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Let’s declare war on heroin in NM

Jim Spiri

Heroin. Just the word conjures up extremely vile images. It is an item that all of us have or should have a disdain for. Yet, for some reason, the market for this item in New Mexico has become the main source of income for a generation of unemployed. Something is really wrong here. Now we must face reality.

New Mexico has for years been the entry point for heroin coming into the United States. For a long time many just did not acknowledge this fact. However, as time went on and heroin and its results began hitting places like the upscale Northeast Heights of Albuquerque, where La Cueva High School is, all of a sudden we had a heroin problem in New Mexico.

I’ve known for a long time that heroin was a big problem facing New Mexico. Just take a look at Española and the notoriety it garnered as a major heroin capital. Yet, for the most part, Española seemed “out of sight, out of mind,” so no problem was noticed. Now it’s everywhere across New Mexico. I will call it a plague and soon to be a calamity if nothing is really done about it soon.

From Afghanistan to Juárez to the United States

Heroin is the end product from opium produced from the poppy plant. Most of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan. Most of the opium production in Afghanistan is in a province called Helmand in the southeast. The U.S. Marine Corps is there on the front lines of what we know as “the war on terror.”

I have been there recently on patrol with U.S. Marines. Daily we were attacked by local Afghans we’ve come to know as the Taliban. There is something that sticks with a person when he is shot at daily while walking through poppy fields in eastern Afghanistan.

In 2011, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico is a war zone, and it has been for quite some time. It is a war zone because opium produced in Afghanistan is turned into heroin and finds its way to the back door of New Mexico, at Juárez, awaiting distribution into the United States. The amount of money derived from the profits of heroin is astronomical.

During my time in Afghanistan I interviewed several Afghan farmers who had two- and three-acre plots of land. All grew poppies that produced opium. Each farmer netted around $250 per month and was paid by the various networks of drug lords throughout the country. In discussions with military civil affairs folks I learned that the final product, heroin, once it reached the streets of the United States, garnered drug profits in the millions of dollars.

In between $250 a month in Afghanistan and millions of dollars on the streets of the United States is room for lots of crime and corruption.


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Anyone not willing to acknowledge that we have a serious drug war going on at our back door has his or her head in the sand. I’ve been to Juárez recently, and it is a solemn scene to observe. It is not the area Marty Robbins used to sing about just across the border from the West Texas town of El Paso. It is a killing field, Mexican style. It is a dead zone. It is a place full of terror.

It is because of heroin.

The governor needs to fight

New Mexico has the unique opportunity to declare war on heroin. Not in words, or cute public service announcements, or catchy little billboards on I-25 and I-40 – but in reality, in such a way that causes the cartels currently occupying Juárez to shake in their boots. The sheer reality of what happened in Columbus, just south of Deming, this year is reason enough for the State of New Mexico to get serious with this issue.

We have a governor who is from the region bordering what we call “our back door.” She knows this area like the back of her hand. She also was a prosecutor in Doña Ana County and campaigned on the premise that she was not afraid to take on the drug cartels in Mexico. I happened to be with her one spring day last year along the border with Mexico in Southern Doña Ana County when she was making a campaign commercial about this very issue.

Her husband, Chuck, the first gentleman of New Mexico, spent more than 30 years in law enforcement in Doña Ana County. He knows the situation firsthand and has plenty of experience in putting away the bad guys.

I propose that Governor Martinez take an emphatic stand against the cartels in Juárez and get downright serious about fighting this war on drugs, specifically heroin. Earlier this month, a former Albuquerque resident and La Cueva High School student, Sgt. Christopher Diaz, USMC, was laid to rest in El Paso. He was killed in Eastern Afghanistan. He was fighting the war on terror, which I know to also be directly linked to the war on drugs.

Governor Martinez asked us all to lower our flags in honor of Sgt. Diaz, which I readily did with my flag in my backyard. I am now asking Governor Martinez to pick up the battle that Sgt. Diaz died for and take on the cartels in Juárez, where the war on terror has become the war on drugs.

I for one do not enjoy lowering my flag each time a Marine is killed in Afghanistan. It hurts, personally. And there are too many young people in New Mexico dying from heroin overdoses. It’s time we get tough on heroin in New Mexico and those that seek to do us harm.

Not afraid of anything

I believe Governor Martinez is the right person to take on this task. She can begin by enlisting her husband and assigning him a position overseeing selected state law enforcement authorities combating the heroin trade across New Mexico. He would be able to utilize his decades of law-enforcement experience. He has a fine reputation already in the southern part of the state, where the influx of heroin is most prevalent. He also knows law enforcement personnel south of the border and is fluent in Spanish. He would have no problem reporting directly to the governor on a daily basis.

The Mexican cartels would be put on instant notice. The result would be a win-win situation for all of New Mexico.

Susana and Chuck, the governor and the first gentleman of New Mexico, convinced me they are not afraid of anything. Neither am I. Together, let’s declare war on heroin in New Mexico.

