|Policeman in Tegulcigalpa, Honduras|
(NYT photo by Tomas Munita)
Of the 36,450 overdose deaths in the United States in 2008, Damien Cave and Michael S. Schmidt of The New York Times report, 20,044 involved a prescription drug, more than all illegal drugs combined. And while cocaine and heroin have been concentrated in big cities, prescription drug abuse is everywhere. “Today there is drug use in every county in Ohio, and the problem is worse in rural areas,” said Mike DeWine, the attorney general of Ohio.
So far, government and the health care industry response has been slow, Cave and Schmidt write. But momentum for a broader change in domestic drug policy appears to be building. Drug Enforcement Agency officials say they have recently created 37 “tactical diversion squads” focusing on prescription-drug investigations, with 26 more to be added over the next few year. The move has been prompted in part by the realization that drug interdiction in Mexico and Central America not only wasn't working but wasn't the problem, says Morris Panner, a former counternarcotics prosecutor in New York and at the American Embassy in Colombia, who is now an adviser at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
The Times reporters note that the decades-old priority shift would have immediate impact throughout Mexico and Central America: "With the drug wars in Mexico inflaming violence, some argue that the money now used for interdiction could be better spent building up the institutions — especially courts and prosecutors’ offices — that would lead to long-term stability in Mexico and elsewhere." (Read more)