The US bets on a new approach in anti-drug policies in Latin America

The US bets on a new approach in anti-drug policies in Latin America

The Biden administration will redouble its domestic efforts and binational cooperation with Mexico to combat the fentanyl crisis in the United States, which results in 70,000 overdose deaths annually.

In an interview with the voice of americathe director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, Rahul Gupta, indicated that the fentanyl crisis “does not begin or end at the border”, despite the fact that, according to official data, the vast majority of the opioid synthetic is produced by Mexican cartels and enters the country through the southern border.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported having seized enough fentanyl in 2022 to potentially have killed the entire US population.

Gupta acknowledged that “there is no question” that “mistakes have been made in the past,” referring to US anti-drug policy and its cooperation with countries in the Western Hemisphere. His statement is an alternate response to the position of the Colombian presidentGustavo Petro, who has called the anti-drug policy of various US administrations “a failure.”

Question: What are the next steps this administration will take on the fentanyl crisis?

Answer: It is a priority for President Biden. When he went to Mexico to speak with President López Obrador, as well as with Prime Minister Trudeau, this was one of the most important things that he also spoke about. It is important that we make sure that we have educational campaigns, especially so that children are aware and understand that they have the power to not only be aware of this deadly threat, but also to have Naloxone, the antidote, so that they can help their friends already others. Also, making sure we have treatment available to everyone who needs it—we know too many Americans today can’t get treatment—then, along with the antidote, getting more people treated.

In this administration, President Biden highlighted how we have reached the highest levels of fentanyl seizures at the border, twice as many as in 2020 and four times as many as in 2019. Why? Because we have implemented technology to be able to detect more. But the problem does not start or end at the border. We have to work with Mexico. We have to work with them because we have a shared responsibility for the safety, security and health of the people of both countries.

What exactly is Mexico’s role in this strategy?

Mexico plays a very important role as our neighbor to the south, as well as a partner for many years. Our relationship is often complex, but we know that people in Mexico are dying from fentanyl overdoses and poisoning just as they are in the United States. So it’s very important that we work with a shared sense of responsibility, make sure that we’re working to protect our country, that we’re going after bad actors who are out to hurt Americans and Mexicans.

At the same time, we are working to improve the public health treatment and antidote Naloxone, or Narcan, and make it available to anyone who needs it.

When President Biden says that the US will hold growers and traffickers here in the US accountable, how much does the US trust Mexico on this issue?

It’s very important. As you know, in this administration we have some of the highest numbers of extraditions. We have made sure to assist Mexico, in partnership, as a key player in helping us, but we also want to make sure that traffickers, manufacturers, and others are held accountable for their actions in taking advantage of vulnerable people. This is important because we want to make sure they don’t make a profit at the expense of unsuspecting people getting killed and poisoned. So it’s important, whether in the United States or across the border, that our governments hold bad actors accountable in a forceful way.

How close or far do you think the United States is from reversing the trend of fentanyl overdose deaths?

If we analyze it, we have had more than 107,000 [muertes]. And, clearly, the numbers were rising before the pandemic, and they were exacerbated during the pandemic for obvious reasons, like social isolation, initial treatment shutdown, and whatnot. During the pandemic, especially with the leadership of President Biden, what we’ve seen is more telehealth, which means more health aid to treat people in rural areas, in underserved communities through telemedicine.

We also saw the removal of barriers. And we have also seen an increase in the prescription of antidotes and treatments. Due to some of these activities, combined with the seizure of more fentanyl and the prosecution of the traffickers, we are seeing in five months in a row a decrease in the number of people dying from fentanyl overdoses. But let me tell you, that’s not enough, because while we’re happy to see nearly 3,000 lives saved, we still have a long way to go.

Does this White House believe that the war on drugs is a “failed campaign,” as the president of Colombia has called it?

Let me tell you this: When President Petro took office in Colombia early last year, I helped him and worked with him as the first US delegation. We had a long, good talk about it, and I said, “Look, we recognize that not all of America’s policies have proven to be successful, but the important part is that we have a problem where an American dies every five minutes for all day. You have a problem where the economy is very dependent on cocaine production. We need to work productively on our 200-year relationship to see how we can secure a future for both the American people and the Colombian people, so that we Let’s complement each other.”

And we need to see a way forward that is humane, that protects the environment. Because I flew over with Vice President Márquez and saw the destruction of illegal mining in the Amazon, illegal crops, and it is not useful for Colombians, even because they are looking for a good life, a good quality of life. So it’s very important to us when we think about this, to do it in a way that is productive and that is mutually beneficial for safety and health.

But would you call the war on drugs a “failed campaign”?

The way I would say this would be: we didn’t even know a few decades ago that addiction was a brain disease. We did not know that it is not a disease of choice but a disease of the brain that affects the whole body. We also didn’t know, now we know, that going to jail doesn’t get you out of trouble. So what are we doing now? We are trying to work to bring the treatment to every prison and jail in the United States.

So what I would answer is very clear, mistakes have been made in the past, there is no question about that. However, what we need going forward is to see how we work with public health, public safety, collectively to solve this for Americans, to solve this for other people and countries around the world, and the urgency demands that we do it. And let’s do it quickly.

And how do you frame this strategy on drug producers in Colombia and other countries in the Western Hemisphere? Because here in the United States, of course, there is a framework on the issue of public health, but they are also trying to catch the bad actors in this. So how do you find that part of this strategy?

When you look at a single mother from Tumaco, Colombia, who is producing coca for her children as a way of life to survive, it’s not so much about the crime as it is about livelihood. So the way we look at this is we have to make sure that these farmers have the ability to own their own land. Let’s make sure they have the ability to grow produce that can be exported globally and that they can earn a living. It is very important that, as the president [Biden] talks a lot about jobs and the importance of jobs, the infrastructure in America, it’s the same in a way for every country in the world that we have to figure out how to get people into paid employment, give hope and the ability to have that economic development as a way to address this. And those are exactly some of the things that we are going to work with countries like Colombia.

And the other countries of the western hemisphere? How is the cooperation on this drug issue?

We know that trafficking and smuggling is a business worth hundreds of billions of dollars. We know that drugs not only kill Americans, but the profits again cause destabilization, more crime and corruption and violence. [en esos países]. It is very important to us as a world leader that we continue to work as good partners with other countries in Latin America. And there’s a history of us working with them, but we make sure that we’re doing it in a way that gives us results, mutual respect and cooperation so that we can bring the law to bear on bad actors, while ensuring that people everywhere have the opportunity to live safely and healthily.

And finally, what about Venezuela? There is no relationship or cooperation between the two governments, of course, but Venezuela remains a key player in this industry.

Well, we will continue to focus with our partners in Colombia, and also in Ecuador, to make sure that the people there are supported in terms of both people coming from Venezuela and resources. That work will continue, but I don’t have anything new to report on that at this time from a policy change perspective.

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