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Mexico's next war on drugs

Addiction skyrockets as drugs bound the US circulate within Mexico.

(Page 2 of 2)

"You can get it anywhere," says Flores, who, as a junior high student, had a network of friends from whom he could buy drugs.

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Cocaine use has steadily increased over the past decade, while crack use has exploded in the past few years. Methanphetamine consumption is a growing public health concern, too, particularly in the border towns of Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana, says Ricardo Sanchez, who heads the research department for a network of 110 government clinics that treat addiction.

The percentage of those who have tried drugs at least once in their life rose from just over 5 percent in 2002 to 6 percent last year, or by 1 million users. Each year they are younger, says Mr. Sanchez.

Blanca Garibay and her husband Rodolfo Garcia moved to Mexico City three years ago from a tiny town, and their teenage son immediately became friendly with local sellers. On a recent day they sat in a government-run treatment center waiting for their son – who did not show up. "It's frustrating, one day you advance, the next you regress," says Ms. Garibay. "I worry every day about what this will lead to, if it will lead to jail.... I do regret moving here and think about moving somewhere where drugs aren't so accessible."

But drugs are starting to appear across Mexico, and one reason is the increased deportation of migrants who lived in the US. For example, says Sanchez, in 2002, the agency began to hear cases of heroine use in Puebla, Mexico, the hometown of many New York immigrants.

While the government has allocated most of its resources to combating the supply side of the problem, it is now focusing on prevention and addiction, opening up more than 300 clinics. It's not enough, says Ms. Rosovsky. "There had been a kind of institutional denial in the past."

But clinics alone will not solve the problem. There is a dearth of trained professionals, says Ms. Lopez Cabrera. Her clinic offers two-year courses for doctors and nurses in drug addiction treatment. But the supply of drug counselors pales in comparison with the numbers needing help.

And stigmas continue to stand in the way of treatment. Ms. Sotres says that many parents come to her clinic unable to accept the fact that their children have addiction problems.

Garibay is confronting her son's problem head-on, but has not told her family about it. She says: "I'm afraid of the rejection, what they'll say about us."