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Latin American Drug Cartels Target Impoverished Children

Drug cartels are a rising problem everywhere, especially for those that are in poverty. Children, specifically children in poverty, are generally the most vulnerable population anywhere in the world. Latin American drug cartels target impoverished children specifically due to their innocence and willingness to obey. Although this situation seems unfixable, people are uniting together against Latin American drug cartels, providing much needed hope.

The Situation

In Latin America, 43 percent of children live in poverty. These children’s come from families with no money for food, clothing or shelter. Cartels know the struggles of these children, so they offer them work. Because many feel they have no choice but to accept work from Latin American drug cartels, 80 percent of children under 25 agree to work for them.

Young children in Mexico and other Latin American countries draw less suspicion than older individuals and are willing to work for little money. As a result, the cartels use them in every way possible. Cartels often send children unaccompanied to push drugs across borders. Subsequently, border security will help unaccompanied children, thus enabling drug traffickers to smuggle drugs across borders.

How Countries Combat Drug Cartels

Luckily for these children, countries are taking steps to eliminate cartels. Recently, Mexico initiated a joint investigative team with the U.S. to fight against drug cartels. The U.S. and Mexico have worked together to combat cartels since the 1970s. For instance, one program, the Merida Initiative, worked to stop the flow of illegal weapons from the U.S. into Mexico and, subsequently, Latin American cartels. Similarly, the U.S. and Mexico offer amnesty to drug dealers in exchange for information.

This new joint investigative team is based in Chicago and directly targets cartel finances. Cartels survive by distributing goods to suppliers and laundering money. Therefore, disrupting their finances and cracking down on money laundering will drastically slow their production. In doing so, the team intends to weaken and ultimately stop Latin American drug cartels.

How Nonprofit Organizations and KIND Help

Nonprofit organizations band together to help the children that drug smugglers employed previously. One organization in particular, KIND, is dedicated to offering such help. KIND protects children’s rights when unaccompanied children are detained by the U.S. and when they are on the move. KIND ensures detained children receive necessary legal aid, especially as these children are burdened with an immigration system they do not understand.

With the U.S. and Mexico targeting drug cartels’ financial assets and nonprofit organizations providing the necessary help, there is hope to eliminate drug cartels and keep vulnerable children safe. The U.S. and Mexico, along with nonprofit organizations, are executing solutions to keep drug cartels away from children and shut them down altogether.

– Emme Chadwick
Photo: Pixabay

Super Gonorrhea
Entasis Therapeutics recently announced plans to progress an antibiotic that could be a solution for the growing issue of antibiotic resistant gonorrhea into a Phase 3 trial in 2018.

The announcement is good news after the World Health Organization deemed the rise of antibiotic resistant gonorrhea a “public health emergency.” Approximately 78 million people catch gonorrhea each year, and already 77 countries have reported data revealing that antibiotic resistance has created a variant of gonorrhea that is practically impossible to treat.

The misuse of existing antibiotics has rendered drugs that previously fought diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and gonorrhea to become useless. The variant of gonorrhea grew through mistreatment of gonorrhea bacteria that was left in the throat after oral sex and believed to be strep throat. The World Health Organization has reported an increasing resistance to older and cheaper antibiotics, and there are even instances already of cases of super gonorrhea that are impossible to treat with any known antibiotics.

The organization known as WHO Global Gonococcal Antimicrobial Surveillance Program (WHO GASP) reports data for antibiotic resistant gonorrhea trends. According to WHO GASP, the current last-resort treatment, the extended spectrum cephalosporins (ESCs), is increasingly failing. In most countries, ESCs remain as the last antibiotic that can treat gonorrhea.

Current numbers may not even fully capture the growing problem. Many people infected with gonorrhea do not develop any notable symptoms, so they never receive a diagnosis or proper treatment. Many lower-income countries where gonorrhea is more common lack systems to diagnose and document instances of super gonorrhea.

To combat super gonorrhea and other cases of antibiotic resistant diseases, the World Health Organization has teamed with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) to create the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (GARDP). GARDP’s goal is to develop new antibiotic treatments that will be long-lasting and accessible to all.  The organization has also identified antibiotic resistant gonorrhea as an important target for new antibiotics.

