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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkEditorials | Issues | October 2009 

Mexico's Rising Drug Use and Addiction - Who is to Blame?
email this pageprint this pageemail usSylvia Longmire -
October 13, 2009

The U.S. will likely continue to offer financial assistance to Mexico so it can try to tackle its domestic addiction problems, but the Mexican government will probably be on its own in figuring out how to reduce domestic consumption - just like the U.S. has been for decades.
Over the past year, several media reports have detailed the exploding domestic drug market in Mexico, as well as soaring drug dependency rates. The reasons for Mexico's transition from being mainly a "transport country" to becoming a "consumer country" are rather simple. But what does this transition mean for President Felipe Calderon and his attempts to squelch his country's drug war?

On Oct. 5 The Houston Chronicle published a good article on this subject that contained some interesting - and disturbing - information regarding Mexico's increasing drug dependency.

Drug use in Mexico is still a fraction of that in the U.S. Officials estimate that 3.5 million Mexicans have used narcotics at least once, and that nearly 600,000 have become dependent drug consumers. That compares to roughly 22 million regular drug consumers in the U.S., but the important statistic to note is that the number of Mexican addicts has doubled in the last five years.

A year ago, USA Today published a story that said the unprecedented epidemic of drug use is partly a result of better U.S. border enforcement, according to officials.

"The new border fence and intensified patrols by both Mexican and U.S. federal agents have made it harder for Mexican cartels to get drugs into the USA. As a result, more narcotics remain in Mexico where they are sold to local consumers, says Marcela Lopez Cabrera, director of the Monte Fenix clinic in Mexico City, which trains drug counselors."

Two other major factors that influence domestic drug use in Mexico are how incredibly cheap and readily available drugs are.

"Cocaine prices in Mexico have plummeted to 'practically nothing,' says Irving Aguilar, medical director at the Clinicas Claider treatment center in Mexico City. A gram of cocaine sells in central Mexico for about $19, he says. Crack is $9.50 a rock and getting cheaper."

In many areas - for example the Tijuana area - major drug cartels have become fractured. Former cartel members have gone independent and started their own drug businesses, which in turn has created small legions of drug dealers throughout the country.

The exploding domestic drug market means more obstacles in Calderon's path towards reducing violence. According to an Oct. 15, 2008 article in the Los Angeles Times, there are signs that the street trade, known as narcomenudeo, is adding to overall drug violence. Analysts say the well-armed gangs that have fought each other for control of key international drug-smuggling routes are battling over the market in Mexico as well.

Another side effect from this trend is the massive increase in the number of drug rehab centers, and subsequently the number of Mexicans enrolled in drug treatment programs. Because many of those patients were also dealers at some point, rehab clinics and their patients have been the targets of both brutal slayings and cartel recruitment efforts.

There has however been some good news on this front. Mexican media reported last week that the availability of cocaine in Mexico has dropped by 60 percent in the last six years, mainly due to bigger and more frequent seizures by Mexican and Colombian authorities. The report also indicated that the methamphetamine supply had been reduced, but rehab center and addiction statistics indicate there's a long way to go in the battle to reduce the supply of all drugs in Mexico.

There are two major aspects of this problem that warrant attention: the violence and public health crises posed to the Mexican government; and the ethical and moral issues surrounding the successes of border enforcement efforts.

The Calderon administration has taken some small steps towards treating the addiction problem as a public health issue by decriminalizing "personal use" amounts of various drugs. Individuals caught with greater amounts are relegated to treatment programs instead of jail in an attempt to relieve pressure on jails, law enforcement, and the judicial system.

However, some official statistics from Mexican sources say only three percent of Mexican addicts are currently receiving some form of treatment. Rehab centers are also increasingly the targets of cartel attacks, possibly reducing the motivation for some to seek treatment. There is also no mention in the media reports of the cost to enter a treatment program, or if any are subsidized by the government for low-income individuals.

The second aspect is a more difficult one to grapple with. Mexico has historically blamed the United States' insatiable addiction to drugs for its violence issues. There is plenty of truth to this line of thinking, as without a demand there's no need for the supply. While U.S. enforcement efforts don't affect the demand side, they're having an impact on the supply. That's good news for drug trade-related issues in the U.S., but those efforts are obviously having a negative impact south of the border.

In some ways this problem can be likened to the southbound weapons trafficking issue. The U.S. sells lots of guns, and many of those end up in Mexico, to be used by cartels in violent attacks against rivals or delinquent dealers. The U.S. government has recently acknowledged some level of complicity in this problem, and vowed to step up efforts to interdict the southbound flow of weapons, ostensibly with the goal of reducing gun-related crime and overall violence in Mexico.

But can the U.S. government ever be apologetic for enforcement efforts that successfully reduce the amount of drugs that enter the U.S., but cause dramatic increases in addiction within Mexico? Should it be?

Many countries shoulder some civic responsibility for their neighbors' issues, simply because many problems don't recognize international boundaries. But at some point all countries recognize their domestic problems are their priorities, and have to say to their neighbors, "this is your problem, you figure it out."

The U.S. has already acknowledged it has contributed greatly to drug trafficking via its demand, and to weapons trafficking via its supply. This may be the limit of the mea culpa stance, especially since law enforcement efforts are usually celebrated by the U.S. government and not the sources of apologies.

The U.S. will likely continue to offer financial assistance to Mexico so it can try to tackle its domestic addiction problems, but the Mexican government will probably be on its own in figuring out how to reduce domestic consumption - just like the U.S. has been for decades.

Sylvia Longmire is a former Air Force officer and Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, where she specialized in counterintelligence, counterespionage, and force protection analysis. After being medically retired in 2005, Ms. Longmire worked for almost four years as a Senior Intelligence Analyst for the California State Terrorism Threat Assessment Center, providing daily situational awareness to senior state government officials on southwest border violence and significant events in Latin America. She received her Master’s degree from the University of South Florida in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, with a focus on the Cuban and Guatemalan revolutions. Ms. Longmire is currently an independent consultant and freelance writer. Her website is Mexico's Drug War; she is a regular contributor to; and her email address is spooky926(at)

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