Neighbors need not fight over drugs. If the United States asks nicely, I'm sure that Mexico will give it more drugs.

This snark goes against the preferred narrative. A lot of Americans think that their teenagers and twenty-somethings were doing their homework when Mexican narco-traffickers invaded their living rooms and forced them to use marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other illegal drugs.     

President Trump and other proponents of the “big beautiful wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border — which has been downsized to a hideous “steel slat barrier” — are right about one thing: America does have a drug problem.

The real problem has less to do with Mexicans than with the millions of Americans who seek the escape of illicit drugs. Without the latter, the former is out of business. 

The real problem isn’t what someone else is doing to us but what we are doing to ourselves — and to our children. While some speak of an “invasion,” we can be our worst enemy. 

The real problem is not that parents are too hard on their kids but that they are too permissive. We want to be our children’s best friends instead of being the best parents.

The real problem is that Baby Boomers who used drugs find it hypocritical to tell their kids in Generation X to abstain, and Generation Xers repeat the pattern with their kids. 

The real problem isn’t about what drugs might come across the border, but what goes on in our homes, at the dinner table, and in a culture that often seems based on avoidance.

We’re raising our children to avoid responsibility, and to blame mysterious and external factors beyond their control for their bad behavior and poor choices.

I know this is true not because I read it in a book but because a county sheriff told me so. For the son of a retired cop, that’s good enough. 

I was recently up in the gold country of Northern California, whose modern-day riches come not from panning but from planting. It’s agriculture that provides the bounty that feeds the region — rice, walnuts, almonds, etc.

Everything I know about places like that — and it’s a lot — comes from growing up in one just like it, in the rich farmland of Central California.  

In such a place, you won’t hear many people complaining about how illegal immigrants are taking the best jobs. Farmers have enough experience and common sense to know better.

But what you might hear are concerns about drugs, albeit the legal kind. In a strange twist, it turns out that this is one time where what is lawful might be more lethal than what is unlawful. That’s because legal drugs are easier to get, and thus more prevalent in our society. 

And then there’s the public health crisis that is created when a legal drug — say, a painkiller — is laced with an illegal substance, such as fentanyl. Someone can take one pill, and never take another breath. Painkillers can kill. 

It’s a tragic reality that the sheriff I spoke to understands all too well. More and more young people, he said, are getting hooked on opioids and some are dying in the process. That’s why he supports Trump’s proposed border wall, he said. It’ll keep out the drugs.

No, it won’t. The first mistake we make in combating drug traffickers is underestimating their intelligence, creativity, and determination. As was made clear by witness testimony in the federal trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the former head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, the traffickers will find a way around, under, or over any border barrier. 

I told the sheriff as much, and I suggested that what we needed to do was attack the opioid problem from this side of the border by focusing on three factors that fuel the demand: greedy drug companies that maximize profits for shareholders; corrupt physicians who over-prescribe pain pills because they work for the drug companies as consultants; and parents who are out to lunch when it comes to their children’s drug use and had a hand in conditioning their offspring that they can seek comfort and refuge in the medicine cabinet.  

The sheriff agreed. His department cracked down on doctors who prescribe for profit, he said.  

Parents are tougher to deal with. Show me a 10-year-old whose parents put him on ADHD medication and I’ll show you someone who, in a decade, is a good candidate to reach for a pill to overcome pain and discomfort. 

This is America’s real drug problem. It is all about demand, and it has nothing to do with the border. It didn’t happen overnight, and no one has clean hands. 

There was not one simple thing that caused it. There won't be one simple thing that fixes it. 


Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.” 

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