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From Cocaine to Pain Killers: New Drug Wars Are Underway

July 23, 2012
Plain English Version

Americans are turning from illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin to prescription drugs such as pain killers and anti-depressants.

This is leading to changes in thinking about the war on drugs in both Mexico and the U.S.A.

There is widespread agreement that the program to stop the flow of drugs from south to north is a costly failure. The U.S. government has spent more than $20 billion a year over the last decade to reduce narcotics traffic. More than 55,000 Mexicans have been killed in drug-related incidents in the last six years.

Economists say if the war on drugs was successful, the price of illegal drugs should have gone up. Instead, the prices have gone down even as demand has leveled off or subsided.

New studies show that prescription painkillers and stimulants are now the biggest drug problem in the U.S. A survey in 2010 showed 1.5 million cocaine addicts and 7 million users of “psychotherapeutics.” Of 36,000 deaths from overdoses in 2008, 20,000 were from prescription drugs.

Prescription drug abuse in the U.S. is growing in rural areas as well as cities. The government is making more resources available. A member of the House of Representative said, “It is because members are hearing from back home in their district that people are dying.”

The election of Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto also signals change in anti-drug strategy. In both Mexico and the U.S., there is agreement about the next phase in the drug wars. There will be new programs promoting the rule of law and making communities stronger. Strategies include strengthening legal institutions like the courts and expanding and improving the  Mexican National Police .

The New York Times

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