US plan on border drugs leans more on prevention

Cutting back demand would curb violence, new initiative says
2011-07-08T00:00:00Z US plan on border drugs leans more on preventionBrady McCombs Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 08, 2011 12:00 am  • 

NOGALES - The U.S. government's updated strategy to slow the flow of drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border features a renewed emphasis on reducing the demand for drugs in both countries.

The goal of the 2011 Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy is to balance enforcement and prevention, said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, during a Thursday news conference at the Border Patrol's Nogales Station.

"One of the most powerful tools we have against that horrific cartel violence is that prevention," Kerlikowske said. "I spent 37 years in law enforcement, and my colleagues say, 'You can't arrest your way out of this drug problem.' "

More than $10.6 billion of the $26.2 billion in the president's 2012 request for the National Drug Control budget is for prevention and treatment, up slightly from the $10.56 billion in the 2011 budget, information from the Office of National Drug Control Policy shows.

It was unclear how much of the latest Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, which is updated every two years, is devoted to prevention and treatment.

Significant progress has been made on border security since the release of the 2009 strategy, prompting the shift in focus to reducing the demand for drugs, Kerlikowske said.

The strategy includes a "Strong Communities" chapter that directs federal agencies to help border communities with prevention and treatment programs. The program was not in the last strategy, published in 2009.

"Preventing young people on both sides of the border from becoming involved in drugs reduces not only violence and the money that goes oftentimes to cartels, but it improves the quality of life," Kerlikowske said.

Illegal drug consumption costs the United States about $193 billion a year, about $20 billion more than other diseases cost the country, Kerlikowske said.

Focusing on prevention is nothing new - programs such as D.A.R.E. have been around for nearly 30 years - but the renewed attention is refreshing, said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada. "It's cheaper to build children than it it is to repair adults," Estrada said.

Officials have long known that reducing the demand for drugs is critical in the overall fight against drug smuggling, said Yuma County Sheriff Ralph Ogden. In rural parts of Arizona, it's imperative to get qualified people to treat those addicted to drugs.

But while he applauds prevention work, Ogden said enforcement is vital, too.

"The real concern right now that we have is that the money is drying up out there, and there becomes a point where we are going to have to make a decision whether we do prevention programs or if we do task forces," Ogden said.

Despite the talk of more attention on prevention, the updated plan is still heavy on conventional law enforcement efforts, including prosecuting cases, intelligence gathering, border enforcement and working in cooperation with Mexico.

Kerlikowske was joined by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin at the news conference. They met with Southern Arizona law enforcement and business leaders in the morning during a round table.

As she's done on many occasions, Napolitano highlighted increased seizures of drugs, bulk cash and weapons; decreased illegal immigration; and steady or decreased violent crime rates in Southwest border cities as evidence that the border is more secure.

"We know that we have done a lot, but we also know that we need to do a lot," Napolitano said.

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or bmccombs@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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