A famous Greek myth recounts the tale of the diabolical King Sisyphus. He was punished for his many murderous actions by being forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill. No matter what method he used, each time Sisyphus neared the top of the hill, the boulder would crash back to the ground, ensuring his punishment was eternal.
I'm reminded of the king's futile actions every time I think about U.S. efforts to stop illegal drugs from entering this country.
These days, there is much talk about "the wall" the president wants to build along the southern border to curb both illegal drugs and immigrants from entering the country. But the reality is, no matter what precautions or roadblocks we install, drug kingpins, mostly to our south, will continue to devise shrewd alternatives to get their poison into the United States.
Decades ago, drug traffickers soaked jeans in liquid cocaine and shipped them to the U.S. in boxes labeled "acid"-washed jeans. Using a chemical process, they then separated the cocaine from the fabric and sold it on American streets. U.S. inspectors finally got wise to that scheme. But since then, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, heroin and the deadly fentanyl have been found camouflaged in all sorts of unusual ways.
Photographs posted on a U.S. Customs and Border Protection social media account reveal some almost laughable discoveries. One photo shows plastic-wrapped stacks of hollowed-out tortillas, their centers stuffed with bags of cocaine. There were baggies of cocaine inserted into handmade tamales. Drugs were found deep inside emptied coconuts tightly wrapped in bushel-size packages. Agents discovered decorative green ceramic bananas which when cracked open revealed tubes of white powder and other drugs. And agents discovered footlong orange tubes — resembling whole carrots — full of marijuana. They were stuffed in between real carrots and plastic-wrapped for transport to the U.S.
The Miami Herald reports that agents there once discovered more than 6,000 pounds of cocaine smuggled inside a wooden picnic table. Another huge shipment of cocaine was hidden inside bags of brown sugar. The FBI found cocaine inside bottles of imported beer.
Gil Kerlikowske, former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, says illegal drugs come into our country via two pathways: "Well over 90%" slip through southern ports of entry after drug carrying couriers pass undetected. The remaining 10% of drugs, mostly fentanyl, according to Kerlikowski, comes in through the U.S. postal service, which is in dire need of better detection technology.
With drugs stashed in tortillas, decorative fruit, furniture, clothing and bottled beverages, it's easy to conclude that the potential hiding spots for drug traffickers is endless.
How can customs inspectors keep up with the millions of products that come into this country via underground tunnels, trucks, railroad shipping containers and watercraft every year? How can Border Patrol adequately screen the millions of personal cars, pedestrians and commercial trucks that cross into the U.S. past one of the 39 high-volume border crossings with Mexico every year? The answer is they can't, especially when some criminals go so far as to hide drugs inside their own body cavities.
For all the drugs we confiscate, there are tons more that get through. All our energies to eradicate the plague have been as futile as King Sisyphus' efforts.
So, what's a country to do? We can't just close the border. That would cause major economic, legal and logistical nightmares. According to the trade publication Business Insider, two-way trade across the busiest 25 entry points totals $1.4 billion dollars — per day. A disruption of that flow could be catastrophic.
Simply put, the best thing the U.S. can do now is change tactics and take forceful steps to curb the demand for illegal drugs. It's common sense. Fewer American drug addicts would surely mean a significant reduction in the drug supply flowing this way. Fewer addicts translates to fewer deaths.
What should be done? First, dedicated and widespread efforts to teach young people that drugs ruin lives. Second, public donations to programs like the Boys & Girls Clubs, organizations that give kids a wholesome, nurturing place to go after school. Third, a rededication of local, state and federal rehab programs for addicts — not programs that just last a month or so but long-term efforts to help citizens kick drug dependency and find permanent employment and housing.
More than 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017. How much higher does the death toll need to climb before we take a different tack? How much longer can we press our Customs and Border Protection agents to the brink?
Make no mistake, this nation has been involved in a decadeslong Sisyphean exercise when it comes to combating the deadly drug scourge. There is no positive conclusion if we stay the current course. The boulder will always fall back on us, and it will crush us if we let it.
To find out more about Diane Dimond, visit her website at www.dianedimond.com. Her latest book, "Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box," is available on Amazon.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: stevepb at Pixabay