Three new candidate drugs exist in clinical development. One of these is zoliflodacin which got created by Entasis Therapeutics. GARDP is pledging around $57 million to the creation of the drug, which performed well in a Phase 2 Study in September. The Phase 3 trial should occur during the second half of 2018 and will last for approximately 18 months. Global health officials are hopeful that zoliflodacin and the other new drugs will help curb the antibiotic resistant gonorrhea outbreak.

Lauren Mcbride

Photo: Flickr


In 2001, Portugal passed Law 20/3000, which eliminated criminal charges for possession and usage of all illicit drugs. The decriminalization of drugs in Portugal does not mean that drugs are legal; rather, it means that drug usage and possession no longer automatically result in criminal actions.

An important component of Portugal’s drug policy is the distinction between recreational and addicted drug users. Those who are using a drug recreationally are fined, while those identified as drug addicts are offered enrollment in a government-funded treatment program. Another vital distinction in the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal is that drug dealers are still subject to criminal charges. The distinction between drug dealers and personal users is determined by supply at the time of apprehension. Those with less than a 10-day supply of drugs are subject to a fine and treatment program but not jail time.

The decriminalization of drugs in Portugal arose primarily as a response to the country’s heroin epidemic in the 1990s. At the time, nearly 1 percent of the country’s population was addicted to heroin, one of the worst drug epidemics globally. In the 15 years since decriminalization, the results have been generally positive. Drug-related HIV infections have been reduced by 95 percent, and Portugal’s drug-induced mortality rate is five times lower than the European Union average.

Fifteen years after its introduction, the success of decriminalization of drugs in Portugal is a great and somewhat unexpected accomplishment. Drug usage has not increased, though the rates of illicit drug use have mostly remained unchanged in the last 15 years. Furthermore, the number of individuals enrolled in voluntary drug treatment programs has increased by 60 percent. Treatments are developed with a holistic understanding of addiction, with options such as access to mobile methadone clinics and non-12-step treatment programs.

The logic behind the decision for the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal was that jailing drug users did not lead to a reduction in drug use and further removed individuals from society, exacerbating issues like isolation and poverty that lead to drug usage and addiction. Drug addiction is a challenge faced in many countries across the globe, and it frequently affects those in poverty or drives individuals into poverty. The decriminalization of drugs in Portugal has shifted the treatment of drug addiction from a criminal issue to a health issue, focusing on social determinants and mental health. This alternative approach to the War on Drugs has proved successful for Portugal so far and could serve as a model for other countries to follow.

Nicole Toomey

Photo: Flickr


It has long been known that drug addiction is often linked to poverty, but the specific influences are difficult to measure. An increasing number of countries are trying a novel approach to increasing the health of their citizens: by treating drug use as a mental health issue, not a crime. Recent statistics indicate that drug decriminalization makes people healthier.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, there is evidence that treating drug use as a crime does not result in fewer drug addicts. In fact, the opposite has been the case. In July 2001, Portugal enacted a national law explicitly decriminalizing the use of all drugs, even cocaine and heroin.

Though controversial, in the years since, drug use has actually decreased significantly across multiple age groups in several categories. Portugal’s rate of drug use is now among the lowest in the EU, and the drug-induced fatality rate has dropped to five times lower than average.

It is important to note the key difference between decriminalization and legalization, however. Using drugs is still prohibited in Portugal, as is drug trafficking and providing drugs to minors. The aim of the law was to transform public interpretation of personal drug use from a stigmatized crime to a public health issue.

“We are dealing with a chronic relapsing disease, and this is a disease like any other. I do not put a diabetic in jail, for instance,” said João Goulão, physician and National Drug Coordinator for Portugal.

The impact of this policy on global health boils down to economics. When comparing the cost of jail time to the cost of rehabilitation, it becomes clear that decriminalization makes people healthier. The city of Lisbon has experienced a 75 percent reduction in drug cases since the 1990s, and the rate of HIV infections nationwide since decriminalization took effect has dropped by over 80 percent.

