an effort to save lives both at home and abroad.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of Dr. Carise and do not reflect the position of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, where her husband A. Thomas McLellan serves as Deputy Director.
Chief Clinical Officer, Phoenix House
July 12, 2010 12:53 PM