- Associated Press - Monday, March 18, 2019

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - President Donald Trump’s drug czar on Monday touted the president’s plan for a U.S.-Mexico border wall as a way to save American lives by helping stem the flow of illegal drugs into the country.

While visiting Kentucky, drug czar Jim Carroll said Trump’s long-promised border wall would help stop drug smugglers looking for places to penetrate the United States away from ports of entry.

“So that wall will undoubtedly stop the flow of drugs in those locations, force people to the ports of entry, where there’s more law enforcement located,” Carroll said when asked about the wall and its potential impact on the illegal drug trade.

But U.S. statistics, analysts and testimony at the New York City trial of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman show most hard drugs entering the U.S. from Mexico come through land border crossings staffed by agents, not open sections of the border.

David Shirk, a University of San Diego political science and international relations professor, said by phone Monday that a wall would only lead to “more creative solutions to moving drugs into the country.”

Carroll visited an addiction recovery center in Louisville with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has stuck with the president during Trump’s fight with Congress over his national emergency declaration along the Mexican border.

Trump issued the first veto of his presidency in rejecting an effort by Congress to block the emergency declaration he’d used to circumvent lawmakers as he tried to shake loose funds for the wall. It is unlikely that Congress will have the votes required to override Trump’s veto, shifting the confrontation to the courts.

Carroll said it’s wrong to assume that beefing up enforcement at ports of entry alone will stop the influx of illegal drugs.

“If you’re a drug trafficker coming up from Mexico, you’re not going to stop trafficking drugs just because (of) the ports of entry,” he said. “They will then move between the ports and that’s why we need a wall there. But obviously they’re coming through in massive numbers as it is now. But this is clearly needed to save American lives.”

The southwestern U.S. border “remains the primary entry point for heroin into the United States,” said the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2018 Drug Threat Assessment. It said most of its heroin seizures on the border are at official crossings called ports of entry, in California, and increasingly in Arizona. It arrives in passenger vehicles, hidden inside their frames and in other places in the cars, followed by tractor-trailers, where the drugs are hidden in legal imported goods.

A much smaller amount of heroin is seized from people who sneak across the border, usually on foot.

Border security has been beefed up for decades without making a dent in drug flows, said Shirk, who specializes in U.S.-Mexico relations and border politics.

“Barriers make it easier for border authorities to gain operational control at the border, but they also lead to innovation by drug traffickers to find new, more sophisticated ways to penetrate the border,” he said.

McConnell and Carroll emphasized a combination of law enforcement and treatment and recovery programs to combat substance abuse. Carroll also urged employers to consider hiring people who have overcome addictions. A restaurant owner recently told him the eateries staffed by people in recovery are his best-performing locations, Carroll said.

“These people who are in recovery and starting their lives over again are some of the hardest-working people that they’ve found,” Carroll said.

McConnell, who is up for re-election next year, said about $30 million in federal funding has been sent to Kentucky in recent years for addiction treatment and recovery efforts.

“I think our people on the ground … are making great use of all this additional funding that we are providing to try to get on top of this epidemic,” McConnell said.

McConnell and Carroll visited a Volunteers of America addiction recovery center in Kentucky’s largest city. For participants, the center’s treatment programs can last three to nine months because the focus goes beyond recovery from addiction, said Jennifer Hancock, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Mid-States.

“We know … that long-term recovery must be contingent upon not just being clean and sober, but having stable housing, also having a living-wage job,” she said.

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