“It’s cheaper to treat people than to incarcerate them,” sociologist Nuno Capaz told NPR earlier this month. “If I come across someone who wants my help, I’m in a much better position to provide it than a judge would ever be.”

Portugal’s policy has broken ground for similar experiments to be conducted in other countries. Canadian politicians have gone on record earlier this year in support of drug decriminalization, and Costa Rica has been working since 2014 on a version of a decriminalization bill that will be approved.

The proof that drug decriminalization makes people healthier has long-reaching implications, particularly in the U.S. where the incarceration rate is the highest in the world, and 80 percent of drug arrests are for possession only.

Dan Krajewski

Photo: Flickr

10 Disturbing and Terrible Facts About Mexican Drug Cartels
Continual and sensational news coverage of Mexican drug cartels may have desensitized people to the realities and sources of the violence. It is easy to forget how long the crisis imposed by the cartel has gone on and how far it is from over. To place the issue back into perspective, discussed below are 10 facts about Mexican drug cartels and the ways through which the government has attempted to deal with them.

 

Mexican Drug Cartels: Facts and Figures

 

  1. In December of 2006, former Mexican president Felipe Calderon sent 6,500 troops into Michoacán to address the rampant gun battles, execution-style murders and police corruptions which cartel rivalry had unleashed on the community. In so doing, Calderon launched the Mexican war on drugs, a literal war which would involve more than 20,000 troops within the first two months.
  2. Since this war’s inception, 25 of the 37 drug traffickers on Calderon’s most wanted list have been jailed, more than 100,000 tons of cocaine decommissioned and almost 450,000 acres of marijuana plants destroyed, but the violent loss of life remains on the rise. Smuggling routes spread into previously peaceful areas as military involvement increased.
  3. The United States, as home to tens of millions of users, comprises the world’s largest drug market. In fact, in 2013 about 10 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 were recent users, and drug consumption remains on the rise. Mexican drug cartels are estimated to earn between 19 and 29 billion dollars annually from U.S. drug sales.
  4. As more of the United States decriminalizes marijuana, illegally-smuggled Mexican product cannot compete with the quality or price of U.S. production. Simultaneously, a prescription opioid epidemic across the U.S. has raised the demand for heroin. As a result, Mexican production of heroin rose by 170 percent between 2013 and 2015, while marijuana dealings have largely diminished.
  5. As part of the United States’ own war on drugs, the government has given at least $1.5 billion to support Mexico’s anti-drug efforts. Concerned critics believe this deluge of cash contributes to corruption in the Mexican military and among police on the frontlines.
  6. Ten years after the Mexican military was deployed to combat cartels, the nation’s top general, Salvador Cienfuegos, said the troops ought not to have been involved and were not trained to pursue criminals to begin with. On December 9, 2016, the Mexican defense secretary said troops surrogating for police was an insufficient, even damaging, solution.
  7. Violence surged across Mexico in 2016, with more than 17,000 homicides reported in the first 10 months. This is the highest death toll since 2012.
  8. Strategically, Mexico has waged its American-backed war by targeting the kingpins, assuming that annihilating cartel leadership would dissolve these criminal organizations. The recent rise in violence throughout Mexico suggests this approach is ineffective. For instance, since Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was recaptured by authorities in January, the gang has splintered and multiplied.
  9. Mexico’s decade-long war on drugs has cost about 200,000 lives to date and left 28,000 missing. Reciprocal violence from cartels, police and soldiers has violated human rights and ravaged Mexican communities.
  10. A 2015 poll on the efficacy of Mexican institutions revealed that the police, the president’s office, politicians and political parties rank among the least trusted establishments in Mexico, in large part due to the reign of violent cartels, which has cost so many lives.

By demilitarizing the war on drugs and reestablishing faith in the government, Mexico can begin to heal. The DEA recently emphasized the importance of coupling strategies: the targeting of high-profile cartel members by law enforcement and the provision of community outreach programs to end the opioid epidemic in Mexico and the United States. Long-term solutions must integrate security with social services to pursue prosperity.

