I recently heard the former President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, speak. He mentioned there was an estimated $300 billion in profit last year from narcotics trafficking. He has had great success reducing violence and trafficking in his country. He emphasized that his main priority when first elected was to create security while not taking away democratic freedoms or reducing spending on health and education. He actually raised the taxes on the wealthiest people in Colombia to achieve this security and achieve his goals.
He said early on that he would hear the argument that the traffickers were only growing and transporting the drugs, yet drug usage was not a Colombian problem. He stated, however, that the increase in trafficking has caused more local consumption and related problems. He was asked what could be done in Mexico. He reported they are doing the right thing by exposing the problem and not denying it, which Mexico has done in the past. Uribe said it will take great courage to continue exposing the problem. He was very clear that this is a global problem and that Mexico is not the only place this has to be dealt with.
We suspect 10% of the population is addicted to alcohol and drugs. That means that less than 10% of their population creates $300 billion in profit a year. The Mexican drug cartels are very powerful and wealthy with a large share of the $300 billion. Securing these profits creates ruthlessness.
Mexico is in a very tough position; the flow of money from the US has corrupted or intimidated many in charge of security, such as police, politicians and judges. The New York Times recently reported that corruption is already in the United States with several border agents being arrested for taking bribes from the cartels. Some could argue the cartels are just businesses earning a profit by supplying a demand that is largely coming from the United States.
What if we fully legalized marijuana, taxed it and the tax money provided more access to treatment and security? I am sure the tobacco-growers could easily get set up to grow marijuana. That is a whole other argument and may open up a can of worms, but it’s worth the discussion. The legalization of marijuana is being done piecemeal now throughout the country, which is very problematic. What happened when alcohol was made legal?
What if we reduced demand? What if we stopped the flow of guns and money from United States to Mexico? I can address the demand issue, but the flow of guns and money needs to be addressed by law enforcement. We need more focus and money directed toward the treatment community. Addiction treatment can be provided just about anywhere there is a need: prisons, hospitals, doctor’s offices and, most importantly, addiction-focused treatment programs.
I am very concerned with the government budget. It potentially will cut access and funds to those needing help from the public sector. The private sector was enhanced with the passage of the TARP bill in 2008, which included the Mental Health and Addiction Parity Act that fully came into effect in 2011. This parity helps hold insurance plans accountable to provide addiction and mental health treatment equal to other medical care. One recent study stated Behavioral Healthcare spending dropped from 9.3% to 7.3% in comparison to all healthcare spending from 1986 to 2005. Hopefully this trend can be reversed. The more we get people off drugs and alcohol, the more we can save in legal, health care and other mental health costs.
Our addiction work force is already taxed. I would love to see more initiatives in place to help more people chose to work in the field of addiction recovery. These types of moves will help reduce demand.