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Will President Trump’s Wall End The Opiate Epidemic?

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 18, 2019

The Opiate Epidemic is a result of heroin trafficking and prescription drugs. 39 percent of the heroin smuggled into the United States comes from Mexico. Heroin and opiates are responsible for over 28,000 overdose deaths per year in the U.S. alone. Heroin is brought in by land, air, and sea. Could building an approximate 1,900 mile-mile long wall put an end to this crisis?

Widely debated, President Trump’s wall has been a focal point of discussion since July of 2016. The plan is to build a wall along the border of The United States and Mexico—keeping out illegal immigrants, and potentially illicit drugs like heroin. Heroin is an opiate collected from the Asian Opium plant; and though Mexico has been referred to as an opium-producing country, it only provides about six percent of the world’s heroin. However, the country is largely responsible for the majority of the heroin trafficked into The United States.

What Is The Heroin And Opiate Epidemic?

In part, the definition of epidemic is a disease that affects many people at the same time, and is extremely prevalent and widespread. “Ninety-one Americans die every day from an opioid overdose” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), but even though the drugs kill tens of thousands of people per year, heroin and other opiates continue to be readily available to the public.

Some these opiates include:

“In 2014, more than 28,000 people died from opioid overdose, and at least half of those deaths involved a prescription… Heroin-related deaths have also increased sharply, more than tripling since 2010. In 2014, more than 10,500 people died from heroin” (U.S Department of Health and Human Services).

It’s a terrifying truth, and even people with a prescription for the drug can be in danger of becoming addicted, overdosing, or turning to more potent, less expensive drugs like heroin. Perhaps a wall would keep some of the drugs from coming from Mexico, but probably not all of them. There is an approximate 1,900 mile-long border between the United States and Mexico—but building a wall would not keep opiates from coming by air, or sea.

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How Much Heroin Comes From Mexico?

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Mexico was identified as the source country for 39 percent of the samples classified under the HSP (Heroin Signature Program) during 2008, the largest representation of Mexican-source heroin in the United States in the past 20 years.”

In a revealing article by Business Insider on Military and Defense, “Mexican cartels…have grown their share of the heroin market tremendously in recent years. Together, Mexican drug traffickers smuggled nearly a quarter-million pounds of heroin into the U.S. in 2014.” Trump’s wall could keep drug smugglers on foot out, and potentially keep some trucks out. Ideally, the heroin epidemic would see a major shift towards being a thing of the past.

How Heroin Gets Into The United States

In another article, by Sam Quinones of The New York Times, “In Sinaloa (Mexico)… cobblers do a thriving side business cutting compartments in the soles and heels of shoes and filling them with heroin. There’s a market for this work because so many farmers and ranchers—conservative folks, respectful of tradition—subsidize their small-time agriculture with drug money.”

Most of these farmers aren’t bringing in a substantial amount of heroin all at once, but they’re bringing it nonetheless—and each kilogram and pound adds up. These are the people who will mostly be forced to stop (trafficking) because of a wall. Even the farmer being interviewed in Quinones’ article “had smuggled drugs 50 times before he was caught.”

Heroin Trafficking—By Land, Air Or Sea

The potential problem is that there are more ways than just land to get drugs into the United States, and in an article by BBC News, Rear Admiral Christopher Tomney, of the United States Coast Guard, used to see the majority of drugs coming into the U.S. by non-commercial aircraft. Nowadays, he said, “well over 95% of the drugs are moving on the water via container ships, non-commercial vessels, pleasure boats, sail boats, fishing boats. They also have fast boats which try to outrun our law enforcement assets.”

Tomney went on to say, “Just because we are unable to stop all the drugs moving doesn’t mean we are losing this fight. My goal is to go after the priority networks who rival the capabilities of nation states. We need to knock down these cartels. Until we do that we have much more work to do.”

Heroin And Opiate Trafficking By State

Not all states see the same amount of drug trafficking, and Texas, Arizona and California are the most likely to see the first ground shipments of illicit drugs. Interestingly enough “Approximately three-quarters of all drug trafficking offenders were United States citizens (74.6%), although this rate varied substantially depending on the type of drug involved” (United States Sentencing Commission).

From the same source, “the number of heroin traffickers has been slowly increasing since the fiscal year 2007.” The top five districts for drug trafficking are: Western District of Texas; District of Arizona; Southern District of California; Southern District of Texas; and Southern District of New York. Listed are three of the four states that share a land border with Mexico, and the only one missing is New Mexico.

President Trump’s Opioid Plan

In a speech Mr. Trump delivered on October 15th, 2016, he declared that, “a wall will not only keep out dangerous cartels and criminals, but it will also keep out the drugs and heroin poisoning our youth.” President Trump went on to say that, “New Hampshire has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the country” (it is second to West Virginia), and Mr. Trump ensured that he was going to uphold a previous promise he had made to New Hampshire.

“(I) can guarantee you – we will not only stop the drugs from pouring in, but we will help all of those people so seriously addicted get the assistance they need to unchain themselves” (Donald Trump).

Other Solutions To The Opiate Epidemic

Since the majority of opiates in the United States come from a physician’s script, and pharmacy, one solution would be to prescribe fewer of them. This might be easier said than done, but it’s a possible solution to solving the epidemic of opiate addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states, “between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide, with an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012 and an estimated 467,000 addicted to heroin.”

The organization goes on to say that the opiate prescription problem is likely a direct result of a “drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies.”

More Facts About Opiate Addiction

Though the wall might not completely end the opiate crisis in the United States, President Trump is right to want change. The problem isn’t going anywhere if nobody makes a stand—and major changes need to occur. Heroin and opiate addiction are the cause of so many more problems in the United States:

  • In 2015, 276,000 adolescents were current nonmedical users of pain reliever, with 122,000 having an addiction to prescription pain relievers.
  • In 2015, an estimated 21,000 adolescents had used heroin in the past year, and an estimated 5,000 were current heroin users. Additionally, an estimated 6,000 adolescents had heroin a heroin use disorder in 2014.
  • People often share their unused pain relievers, unaware of the dangers of nonmedical opioid use. Most adolescents who misuse prescription pain relievers are given them for free by a friend or relative.
  • The prescribing rates for prescription opioids among adolescents and young adults nearly doubled from 1994 to 2007.
  • Prescription pain reliever overdose deaths among women increased more than 400 percent from 1999 to 2010, compared to 237 percent among men.
  • Heroin overdose deaths among women have tripled in the last few years. From 2010 through 2013, female heroin overdoses increased from .4 to 1.2 per 100,000
    (American Society of Addiction Medicine)

How To Get Treatment For A Heroin Addiction

Until major changes are made, the heroin and opiate problem will continue to increase. The problem needs to start being more about human lives and addiction. If you’re struggling with an addiction to opiates and don’t know where to turn—contact us today to learn more about heroin and opioid treatment. Together we can end the heroin and opiate epidemic.

American Society on Addiction Medicine - Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures

British Broadcasting Company - BBC News - How do cartels get drugs into the US?

National Institute on Drug Abuse - America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse

New York Times - Why Trump’s Wall Won’t Keep Out Heroin

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