Spiri is a combat war photographer and writer. Find him online at jimspiri.com.

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6 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. Good commentary Jim. However, as you acknowledge in your commentary, there is so much money to be made between the point of production and the point of sale in the drug trade I think the enforcement route is hopeless.

    Michael Smith of Bloomberg has done several articles in the past few years that give a pretty clear picture of the extent that this is corrupting immigration and law enforcement and — in particular — the banks many of us do business with daily.

    I’d personally like to see us legalize drugs, provide treatment for addicts, and end the gravy train for all the “legitimate” businesses who are profiting from the sale of illegal drugs.

    Here’s one eye opener about who drug dealers go to when they need to buy transport planes.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-06-29/banks-financing-mexico-s-drug-cartels-admitted-in-wells-fargo-s-u-s-deal.html

  2. Jim I for one believe the “War on Drugs” has failed in this country! I will say I agree with your article and that is to go after the very people making the money off of this. To those of you who think this article is about the users then you clearly didn’t read the article, doesn’t surprise me with some of you.

    Jim, this is a good idea lets make it more difficult for the drugs to get in here and maybe jsut maybe the Feds will join us in taking the fight to the actual money making drug dealers and in the end we can start talking about real reform in helping those who suffer from addiction and need our help so they can get back to a normal life. Thanks for the article and welcome back. Semper Fi!

  3. It has been well known for years that the fight to contain illegal drugs is funded by the tremendous amount of money that flows into the hands of the cartels from marijuana. To start winning the war on drugs of any sort, the border needs to be closed to all traffic except legals. It is the illegals that bring the marijuana into this country and fund the cartels with money to buy guns, to produce the hard drugs that flow into the hands of our citizens that are too weak to say no, not to mention our children.
    There is no desire to win the war on drugs, or the first step would be to take the lucrative trade out of the cartel’s hands by legalizing marijuana, which is no stronger or dangerous than alcohol. Legalize it and tax it if p;purchased across the counter. Allow every individual to grow it in their back yard. It is a natural plant and the public does not need Big Brother to protect him. Take a look back at what prohibition did to this country and how many criminals became millionaires in the process. That was the beginning of the Mafia and the later La Cosa Nostra.
    To win the war on drugs we have only to study past history. There is too much money involved, bot legally and illegally in this country for the government to want to win the war on drugs. This is a sad but true fact.
    I lost one son to drugs, not because he graduated from marijuana to hard drugs, which is a fallacy, but because he abused the privilege through peer pressure in school. When congress passes a law the marijuana is legal and the President signs it, the beginning of winning the war on drugs will have begun. Until then the billions wasted in what has become known as the drug war will continue at the expens of the American people.

  4. Jim: You may remember me as we met at the airfield in Balad in early 2004. I am happy that you are back home.

    While I do agree that the heroin epidemic is indeed horrible, I do feel compelled to add my thoughts to your column.

    First, I live and work in the Espanola area. From my experiences as a prosecutor and now as a private attorney, this is the first that I have heard of herion produced in Afghanistan actually coming into the area. In my experiences, the lesser-refined “black tar” heroin which is produced in Mexico and other Latin American countries is mostly what makes it up here and it is very popular for three reasons: 1) It is cheap, 2) it is widely available and 3) it is incredibly potent.

    Second, I must come to defense of the City of Espanola, which I have never heard referred to as a “major heroin capital.” Rio Arriba County (where Espanola is located), however has consistently led the nation in heroin-related overdose deaths for the past decade and has gained national attention in news reports on NPR and in the New York Times. Once again, the reason is the potency of the black tar and the fact that it is widely available for cheap. Pardon my sensitivity to your reference, but I have worked hard my entire life to defend our city and will continue to do so.

    In terms of “declaring war” on heroin, although the idea sounds great and the phrase sounds tough, is a “declaration of war” really what is needed? On one hand, I agree that as in any war, it must be fought on several different levels: On the ground, from above, from within. According to some, in order to prevail in a war, you must win “hearts and minds.” On the other hand, in my opinion, the “War on Drugs” of the Reagan administration and subsequent administrations really did not work. Did drug dealers and drug users go away? Not really. Drug users continued to die of course, but the drug dealers still remained as there are always those who will take the place of incarcerated or otherwise “retired” suppliers.

    In order to effectively eradicate the problem, our state needs the Governor and other political leaders to not only take notice of our communities, which are so affected by heroin and its devastating consequences, and actually help to provide them with viable treatment options and opportunities for those afflicted with this addiction to heroin.

    We also need honest law enforcement officials to effectively work together with other agencies in their investigations, take down the suppliers and hopefully submit good, solid cases to prosecutorial agencies who will actually do something with the cases such as actually successfully prosecute them!

    If anyone is to declare war on anything, they must do so with an intelligent command of all of the facts and factors involved with this issue. The war must not be fought half-heartedly and the effort must be strong.

    In this case, I would rather have our leaders declare and achieve peace through showing us that they actually care about the problem.

