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Editorial: Mexico owns half the burden in tackling drug scourge

In one of the most disturbing stories in recent months, Journal reporter Angela Kocherga reported that as more U.S. states legalize marijuana – either for unlimited personal use or medical purposes – Mexican drug trafficking organizations are making up for lost profits by shifting their focus to drugs like heroin and methamphetamine.

While marijuana seizures by Customs and Border Patrol have dropped by nearly half, there has been a spike in confiscation of the deadlier drugs. Methamphetamine seizures at border crossings and elsewhere jumped to an astounding 54,393 pounds in 2017 – up by nearly 20,000 pounds.

That’s a lot of meth, but only a small percentage of what got through. And this isn’t the low-grade meth biker gangs used to cook in rundown motel rooms. This is high-quality, industrial-grade stuff offered for sale at a low price via cartel marketing schemes that stretch from coast to coast.

Meanwhile, the amount of heroin seized at border crossings this year doubled to 85 pounds as Americans in the throes of an opioid addiction crisis turn to illegal heroin when they can no longer get their hands on opioid painkillers like oxycodone.

Meth and heroin are a major factor in boosting crime rates – both property crime and violent. Heroin addicts often steal to support their habit; jacked-up meth addicts do, too, but are more inclined to do their stealing at gunpoint.

Some of our most notorious criminals ride high with meth, then crash on heroin. These folks are not good candidates for treatment.

In the United States, the life expectancy for an entire nation dropped last year, with the opioid crisis a major factor.

And while New Mexico just dropped to 12th in per-capita overdose deaths, it’s not because we have significantly reduced them, but because they have soared elsewhere as the opioid crisis spreads its deadly tentacles. West Virginia had an astounding 52 overdose deaths per 100,000 in the most recent year, compared with New Mexico’s relatively flat 25.3.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump wants a border wall – and it could help in some areas. The drugs cross the border in many ways – including by border crossings, the desert and tunnels.

Joe Romero, supervisory Border Patrol agent for the El Paso sector, says the most common routes in his territory tend to be in the desert areas of southern New Mexico, with smugglers utilizing vehicles or people backpacking drugs across on foot.

Once they get to Interstate 10 or 25, the drugs roll out across the country.

The San Diego Union Tribune reported recently that 80 tunnels have been found in California and Arizona since 2011. Some of them are as long as 3,000 feet with tracks for motorized carts as well as lights, elevators and ventilation.

And Journal investigative reporter Mike Gallagher has detailed how cartels and others are using postal service and commercial couriers to ship drugs like Fentanyl that are purchased online in China to addresses right here in New Mexico.

On Oct. 25, Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency, calling it “shameful” and declaring that “not one part of American society has been spared.”

That’s something New Mexicans know all too well.

While the declaration frees up resources for treatment, nothing will work as long as incredibly potent and cheap heroin and meth continue to flow in the United States. These drugs are just too dangerous and too addictive when they are easily available.

While we need better border security in the form of more agents and walls where needed and better technology, we cannot do it alone.

Trump would do well to tone down his rhetoric and try to convene high-level cooperation with Mexico to deal with this scourge that affects both countries. Only Mexico can really stop the tunneling and drug manufacturing.

It would be in their best interest. The cartels grow more powerful with the drug cash, and drug use has increased in Mexico, along with a new wave of violence. Mexico is on track for 27,000 drug-related killings this year.

As the body count climbs, the time has come for a real crackdown – on both sides of the border.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.