- - Tuesday, July 18, 2017


There has been significant focus of late on “America’s 50-state epidemic” — opioid addiction. Many reasons have been advanced for this problem. One is that legally prescribed opioids can lead to heroin abuse. Another is that economic downturns lead to increased drug abuse. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated: “Heroin use has increased across the U.S. among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels.”

One of the main drivers of this epidemic, however, is the very availability of heroin. Where does the heroin come from? As Politifact has noted: “[N]early all of the heroin available in the United States comes from Mexico and South America.”

One theory is that the legalization of marijuana in many localities in the United States prompted the heroin epidemic in the United States, as Mexican drug cartels shifted production in response. German Lopez in Vox, however, argues, “Marijuana legalization may help end the epidemic.”

Whatever the reason, heroin is a public health problem in the United States, and the drug is largely coming from the south. In explaining the cartel violence, one Mexican official told me: “Drugs go up, guns come down.”

The CDC has offered various responses to this epidemic, including: “Increas[ing] access to substance abuse treatment services,” expanding “access to and training for administering naloxone to reduce opioid overdose deaths,” and ensuring “people have access to integrated prevention services, including access to sterile injection equipment from a reliable source, as allowed by local policy.”

Respectfully, while needed, these responses are reactive. We should stop the problems before lives are affected and families are broken.

Which is why it is confusing that the president’s proposal to erect barriers along the southern border has not found more support from those who want the government to do more to address the heroin epidemic. As President Trump stated in his Jan. 25 Executive Order on Border Security: “Transnational criminal organizations operate sophisticated drug- and human-trafficking networks and smuggling operations on both sides of the southern border, contributing to a significant increase in violent crime and United States deaths from dangerous drugs.” For that reason and others, it is the president’s policy to “secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent drug trafficking.”

Heroin enters the United States from the south three ways. As USA Today explained, “Most is hidden in vehicles crossing through ports of entry. Smaller amounts are carried in on foot by men dubbed ‘mules,’ hiking established desert smuggling routes. Some is ferried in by plane or boat.” According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agency with responsibility for the ports and border, in fiscal 2016 its officers and Border Patrol Agents “seized and/or disrupted approximately 4,800 pounds of heroin.”

Erecting barriers along the southern border would stem the flow of heroin carried by “mules,” and in vehicles crossing between the ports of entry. This in itself would increase the cost of drug smuggling and the cost of heroin, making the product less available to would-be users. It is, therefore, a positive first step that the fiscal 2018 Homeland Security Appropriations bill “includes $1.6 billion for construction of a wall and other physical barriers along the U.S. southern border.”

Deterring the movement of heroin over the southern border would force smugglers to bring it through the ports, where government control and scrutiny is much higher. Customs and Border Protection Officers are trained to spot potential smugglers, and sophisticated equipment aids this task. Critical to this effort, the Homeland Security fiscal 2018 Appropriations bill also includes “$109 million for new, nonintrusive inspection equipment.”

One 2016 study put an “estimated total cost of heroin use disorder in the United States at $51.2 billion in 2015 [dollars].” This does not include the emotional cost of drug use on individuals and families. Given these facts, physical barriers and inspection equipment along the southern border are cost effective.

Plainly, treatment programs and opioid overdose drugs like naloxone are crucial to our country’s response to its opioid epidemic. It is time to do more, however. It is time to erect the barriers — fencing, bollards and where needed, a wall, to stem the tide of heroin into the United States.

• Andrew R. Arthur is a resident fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies.

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