Robin Lee

Photo: Flickr

No Over the Counter Aspirin in Delhi Spotlights Government Action

The Delhi government has banned the sale of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) without a prescription. The restriction is set to last from August 15 until November 30, which is peak dengue fever season. For patients with dengue fever, NSAIDs can increase the risk of hemorrhage or death. Other precautions taken include increasing the number of beds available and keeping extra NS1 Antigen detection kits, blood and supplies in hospitals.

Additionally, all government buildings, including hospitals, have been asked to procure the National Center for Disease designed mosquito-proof air coolers (MPCs). Mosquito nets will also be provided to sentinel surveillance hospitals. The government has also made moves to reward or penalize those areas where breeding is or is not found, respectively. New warnings are expected to be drafted featuring more correct and simplified information so that the public can be better informed of the change and why it is being implemented.

Because dengue fever plagues nearly the entire developing world, it can be considered a developing country disease. The people that are most affected rely on correct information and government action to protect themselves. The cooperation of the Delhi government in response to an impending potential for a health crisis showcases how both health officials and government officials can work together to bring about a more efficient action. The ban will likely be successful in decreasing dengue-related deaths and could perhaps serve as a model for other places where dengue fever claims the lives of many. The emphasis on encouraging correct public knowledge of risks and preventing the spread of misinformation is a huge step towards public transparency and again can serve as a model.

The cross-sectional cooperation and move to enact such a ban before peak dengue season is also noteworthy, as the government was able to act quickly enough that they should see drastic results with the ban in regards to dengue-related deaths. Cooperation and a prevention-based movement are both good indicators of the success of a public health initiative. Results pending, the Delhi restriction can serve as a model prevention program for not only other countries plagued with dengue fever but for other illnesses with known risky associations.

Emma Dowd

Sources: Financial Express, India Times, Merinews
Photo: One Healthcare Worldwide

buenaventura
Over the years, Colombia has rebuilt its image, moving past stereotypes of violence and drug lords ruling the country. Yet Colombia is facing setbacks in one of its main port cities, Buenaventura. Over 400,000 people call Buenaventura home, and yet more than 50,000 residents have been forced to leave during the last three years due to a myriad of reasons, including extortion and forced gang membership.

Colombia made efforts to build international relationships such as The Pacific Alliance, a group that attempts to unite Latin American countries like Peru and Chile with Asian countries to further their economic reach. Despite the steps forward, the signing ceremony took place in Cali, Colombia, as far from Buenaventura as possible.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the instability stems from a right wing paramilitary group, the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), that vowed to put down their arms a decade ago. This would have served as a peace agreement, but many members struggled to survive and picked up the weapons again to fight for survival.

The citizens of Buenaventura struggle to find solace, with 80 percent of its population living below the poverty line and 30 percent below the rate of unemployment, according to The Economist.

To make this danger more tangible, in late June, Colombian police found another dismembered body in the style of gang “chop houses.” This is the 15th body found in such a mutilated state.

Analysts believe the aggression stems from warring drugs gangs with the intent to control the territory and infiltrate the drug trade between southeast Asia and Central America between the sub groups of the national neo-paramilitary groups “Los Rastrojos” and “Los Urbeños.”

These displays of violence are not uncommon as the people of Buenaventura attempt to quietly avoid the brewing conflicts.

It is unlikely that Colombia will reach any sort of economic and social stability as the gang-related danger continues to brew. The country cannot progress when nearly half a million people are forced to live in fear.

– Elena Lopez

Sources: The Economist, Columbia Reports, WSJ
Photo: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

opium_opt
Opium is a narcotic, or an opioid. It is a white liquid made from the poppy plant, and is smoked in order to create euphoria. This is an addicting drug that can lead to physical dependence. Myanmar is the second-largest opium producer in the world. Myanmar, also known as Burma or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is located in Southeast Asia, and is bordered by China, India, Laos, Bangladesh, and Thailand. In a region known as “Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle” at the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, is notorious for its abundance of drugs and opium production through multiple poppy fields. This is one of the world’s primary sources of heroin, and the Myanmar government wishes to eliminate this opium production. Myanmar has been fighting opium within its borders for years, with little success. However, a new opium elimination program was recently created in order to tackle opium.

