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A Call to Mexico and U.S. in Drug Trafficking Battle: Get Serious

When journalist Sam Quinones served as a Mexico-based correspondent in the early 2000s, Joe Biden visited the country as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "He displayed a nuanced knowledge of Mexico that I wasn’t used to hearing from an elected U.S. official," Quinones writes in the Washington Post. At the same time, the mayor of Mexico City at the time, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, "seemed clear, articulate and realistic about corruption and its effects on the people of his country."

Now the two men, presidents of their respective nations, preside over administrations typified by "neglect and capitulation" on the scourge of drug trafficking, leading to a crisis in America that Quinones calls "a national poisoning" more than a simple drug-overdose crisis, thanks to massive supplies of cheap methamphetamine and fentanyl from Mexico.

(That poisoning, which hit a record 107,000 drug fatalities in 2021, hits homeless people particularly hard. New data reported by the Wall Street Journal show a surge in their deaths since the pandemic. In New York City alone, 684 homeless people died in the city's 2022 fiscal year, nearly half from accidental drug overdoses mainly fueled by fentanyl.)

Quinones has written four books, two on Mexico and his two latest on the wave of addictions hobbling the U.S. and Mexico's role in feeding Americans' appetite for the drugs: the 2015 book "Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic," and 2021's "The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth."

In his call for smarter and closer collaboration between the two nations to defeat the latest epidemic, Quinones notes that the problem begins with Mexican traffickers' easy access to ingredients from world chemical markets, principally China, which have depressed prices for meth at historic lows. In Fresno, Calif., for example, law enforcement sources say a wholesale pound of meth that cost $20,000 in 2008 now costs $800.

Those precursor chemicals mainly enter Mexico through relatively few chokepoints, at shipping ports and airports, that should enable better interdiction. Meanwhile, in the U.S., drug-treatment funds from settlements with drug companies now risk being squandered on temporary supply-side enforcement measures instead of getting at the demand-side root of the crisis: fortifying communities to help people recover from addictions.

The two nations further fuel the epidemic through the impunity traffickers enjoy in Mexico and the flood of guns from the U.S. to arm those traffickers in their bloody reign of terror.

"Mexican drug traffickers are technically not terrorists; they are criminal capitalists, albeit with an increasingly global vision," Quinones writes. "But the drugs and assault weapons that enable them are wreaking a more complete devastation in Mexico and the United States than any ideological terrorist could."

Change is possible, he writes, if only the two nations genuinely collaborate and stay focused for the benefit of their people on both sides of the border.


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