    Jim, I would be happy and honored to organize a meeting with the Governor and the First Gentlemen, along with her law enforcement and health directors here in the Espanola Valley in order to work together on this issue. Perhaps we can achieve our goals by starting the dialog.

  5. War? Really?
    Hold on, let us consider exactly WHO is using and becoming addicted to heroin. Wait a minute…hey, they are OUR CHILDREN.

    We are not going to stop heroin from being produced in Afghanistan and then being circulated around the world. The issue is as ancient as the poppy. Declaring this WAR of aggression only serves the greed of the increasingly privatized prison industrial complex and the WAR profiteers escalating the conflict across the border. The drugs are a good excuse to grow the weapons production and dealing, private defense contractors (mercenaries) and the ever expanding prison system. These merchants of misery and evil are paying off our governor and other politicians with the goal of making WAR against the people using our own humanity of compulsion and addiction against US to create an authoritarian/police state.

    Well, there is the proven alternative, it is HARM REDUCTION. Our heroin addicts can lead long and productive lives with most outcomes leading to defeat of compulsion and addiction. Take the criminal element out of the equation and treat addiction as a health issue like any other chronic illness. Give our children a chance to stop destroying themselves, indeed multiple chances. Let our addicted go to the pharmacy to receive their dosages as they go to work and raise their families. Let the addicted wrestle their own demons as they come to terms with and eventually defeat their addiction over the course of the years required to do so. The grace of social compassion is what is called for to minimize the harm.

    You may say that we should “go after the dealers” with impunity. Well, most of the dealers are the addicted perpetuating their own supply. These are OUR CHILDREN also. The real dealers are those at the top (again) who are using drugs and weapons as liquid currency. These commodity traders in death and misery are even short changing the producers. Decriminalization would pull the rug out from under their sky high profits and weapons dealing.

    I find this article to be propaganda seeking to convince us to attack ourselves in the name of profits from our own human misery. Addiction and compulsion is inherent of our humanity and the profiteers seek to make ENDLESS WAR against our own humanity.

  6. If you are a Prohibitionist then you owe us answers to the following questions:

    #1. Why do you rejoice at the fact that we have all been stripped of our 4th amendment rights and are now totally subordinate to a corporatized, despotic government with a heavily armed and corrupt, militarized police force whose often deadly intrusions into our homes and lives are condoned by an equally corrupt and spineless judiciary?

    #2. Why do you wish to continue to spend $50 billion a year to prosecute and cage your fellow citizens for choosing drugs which are not more dangerous than those of which you yourself use and approve of such as alcohol and tobacco?

    #3. Do you honestly expect the rest of us to look on passively while you waste another trillion dollars on this ruinously expensive garbage policy?

    #4. Why are your waging war on your own family, friends and neighbors?

    #5. Why are you so complacent with the fact that our once ‘free & proud’ nation now has the largest percentage of it’s citizenry incarcerated than any other on the entire planet?

    #6. Why are you helping to fuel a budget crisis to the point of closing hospitals, schools and libraries?

    #7. Why do you rejoice at wasting precious resources on prohibition related undercover work while rapists and murderers walk free, while additionally, many cases involving murder and rape do not even get taken to trial because law enforcement priorities are subverted by your beloved failed and dangerous policy?

    #8. Why are you such a supporter of the ‘prison industrial complex’ to the extent of endangering our own children?

    #9. Will you graciously applaud, when due to your own incipient and authoritarian approach, even your own child is caged and raped?

    * It is estimated that there are over 300,000 instances of prison rape a year.
* 196,000 are estimated to happen to men in prison.
* 123,000 are estimated to happen to men in county jail.
* 40,000 are estimated to be committed against boys in either adult prisons or while in juvenile facilities or lock ups.
* 5000 women are estimated to be raped in prison.

    http://www.loompanics.com/Articles/RapeInPrison.html

    #10. And will you also applaud when your own child, due to an unnecessary and counter productive felony conviction, can no longer find employment?

    Private prisons are publicly traded and their stock value is tied to the number of inmates. Here’s what the UK Economist Magazine thinks of the situation: “Never in the civilised world have so many been locked up for so little” http://www.economist.com/node/16636027

    According to Paul Craig Roberts, a former editor of the Wall Street Journal and former assistant secretary to the treasury under Ronald Reagan, “Police in the US now rival criminals, and exceed terrorists as the greatest threat to the American public.”

    “Narcotics police are an enormous, corrupt international bureaucracy and now fund a coterie of researchers who provide them with ‘scientific support’, fanatics who distort the legitimate research of others. The anti-marijuana campaign is a cancerous tissue of lies, undermining law enforcement, aggravating the drug problem, depriving the sick of needed help, and suckering well-intentioned conservatives and countless frightened parents.”  – William F. Buckley, Commentary in The National Review, April 29, 1983, p. 495

    There is no conflict between liberty and safety. We will have both or neither.
William Ramsey Clark (1927–)

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