There was a peace initiative recently implemented in Shan State, which is the eastern part of Myanmar, which may end up helping the eradication of opium and poppies. The country manager of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Myanmar, or UNODC, Jason Eligh, detailed the plan to reporters. Basically, the plan is to help farmers wean themselves off of poppy in areas that are rebel-controlled. This will be done in order to gain trust and to help those opium producers find other ways to succeed, without having to turn to illegal means. The first step of this plan is to let survey staff enter Shan State, which grows 90% of the country’s poppies.

The plan was created under a partnership between the government of Myanmar and the military of Myanmar. Over the past few years, the growth rate of the poppy plant has increased, despite governmental attempts to lower it. Therefore, a new strategy was necessary in order to fight the growth of this plant. The government of Myanmar has partnered with the Restoration Council of Shan State, or RCSS, which has wanted independence for the past half century, but recently signed a ceasefire with the government in 2011. There are peace talks occurring at this time, and included in those peace talks is a promise to help farmers that are in poverty to have alternative development programmes, which would bring them away from the cultivation of poppy plants, or the temptation to grow them.

The plan to turn farmers to development programmes will occur from 2014 to 2017, and it is a multimillion dollar promise. The overall aim will be to help the infrastructure of Myanmar, as well as improve health and education. Still, a main component of the plan is crop substitution of the poppy plants, in order to raise citizens out of poverty and out of criminal activity. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, wishes to make Myanmar drug free by 2015. The Minister of Home Affairs, Lt-Gen Ko Ko, said that alternative development is the solution to the drug culture in Myanmar, and asked for international support, as well as international donors in order to help fund the project.

Overall, the situation in Myanmar is stressful and still a bit tense, but if this plan is enacted properly, it is entirely possible that there will be less or no opium production in Myanmar, and many farmers will be raised out of poverty and criminal activity.

– Corina Balsamo

Sources: The Jakarta Globe, IRIN News, DVB
Photo: The Telegraph

Tijikastan_heroin
Every year, $33 billion worth of heroin is funneled into Russia and Western Europe from a few provinces in southern Afghanistan. This robust  heroin trade in the countries of the former Soviet Union thrives in part because of the terrible economic conditions precipitated by the fall of the USSR. In this volatile economic environment, organized crime groups have flourished, facilitating a heroin trade that has seriously harmed nations in Central Asia, particularly Tajikistan.

According to the the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2012 World Drug report, heroin is “the illicit drug most highly associated with a single source” with “90% of the world’s heroin coming from opium grown in just a few provinces in Afghanistan.”

Since 2006, Afghanistan has produced more than 12,000 tons of opium, which the UNODC amounts to two years’ worth of the global demand. It is very clear that drug lords in Afghanistan are making a lot of money through the production and export of heroin. There is also evidence suggesting that terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda  and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are reaping benefits of the trade as well.

Unfortunately, this illicit drug trade has affected the people of nations outside of Afghanistan’s borders. According to the UNODC, Tajikistan has suffered immensely because of its position on the Northern trade route that transports heroin to Russia. Heroin dependency has devastated the Tajik population and has resulted in the spread of lethal diseases such HIV and hepatitis-C. In addition, the position of Tajikistan along a primary drug trade route has promoted the rise of organized crime groups and warlords in the fledgling nation.

In Tajikistan, the direct influence of Afghan heroin can be witnessed in its purest form. In a nation economically ruined by the demise of the Soviet Union, a single substance has threatened not only the social fabric of the society, but also the entire governmental structure of the newly independent nation. Tajikistan illustrates the way in which the illicit trade of heroin has devastated Central Asia. The people of Tajikistan have all been affected by the adverse consequences of heroin addiction and the diseases that so often accompany intravenous drug abuse. In addition to addiction and disease, the very framework of the state in Tajikistan is threatened by warlords who have grown fat on the profits of the drug. As criminals get richer, however, Tajikistan’s people, especially its poor, are left even more vulnerable to violence and political instability.

– Josh Forgét

Source: UNODC World Drug Report 2012,Johan Engvall
Photo: RFERL