When President Donald Trump makes his case tonight that there really is a border crisis, he’ll likely mention the opioid epidemic ravaging the United States, which killed thousands of Americans last year. Trump and his surrogates often cite the drug crisis as a reason the border wall with Mexico is needed.
There is a “massive influx of drugs that come across the southern border,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Sunday during an interview on Fox News. “Ninety percent of the heroin that comes into this country comes across through the southern border, and 300 Americans are killed from that every single month,” she told Fox’s Chris Wallace.
Sanders is correct that most of the heroin in the United States comes from Mexico, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2018 annual drug threat assessment.
But it’s exceedingly unlikely that a wall will keep the drugs out.
“Drug trafficking businesses are very nimble organizations,” said Elaine Carey, dean of at Purdue University’s college of humanities, education and social sciences. “The way opioids flow or any drug or narcotic, it’s from all different ways. Yes, it comes across the border, but it comes through airports, ships, on trucks, too. A wall’s not going to do anything unless you deal with the demand.”
Most heroin coming into the country is not illegally smuggled in, but rather driven across in privately-owned vehicles at “legal ports of entry, followed by tractor trailers, where the heroin is comingled with legal goods. Body carriers represent a smaller percentage of heroin movement, and they typically smuggle amounts ranging from three to six pounds taped to their torso, or in shoes and backpacks,” according to the DEA report.
The most dangerous opioid, fentanyl, can be ordered online and shipped from China via the U.S. Postal Service. (That hasn’t stopped conservatives like Ann Coulter from tweeting “100% of heroin/fentanyl epidemic is because we don’t have a WALL,” a comment rated as “Pants on Fire” by PolitiFact.)
Other politicians have jumped on Trump’s claim that a border wall is a solution to the drug crisis. But experts believe the money would be better spent investing in technologies that could detect the drugs.
But Carey said even then the government is failing to attack the problem at its root, which is demand for the product. “If we build the wall, demand is still going to be there,” she said.
Tackling the drug trafficking created by opioid addiction requires funding for prevention and recovery programs, which public health experts have long argued is the only way to overcome the epidemic.
While few people believe the government has done enough to tackle the crisis, there are programs that do this and even more so after Congress passed legislation last fall to address the opioids issue.
The remarkable irony is that some of that work that would actually help Americans’ struggling from the opioid crisis could be stalled because the government is shut down. Politico reported that “many key staff in charge of coordinating the Trump administration’s response to the opioid crisis have been furloughed.”
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