US President Donald Trump is so obsessed about building a wall on the southern border to prevent Mexicans from crossing over illegally to the US. He has been quoted as describing the Mexicans to be rapists and drug dealers, and of Mexico as being the source of opioids or drugs. Â
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines opioids as âa class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Some prescription opioids are made from the plant directly, and others are made by scientists in labs using the same chemical structureâŠ Opioids can make people feel very relaxed and âhighâ which is why they are sometimes used for non-medical reasons. This can be dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive, and overdose and death are common. Heroin is one of the worldâs most dangerous opioids, and is never used as a medicine in the United States.â
An article in the New Yorker magazine under Daily Comment written by Margaret Talbot Â (Jan. 21, 2019) refutes Trumpâs claim that his Wall will stop opioids, and two high-profile legal cases suggest that heâs wrong.
According to the DEA, writes Talbot, Â most of the illicit fentanyl trafficked in the United States is made in clandestine laboratories in China. Much of what enters the country is mailed or shipped.
InÂ two very different court proceedings three weeks ago, two high-profile casesÂ evidence was presented which one may find helpful in trying to assessÂ President TrumpâsÂ rationale for his border wall, writes Talbot. âAlong with bigness and elemental beauty, he credits (the wall) with crime-stopping powers: in particular, he says, it will stanch the flow of drugs that feed our countryâs raging opioid habit. In his prime-time address to the nation, on Jan. 8th, Trump told Americans that âour southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.â Without a wall, he tweeted on Jan. 11th, âCriminals, Gangs, Human Traffickers, Drugs and so much other big trouble can easily pour in. It can be stopped cold!ââ
One of the proceedings was the case that the Massachusetts attorney general filed against Purdue Pharma, the company that produced the powerful opioid painkiller OxyContin, along with some of the companyâs directors and eight members of theÂ Sackler family, which owns it. For years, the Sacklers, an art-loving, philanthropic clan, have represented themselves as hands-off proprietors, who were unaware of both the dangers of OxyContin and Purdueâs aggressive marketing of it. (In 2007, Purdue and three current and former top executives, none of them Sacklers, pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges of misleading the public about the addiction risks of OxyContin, and paid $634.5 million in fines.) But Â in a court filing, Â one family member, Richard Sackler, disclosed that OxyContin would create âa blizzard of prescriptions,â which he predicted would be âdense, deep and white.âÂ
Writes Talbot: âThe case was a reminder that an opioid epidemic that is largely responsible for lowering life expectancy in the United States for the first time since 1980 began quite legally, with a drug manufactured not by a Mexican cartel but by an American pharmaceutical company.â
The second proceeding was the trial of JoaquĂn (El Chapo) GuzmĂĄn Loera, the suspected leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, which has been under way in New York since early November. A Â former high-ranking associate of GuzmĂĄnâs, named JesĂșs Zambada GarcĂa, testified about the cartelâs business practices. On how drugs are smuggled into the United States, Garcia explained that Mexican drug traffickers rely mainly on vehicles driven through official border checkpoints. They used illicit tunnels under the border in the early nineteen-nineties, but, after the tunnels were detected and closed, they turned to hiding narcotics in legitimate-looking shipments of canned goods and the like. Sometimes they transported them by sea, smuggling drugs in fishing boats or dispatching them in submersibles. One stratagem they did not apparently resort to was sneaking across the Mexican borderÂ betweenÂ checkpoints â the gaps that a wall would fill.
Garciaâs testimony comported with what Daniel Ciccarone, a researcher who heads theÂ Heroin in Transition projectÂ at the University of California, San Francisco, told Talbot that the Â tonnage is coming in through trucks and cars that go through border checkpoints. Talbot writes, the compromise bill on border security that the Democratic-led House passed on Jan. 3rd does just that, allotting additional funds to ânon-intrusive inspection devicesâ at ports of entry.
âThe Drug Enforcement AgencyâsÂ 2018 National Drug Threat AssessmentÂ underlines the point: the majority of the heroin that gets across the southwest border, which is indeed where most heroin enters the United States, comes in privately owned cars, trucks, and tractor-trailers âentering the United States at legal ports of entry. (Cocaine predominantly arrives in vehicles at official points of entry as well, according to the DEA, though commercial air travel is another route.)
âThe opioid epidemic appeared in three waves, starting in the nineteen-nineties: the first was of prescription pills, mainly OxyContin; the second was of heroin, which replaced pills for some opioid-addicted people, once new prescribing practices and less abusable formulations rendered pills less available; and the most recent took the form of fentanyl and other synthetics, which are cheaper to produce than heroin and 50 times more potent. Â Â Â Â Â Â
Ciccarone and his UCSF colleague Sarah Mars have conducted research âshowing that the fentanyl wave is a product more of supply than of demand. Most users donât particularly want fentanyl â they know the risks of overdosing on a much stronger drug â but itâs whatâs available now. And it is often branded and sold in powder form as heroin, or formed into counterfeit pills, making it difficult for users and even street-level sellers to know what theyâve got.
âFentanyl is used for medical purposes, such as pain relief in cancer and epidurals in childbirth, and is manufactured aboveboard in this country, where it is Â classified as a controlled substance. But illicit fentanyl, which is now at the leading edge of overdose deaths in the United States,Â has a much more complicated provenance. According to the DEA, most of it is made in clandestine laboratories in China. Though some are then smuggled across the southwest border, much of it is mailed or shipped. Last June, at the port of Philadelphia, US Customs and Border Protection agents seized a hundred and ten pounds of fentanyl that was concealed in a shipment of iron oxide from China.Â
âWhen the DEA takes action to ban the import of certain chemicals, âClandestine chemists can easily continue developing and synthesizing new synthetic opioids that do not appear on any schedule of controlled substances,â Knierim said, sometimes in a matter of weeks.Â
âThe fact that only small amounts of fentanyl are needed to supply a very large population makes detecting and disrupting imports that much harder, Mars told me. This is even more the case with fentanyl substitutes such as carfentanil, a synthetic opioid that is a hundred times more powerful (itâs used as a tranquilizer for elephants and horses) that has begun to turn up in the US heroin supply over the past few years.
âFentanyl is also increasingly sold on the dark Web, using cryptocurrency. In August, a joint investigation by the DEA, the Department of Justice, the FBI,Â ice, and the US Postal Inspection Service, called Operation Darkness Falls, led to the arrest of a San Antonio couple, Matthew and Holly Roberts, who allegedly ran dark-Web marketplaces for fentanyl and other drugs. The San AntonioÂ Express-NewsÂ described themÂ as âan ordinary coupleâ who taught themselves how to conduct their drug trafficking online, disguising it behind a mail-order business for glow bracelets. (They later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and other crimes.)â
* * *