Will A Border Wall Help Curb The Opioid Epidemic?

By Kelly Burch 01/11/19

Experts discuss the impact, if any, a new border wall would have on stemming the flow of drugs entering the US through Mexico.

Donald Trump

As the government shutdown continues, President Trump is digging in his heels, insisting that an expensive border wall is essential to national security, in part because it would hamper the flow of opioids into the country. 

“Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl,” Trump said during a prime time speech from the Oval Office on Tuesday, according to Vox. “Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border. More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War.”

While it's true that the number of Americans dying from drug overdoses is shocking, and that most of the drugs consumed in the US come over the Mexican border, it’s silly to think that a wall will stop that flow. That’s because most drugs come into the country via legal posts of entry, usually smuggled in vehicles.

In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration has said that only a “small percentage” of drugs are carried over the boarder at illegal entry points, according to The Atlantic

In addition, if a wall was erected, cartels would simply adjust the ways they reach the lucrative US market, according to Elaine Carey, dean of the College of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences at Purdue University.

Cary told The Washington Post, “Drug trafficking businesses are very nimble organizations. The way opioids flow or any drug or narcotic, it’s from all different ways. Yes, it comes across the border, but it comes through airports, ships, on trucks, too. A wall’s not going to do anything unless you deal with the demand.”

Without addressing the causes of addiction on American soil, building a wall would do little to diminish availability of drugs, she said. 

“If we build the wall, demand is still going to be there.”

If Trump really wanted to reduce the amount of drugs coming into the country, he would be better off investing in additional border security staff than spending billions on a wall, according to Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“A wall alone cannot stop the flow of drugs into the United States,” Wilson told Vox in 2017. “If we’re talking about a broader increase in border security, there could be some — probably minor — implications for the overall numbers of drugs being trafficked. But history shows us that border enforcement has been much more effective at changing the when and where of drugs being brought into the United States rather than the overall amount of drugs being brought into the United States.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.