Texas has committed a significant amount of money and resources in an effort to prevent illegal drugs from flowing across the U.S.-Mexico border and into Austin and other Texas towns. Thus far, the results of this effort appear to be less than successful.
In June 2015, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 11 into law. Among the provisions of this law was the commitment of $800 million to a law enforcement “surge” that was designed to stop illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants from crossing Texas’s portion of the U.S.-Mexico border. The funding authorized by HB 11 was intended to go towards salaries of 250 additional Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers and to purchase better detection technology along the border.
In the 17 months since HB 11 became law, several reports have indicated that the effort has thus far failed to stop drug smugglers from getting their product across the international border and into the hands of users in Austin and other areas.
For example, a Nov. 14, 2016, article on the website of Austin news station KXAN contained the following information:
- The Austin Police Department (APD) reports that the price of an ounce of methamphetamine has dropped by 50 percent recently, which suggests that the supply of the drug on the street is increasing.
- Austin PD records indicate that departmental seizures of marijuana, meth, heroin, and cocaine increased steadily between June 2014 and August 2016.
- Two APD agents told KXAN that they had not seen a noticeable decrease in the amount of illegal drugs that were available in the Austin area.
A few weeks before the KXAN article was released, Texas lawmakers pushed DPS Director Steve McCraw to acknowledge that the main accomplishment of the “surge” was that border-related crime had moved from Starr and Hidalgo counties to other parts of the 1,254-mile border.
“All we’re doing is we’re moving [crime] from two counties over to the other 12 counties, and that, I don’t think, is what is intended,” state Rep. Ryan Guillen, said during the meeting, according to a Sept. 28 Texas Tribune article. “It’s a great effort, but unless you do the whole thing, you are not achieving what you think you’re achieving.”
Of course, reducing the amount of drugs that flow into Austin, or any other city, is a complex issue that must involve more than arrests and drug seizures.
Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that is characterized by overpowering urges, as well as a diminished capacity for making healthy decisions. Arrests and incarceration alone cannot end an addiction epidemic any more than these measures could stop an influenza outbreak or limit rising rates of diabetes.
About 200 miles north of Austin, one Texas city has taken clear steps toward uniting crime fighters and disease fighters in the effort to end addiction.
The Grapevine, Texas, police department has joined the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), a relatively new effort started by Gloucester Massachusetts Police Chief Leonard Campanello. As noted on the PAARI website, three of the initiative’s main goals involve preventing overdose deaths and putting addicted individuals in touch with treatment professionals who can help them end their self-defeating behaviors and achieve recovery by:
- Encouraging opioid drug users to seek recovery
- Helping distribute opioid-blocking drugs to prevent and treat overdoses
- Connecting addicts with treatment programs and facilities
While PAARI may not have yet reached Austin, the principles behind this effort are crucial to reducing the amount of drugs on the city’s streets and lowering the number of Austin residents who are engaging in substance abuse. In order to end the addiction epidemic in Austin, throughout Texas, and across the United States, increased access to effective treatment is essential.