Federal Officials Unveil More of the Same: Failed Supply-side Strategy Embraced in Dealing with Border Violence and Drug Cartels Highlighted During Homeland Security Advisory Council Meeting

Press Release June 4, 2009
Media Contact

Bill Piper at 202-669-6430 or Julie Roberts at 505-983-3277

The Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) met in Albuquerque today at the University of New Mexico. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder and Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske discussed general strategies for dealing with border violence and drug cartels.

The Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, acknowledged the importance of “interior enforcement and demand reduction” as a key component of a comprehensive southwest border strategy. “Cartels are fueled by cash from the sale of drugs in the US,” said Napolitano, “we can’t just fight drugs on the border and we can’t just fight drug cartels.”

While Napolitano acknowledged the importance of drug demand reduction, no clear policy or strategy for increasing access to substance abuse treatment was outlined by the federal officials. Nor were any other alternatives to the war on drugs discussed.

“Success in winning or combating the drug war should not solely be defined by number of drugs seized, or the number of arrests and incarcerations of those involved with drug trafficking organizations and drug cartels,” said Bill Piper, director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Success in combating drugs and drug use should be defined by the number of people entering substance abuse treatment programs, the number of successful drug prevention programs being implemented, and the reduction in the number of people harmed by drugs and drug use.

“The over-reliance on a prohibition-based model to deal with drugs is a proven failure, and it is disappointing that federal officials continue to take this approach when dealing with the escalating drug-related violence along the border with Mexico.”

Rather than proposing specific policies for increasing prevention and treatment services to directly impact drug use in the United States, many of the comments at today’s meeting focused on increasing investigations and prosecutions of people involved with drug cartels. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the national strategy will “crack down on cartels and make our country safer.” While Office of National Drug Control Policy Director, Gil Kerlikowske, emphasized the use of a coordinated law enforcement approach to “stop the flow of drugs into our country.” Federal officials also discussed the new “southbound” strategy targeting cash and weapons flowing between drug trafficking organizations in the US and Mexico.

“It is disappointing that our federal officials today remained focused on targeting the supply side of the Mexican drug war. Of course we need solutions that improve public safety and keep our country safe, but we also need to develop a public health plan for safely reducing drug demand in this country,” said Julie Roberts, acting director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico. “Access to substance abuse treatment and other behavioral health services is necessary to truly make an impact on drugs and border violence. As long as there is a demand, drug trafficking organizations will ensure there is a supply.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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