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Drug abuse is having a negative impact on our country

Commentary:

It was a bad Saturday. I received a text with a link to an obituary. I opened up the link and saw that a friend of mine whom I had worked with had passed away. As I read the obituary, I became even more sad because it clearly stated that she had died of an opioid overdose. My friend was a free spirit, but it was hard for me to fathom that she had struggled with opioid addiction. When I worked with her, she was a public information officer for a state agency, and she always conducted herself in a professional manner.

It had been a few years since I saw her when she was passing through town on her way to Texas, and she stopped in to visit with me. She had her cat and her daughter with her, and she was starting a new position in a field which she was passionate about. She was happy and excited to be starting a new life. Since then, I kept up with her posts on Facebook. And now she’s gone, at only 41 years of age. She leaves behind a 16-year-old daughter.

I kept re-reading her obituary and my day got sadder and sadder, but then anger and disbelief overtook the sadness, and I began to think about the illegal drug problem we have in this country and how it is affecting us. Then I began to study about the flow of illegal drugs into the U.S. and I focused on Mexico, because I live on the U.S.-Mexico border. I am certainly aware that illegal drugs come from other places such as China, Afghanistan, and South America. However, Mexico seemed like a good place to start.

First of all, the root of the drug problem lies with Americans. If the demand in the U.S. didn’t exist for drugs such as fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cocaine, we would not have a drug problem. However, when people get hooked on these illicit drugs, they then become part of the machine that fuels drug cartels in Mexico to produce and distribute drugs in the U.S.

And the Mexico-U.S. illegal drug trade is huge. I have seen varying reports that last year’s illicit drug economy is estimated to have generated between $13.6 billion to $49.4 billion. To put this in perspective, the Mexico-U.S. drug trade would rank in the top 100 of profitable companies in the world. We are not talking simply about shady figures on street corners selling drugs to users. We are talking about cartel systems that are every bit as sophisticated in their production, operations, distribution, and finances as any legitimate corporation.

In fiscal year 2023, CBP seized more than 27,000 pounds of fentanyl, compared to 14,600 pounds the previous year. CBP’s fentanyl seizures have risen 860 percent since 2019. Since the last fiscal year, cocaine seizures were up 22 percent, methamphetamine was up 55 percent, and heroin up seven percent. In 2023, the DEA seized more than 78.4 million fentanyl pills and 12,000 pounds of fentanyl powder. This is equivalent to more than 388.8 million lethal doses of this drug, or enough to kill every American and the entire population of South Korea. These are just the drugs that have been seized, not the ones that successfully make it into the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report stating that more than 112,000 Americans died by drug overdoses from May 2022 to May 2023. To put this in perspective, this is almost exactly the population of Las Cruces, New Mexico. In other words, illicit drugs are killing the equivalent of all Las Cruces citizens per year in the U.S.

Additionally, illicit drugs in the U.S. tear apart families and corrupt our youth. The allure of quick money is too tempting for many young people. I know people who as juveniles were conscripted by drug organizations to transport and distribute drugs. Juveniles are especially coveted by the cartels because they usually are desperate for money, and if caught, their incarceration tends to be shorter than adult criminals.

The profits Mexican drug cartels make in the U.S. are sent back to Mexico, where financial experts launder and invest it in everything from real estate development to retail operations. Profits become part of Mexico’s national economy. The sheer amount of money controlled by the cartels enables them to corrupt government officials. The guns and arms sent from the U.S. to the cartels allows them to overpower underpowered law enforcement agencies in Mexico.

The U.S. has dedicated men and women in uniform that diligently work to keep illegal drugs out of our country. The U.S. is not only physically seizing drugs, but also tracking large movements of money and seizing what are believed to be drug profits being sent back to Mexico. However, the enormous scope of illegal drug users in the U.S., paired with cartels in Mexico that are only happy to supply the demand, seems overwhelming, and leaves my mind in doubt how the drug problem is dealt with and controlled. And just like immigration, the illegal drug issue has become a political football, used by both political parties. However, at the moment, all of this is less important to me. I need to mourn a friend whom the drug machine sucked in a did away with leaving a broken family.

 
Jerry Pacheco is President of the Border Industrial Association. Pacheco's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.

Jerry Pacheco is President of the Border Industrial Association and Executive Director of the International Business Accelerator.