America’s drug problem
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - March 17, 2019 - 12:00am

US authorities interdicted the biggest shipment of cocaine at the port of New York and Newark, New Jersey in the last two decades and a half, with a street value estimated at $77 million. 

According to the US Customs Border and Protection (CBP), the joint operation by the US Coast Guard, Homeland Security Investigation (HSI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), New York Police Department, and the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York resulted in the seizure of one and a half tons of cocaine wrapped in 60 multicolored sacks concealed behind boxes labeled as dried fruit. 

Initial investigations reveal that the illegal shipment was loaded aboard a cargo ship in Chile, making stops in several Latin American ports, arriving to the New York and Newark Port from Colombia and was on its way to Antwerp, Belgium. Authorities say the record-breaking bust – which was triggered by a tip from the UK’s National Crime Agency – draws attention to a new threat coming from traffickers that are building up an emerging customer base of illegal drug users that mix cocaine with fentanyl to create what has been described as a “modern day speed ball.” 

According to sources, dealers are now cutting heroin and cocaine with fentanyl to make the drugs more powerful – oftentimes with fatal consequences. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and was originally developed for surgery and to manage pain for cancer patients. 

A report from InSight Crime – an investigative organization focusing on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean with offices in Washington, D.C. and Medellín, Colombia – disclosed that “fentanyl and its precursors are produced at numerous chemical factories in China, trafficked through Mexican ports, and transported to the border and into the US by established Mexican groups by land, air, and sea. However, it also goes straight from China to the US in the mail, threatening to cut Mexican criminal groups out of the trade altogether.” 

Reports are increasing over deaths from Mexican “oxy pills” coming from across the Southern border. Last month, US authorities seized 254 pounds of fentanyl (valued at $3.5 million) hidden in a truck containing cucumbers traveling to Arizona. The versatility of fentanyl – plus the fact that it is very cheap and can easily be manufactured – has made it popular among drug traffickers because of increased sales among users who are not aware that what they are buying is actually fentanyl-laced opium or heroin (known by such names as China Girl, China Town, China White, Dance Fever, Poison and Tango & Cash)resulting in synthetic-related overdose deaths.

Exacerbating the problem are some CBP agents collaborating with drug traffickers. Just recently, a border agent was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison for taking bribes and providing drug trafficking organizations with maps showing where drug sensors are located, providing details on the number of agents working in certain areas and even giving keys to open locks located on gates to fences along the Mexican border. 

What is also troubling are reports that teens are becoming increasingly susceptible to these synthetic opioids, with even small amounts potentially lethal. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency chief in Phoenix, kids now have found ways to order fentanyl online from China, which may be difficult for authorities to detect because they can come in small doses.

Since 2000, over 300,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses involving opioids with 72,000 deaths recorded in 2017, prompting President Trump to declare the opioid crisis a nationwide Public Health Emergency. “Defeating this epidemic will require the commitment of every state, local, and Federal agency. Failure is not an option. Addiction is not our future,” President Trump said during a recent speech at Manchester Community College in New Hampshire. 

The fact is, it’s not only the US that is facing a serious problem with illegal drugs. In Israel, police operatives busted a major cannabis (marijuana) online distribution network known as Telegrass that uses the encrypted messaging app Telegram that people including minors can use to place anonymous orders for marijuana, cocaine and recreational drugs like Ecstasy.   

According to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the production of methamphetamine across Southeast Asian countries has hit record levels in 2018 with street prices also dropping significantly – indicating that the drug is becoming more available and affordable to many. The report also mentioned the emergence of “new psychoactive substances” like fentanyl in the region, with a large volume of methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs coming from Thailand.

In the Philippines, the fight against illegal drugs continues to be a major concern especially in light of the fact that drug money funds criminal and terrorist activities. During the recent Asia Pacific Drug Enforcement Conference in Tokyo, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) emphasized the need for strengthened cooperation among nations to combat illegal drug trafficking. 

According to PDEA, the collaboration with international counterparts has resulted in the arrests of members of international drug syndicates operating in the Philippines. One of them is the Sinaloa cartel of Mexico that, according to PDEA, has merged its operations with Chinese syndicates to smuggle drugs into the country, sometimes through the use of international couriers. The Philippines is also being used as a transshipment point of drugs headed to Las Vegas and California, the PDEA disclosed, underscoring the critical need for the US and the Philippines to work together in eradicating the drug menace – a serious problem that leaders must solve because it could destroy a nation and its people.

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