Top advisers for President Donald Trump are touting the border wall as a way to stop illicit drug trafficking, but experts argue it will do nothing to curb demand or address the current opioid epidemic.
“Drug policy is a fairly complicated issue and something like a wall sounds great, but is certainly far too simple to address a very complex problem, which takes a pretty deep understanding of every aspect,” Evan Nison, executive director of NORML New Jersey, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “A wall is not going to accomplish anything on this front, except cost the taxpayers money and make the drug dealers more creative.”
The White House formerly addressed the opioid epidemic during a press conference Feb. 3, claiming a border wall and tougher enforcement will help stem the flow of drugs. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer fielded a question on opioid abuse and how Trump plans on tackling the rapidly deteriorating situation. Opioids claimed a record number of lives in 2015, eclipsing deaths in auto accidents and contributing to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993.
Spicer said tougher border policies will “go a long way to stem the flow of illegal drugs across the border.” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, made similar comments Jan. 27, arguing border security is key to fighting drug trafficking in the U.S. She told CBS’s Gayle King a wall will disrupt the flow of drugs “pouring over our borders.”
Many experts on drug trafficking argue this will not address the main issue behind the opioid epidemic, which is U.S. demand for narcotics and other illicit substances. They say a wall will do little, except possibly spike prices for the drugs domestically, which will not curb use by those already addicted.
“One thing about drug policy people don’t understand is that the international drug market is going to find where the demand is and is going to find a way to supply that demand,” Nison, who also serves on the Board of Directors of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, told TheDCNF. “Increasing the price of those drugs by doing something like this does not actually reduce demand and will likely increase crime, because addictive drugs are not elastic, meaning price does not affect demand like regular consumer products.”
Nison says traffickers will simply find more creative ways to get the drugs into the U.S. They also point out much of the trafficking, especially for substances like heroin, is done by smuggling the substance with legal shipments of other goods. Massive quantities of narcotics are hidden in shipping trucks crossing the border. Smaller traffickers use commonplace items like hammers, toothpaste tubs and truck carburetors, hollowing them out and stuffing the drugs inside, reports The New York Times.
They advocate policy solutions addressing the domestic demand for illicit substances. They also stress the importance of policy that actually seeks to treat and rehabilitate addicts, rather than cracking down with harsher prison sentences.
“Creating an environment where addicts feel safe is the best thing we can do,” Nison said. “Safe injection facilities are huge. Other countries have done things to reduce stigma and voluntary entrance into rehab has shot up, which is exactly what we want. We want to be spending money on treatment and helping the folks who want help, rather than trying to ‘stomp out drugs.'”
Marijuana trafficking appears to be declining as more and more states move to legalize weed for medical and recreational use. Border agents seized roughly $4 million of marijuana in 2009, but that figure fell to just $1.5 million last year. Experts argue greater domestic drug policy reform will do more to stem the flow of drugs entering the U.S. than tighter border security.
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