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By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
For decades, the United States, Mexico and Colombia have attempted unsuccessfully to curb the illicit drug trade that plagues these three nations. A new solution is needed to address this epidemic. But to understand what will work to win the war on illegal drugs coming into the United States, it is important to examine what has already been done.
US and Mexico Have Worked on Drug Abuse Problem with Ineffective Results
Since 2007, the United States has spent nearly $2.8 billion in assistance to Mexico through a bilateral agreement on illicit narcotics. Mexico has led an aggressive 10-year, military-led counter-narcotics campaign.
However, violence continues to threaten Mexico’s citizens. Over the past few years, Mexico has witnessed an increase in violence by organized crime.
Mexico currently serves as the largest transshipment point for narcotics heading to the United States. Violent drug cartels have established routes through the southwest border of the U.S.
Aided by the U.S., the Mexican government has taken several steps to address the cocaine, heroin and other illicit narcotics that are either manufactured or transported through Mexico. These steps include the kingpin strategy, which focuses on apprehending top- and mid-level leaders of the criminal organizations operating in the country.
Despite this strategy, the Mexican government has struggled to solve high-profile cases that involve extrajudicial killings, torture, disappearances of security forces and high-level government corruption.
Colombia Also Struggles to Eliminate Cocaine Production
Colombia has also been plagued by violence and corruption associated with cocaine bound for the United States. Between 2000 and 2016, the United States appropriated over $10 billion in bilateral foreign aid to assist Colombia with strategies to address its drug production problem.
Like Mexico, Colombia has also taken several steps to counter narcotics production. That includes coca leaf and opium poppy plant eradication, a government-subsidized crop restitution program and even a peace accord with Colombia’s most significant leftist insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Based on the increase of cocaine and heroin production over the past several years, it is fair to say that none of these programs has been effective. One year after Colombia granted FARC amnesty for its violent crimes, the White House reported that cocaine production had increased 19 percent, from 772 metric tons in 2016 to 921 metric tons in 2017.
Heroin use in the United States has substantially increased, which is reflected in both national household surveys and in heroin-related deaths. According to a Market Analysis of Plant-Based Drugs, deaths per 100,000 people quadrupled between 2010 and 2015 due to heroin while all other drug-related deaths rose by a third during the same period.
US Is World’s Main Consumer of Cocaine
The United States is the world’s leading consumer of cocaine, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. History has shown that trying to win the war on drug abuse by sending vast amounts of money to Colombia, the primary producer of the drugs, and Mexico, the primary transshipment country, has been ineffective.
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The answer to the drug abuse epidemic in the United States involves reducing consumer demand. Incarceration and rehabilitation of drug offenders have been widely ineffective.
Drug testing standards should be consistent for all U.S. service members; federal, state or local government employees; and many private employees. Citizens who receive public assistance should also be required to submit to random drug testing.
It is estimated that the United States spent $1,091 billion in FY 2018 on federal, state and local public assistance programs. It makes sense that a government that pays out $642 billion a year in Medicaid assistance should take steps to prevent recipients from harming themselves with illicit drugs.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 15 states have passed legislation on drug testing for public assistance applicants and recipients. Requiring drug testing for public assistance recipients will likely reduce demand. Considering that 21.3% of the U.S. population are recipients of government assistance programs, this strategy is likely to have a positive impact on reducing the demand for illicit drugs.
In addition to reducing the thirst for drugs, mandatory drug testing would identify people in need of substance abuse treatment. The government could establish programs that would withdraw government assistance from recipients who test positive during a drug screening. In these cases, substance abuse treatment programs and mandatory follow-up screenings could be a condition for continuing to receive government assistance.
Reducing demand through mandatory drug testing of government aid recipients might slow the drug trade to a more manageable level for international law enforcement. In addition, we need to strengthen drug awareness programs to call attention to the dangers of synthetic opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and others. Since many drug users resort to heroin following addiction to synthetic prescription opioids, we also need stricter guidelines and programs to help patients who are prescribed these drugs.
About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been a member of the Coast Guard since 1997. He also has local law enforcement experience in two local law enforcement agencies where he was a member of the agency’s Crime Suppression Squad and was the agency’s Officer of the Year. Currently, he serves as a Sworn Reserve Deputy at a sheriff’s office in Southwest Florida. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. He has received commendations from the Coast Guard. Currently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Coast Guard Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions.