Mexico’s new drug of choice appears to be methamphetamine, according to recent surveys, which has severe repercussions both for individual users and the country as a whole.
Mexico has several problems regarding drugs, beginning with the ongoing violence brought on by the different organized-crime cartels and exacerbated by the war on drugs. Still, more deeply, there is a big problem regarding drug use and abuse. The latest survey findings on drug, alcohol and tobacco consumption (ENCODAT) show that around 10 percent of the population has tried a drug at least once in their lifetime. This survey was conducted in 2016 and showed a three percent increase since 2011.
A critical finding of that survey, which other surveys and independent research have replicated, is that at the time the most widely-used drug was marijuana. Now, at least according to a report by Mexico News Daily and data provided by Juvenile Integration Centers (CIJ), it appears that the most widely used drug is methamphetamine. It should be noted that these data relate only to people seeking treatment and may not provide an accurate representation of drug consumption. More precise data is needed to delve further into this issue but the current administration’s austerity measures cut funds for further surveys, as reported El Financiero.
The increased use of methamphetamine is worrisome for several reasons. First, it speaks volumes about how past administrations and the current one have failed to tackle the problem, despite several warnings by multiple organizations. Two important organizations who recently emitted such warnings are the International Narcotics Control Board, which stated in its 2020 report that “In Mexico, there are indications of a growing methamphetamine epidemic,” and the US Customs and Border Patrol, which has reported a yearly increase in methamphetamine seizures, indicating a larger prevalence of the drug in the market. This lack of adequate measures is still part of the current National Addiction Prevention Strategy, which lacks a sufficient understanding of addictive behaviors, is not based on evidence and perpetuates stigma, as told by Julio Salazar in Nexos and reported in a two-part series in Animal Politico (Part 1 & Part 2).
Second, the effects derived from drug abuse go way beyond the physical and mental impacts on health. Prolonged drug abuse negatively impacts social function, which may increase interpersonal violence and economic losses, among many other problems. Moreover, Mexican rehabilitation centers exist in a precarious state of inadequate regulation, as reported by VICE. Also, given that the current approach for drug policy relies heavily on criminalization, one possible social impact is the increase in drug-related offenses and incarceration, as explored in a Health Ministry report. This prohibitionist model reduces the users’ probability of rehabilitation and reinsertion, as stated by CONADIC.
Third, there is organized crime and violence, which has left an open wound in the country that is still bleeding. As stated in a three-part series by Insight Crime (Part 1, 2 & 3), cartels keep fighting over suppliers, territory and economic and political power. And given that methamphetamine manufacture does not require any specialized knowledge or labor, manufacturing has become decentralized, increasing supply and the number of people involved with organized crime groups.
There is a possible drug-use crisis in the making, particularly regarding opioids. The current spike in methamphetamine use followed international dynamics regarding supply and demand. Its demand saw a spark around the mid-2000’s when the US passed stricter regulations for precursors and manufacturing moved to Mexico. With the increase in production, local markets were flooded with a cheap drug that provides an intense and lasting high for the consumer and is highly profitable for the producers. Right now, the very same dynamics are developing with fentanyl, and its production and trafficking within Mexican soil are increasing.
One thing remains clear: Mexico is in dire need of sound drug policies.