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Drugs feeding cartels local criminal ways
Ceres Police Chief Art deWerk

I am always a bit saddened when I hear the term "Methdesto," which is a slight on essentially all communities in this region with the implication that the area is well known for the number of methamphetamine users and the overall distribution and sales activities associated with the drug. The people of communities outside of Modesto should not feel smug that the meth label is not applied specifically to their city; the problem of meth use and the underlying sales and production aspect transcends the boundaries of all the communities in our area. The recent 290-pound seizure of street sales-ready meth certainly suggests that the problem is very big and that the illegal infrastructure for its production and sales is both productive and extensive. It is a bad situation that reflects the underbelly of a society that has many problems.

By most indicators, meth production is not being done locally within this county as it once was. It is more likely that it is shipped here from other U.S. regions and Mexico for use by local addicts and distribution throughout the western states and beyond. Gangs thrive on the profits of meth sales and it is probably safe to assume that one or more Mexican cartels are the major players behind most of the meth industry that has manifested here in Stanislaus County and throughout the entire Valley.

Interestingly, meth, which is a heavy duty stimulant, is being somewhat challenged by a resurgence of heroin in this region we live in. Heroin, in terms of its effects on humans, is an opiate, directly opposite of the stimulant effect meth has on the central nervous system. Some people believe that heroin is not the same kind of "low class" drug as meth since heroin is normally more expensive (currently about $40/gram), while others, often meth users, view heroin as "dirty." Heroin is made from opium, which comes from poppy flower seeds that exist naturally within nature. Meth is basically made from a combination of dangerous chemicals that make most people want to don a hazmat suit before even coming close to that drug or the labs in which it is made.

Meth is thought to be a "poor man's drug," while heroin, cocaine, prescription and psychotropic drugs are seen as being more acceptable for middle class teens and adults. In fact, the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency reports that heroin use has been on the rise among, in particular, middle class teens. The theory is that heroin is cheaper than prescription opiate drugs like Vicodin and Oxycontin that have been a mainstay for teens, and because of cost and availability, heroin is taking on a much bigger role in mainstream society. Heroin is also likely to have a more powerful impact on the user than prescription drugs, therefore having higher level addictive qualities.

There is much more to say about the human and social impacts that heroin is now having on our society and the threats it poses for the users presently and into the future. Suffice it to say that as a society, we must be missing the "big picture" of what is causing our young people and even the adults to turn to drug abuse. Are people so disaffected or troubled that they must seek a "chemicalized" way out of their many problems? And what about the fact that this expanded drug use issue is providing more funding resources for the many gangs and cartels that now thrive and are actually able to fend off entire governments with violence and corruption? It is easy to forecast that as the number of drug abusers increase, so too will the number of gangs and cartels. At the same time, as the monetary stakes increase, so will the competition and the amount of violence. The illegal drug milieu will also create opportunities for governmental corruption here in this country, not dissimilar to what has happened in Mexico and other Central America countries. We are headed down a path of great difficulty that will be punctuated by increased burdens on the emergency medical response system and on the medical care system. The problem is already very burdensome, but it is sure to overwhelm our healthcare resources in the not too distant future.

As one last point, I want to make clear the fact that while law enforcement has a distinct role in dealing with the sales and production aspects of the illegal drug situation, the real and most important element of the problem are the users themselves. This situation will not be solved until our society sees the problem for what it really is: a healthcare issue both in the physical and mental health context. Our elected officials, particularly at the state and federal level, need to show real leadership to define the problem as it is and to make the required legal and social modeling changes needed to help society to make a national effort to address the sickness that lies within it. I fear that if these drug abuse trends are not reversed, our nation will continue to weaken as an increasing number of its people become dependents and unable to contribute to maintaining or increasing its strength. It will be tough to change the course we are on, but it can be done.