Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Monday, June 29, 2020

UC San Diego Launches Think Tank to Study Opioid Epidemic in Mexico and Worldwide

"MX" for Borderland Beat; UC San Diego
Reports of the pandemic’s impacts to the production of synthetic opioids like entangle have incentivized poppy cultivation in Mexico, which could lead to more substance abuse, violence and drug trafficking.

Despite being considered the world’s third largest producer of opium and heroin, little is known about poppy cultivation in Mexico. Yet, the opioid crisis remains a huge problem across much of the U.S. and Mexico and COVID-19 appears to have made matters worse: Recent lockdowns have disrupted the flow of synthetic opioids and have ostensibly increased production of heroin in Mexico.

To address the global opioid crisis, the "Mexico Opium Network", a first-of-its kind international effort, was recently launched to examine the socio-political challenges posed by illicit poppy crops in Mexico.

An estimated 128 people die every day in the U.S. from opioid overdoses, largely caused by synthetic opioids manufactured in China and Mexico. Reports of the pandemic’s impacts to the production of synthetic opioids like fentanyl have incentivized poppy cultivation in Mexico, which could lead to more substance abuse, violence and drug trafficking.

“The poppy economy is crucial to some of the Mexico’s most marginalized rural regions, despite its illegality and constant efforts at eradication,” said Rafael Fernández de Castro, director of the University of California San Diego’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, a key partner institution in the Mexico Opium Network. “More research and data on the opium economy and its stakeholders is needed to understand these communities’ social realities.”

In addition to UC San Diego, the global network is comprised of researchers from Noria Research, Mexico United Against Crime (MUCD, Mexico), the Latin American Center for Rural Development (RIMISP, Colombia), the Transform Drug Policy Foundation (TDPF, United Kingdom) and the Transnational Institute (TNI, the Netherlands).

“While we know that the opium production in Mexico is the top source of opioids to the U.S. and other countries, in most publications and discussions regarding poppy cultivation in the world, Mexico is—at best—mentioned, when not totally absent,” said Cecilia Farfán-Méndez, head of security research programs at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, which is based at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. “Therefore, when it comes to addressing challenges posed by this issue we are almost blind; however, the launch of this new network will allow us to build a decisive new space for research and public policy dialogue, both at the Mexican and the international level.”

Poppy production is often a complementary activity in the family farming economy in mountainous regions, providing a source of income that is alternated with food production, manufacturing and local trade, to sustain economies that are, in many cases, precarious. However, analysis of the social, economic, and political characteristics and impacts of opium production in Mexico has effectively been nonexistent.

The Opium network will seek to shed light on these communities by understanding: how many farmers work and live from opium poppy production in Mexico, and under what conditions? How are these illicit activities regulated? What is the economic weight of opium in Mexico?

To understand the dynamics of this market and evaluate which political responses are appropriate and effective, the Mexico Opium Network will focus on five key activities:
  1. Produce systematic knowledge on the Mexican opium economy, and the evolution of law enforcement policies, through fieldwork and quantitative analysis.
  2.  Work with the producing communities in order to design a rural development strategy.
  3. Generate an evidence-based debate with civil society at the national and international level.
  4. Engage with key civil decision-makers within national and international forums.
  5. Offer alternatives addressing the different thematic areas: rural development, drug policy, public security strategies.

“The Network will be a clearinghouse for the production and dissemination of knowledge on opium poppy production, from the local to the national and international stages,” said Romain Le Cour Grandmaison head of Noria’s Mexico and Central American Program.

“In addition our work will produce qualitative, field-based evidence that will be openly and freely disseminated to the public, generating an unprecedented source of knowledge on international platforms to help global communities better address the global health crises of substance abuse, illicit cultivations, violence and drug trafficking.”


  1. The US Military just pushed for a new opioid, sufentanyl... The FBI is against it... Guess there's going to be a new opioid on the market.

  2. "More research and data on the opium economy and its stakeholders is needed to understand"

    You cant be serious!! Its a very simple problem. U.S. Big Pharma has turned entire communuties throughout the U.S into Opiate Addicts. With the pill mills being squashed and scripts damn near impossible to get anymore the addicts had to find alternatives. Heroin is easier to get, cheaper to use, and more addictive than ever before thanks to Fentanyl.

    In MX the opium farmers have little or no choice if they want to eat, buy clothing, and necessary medicines. Vice had a special on some opium farmers and their plight. Entire families-mothers, fathers, children and the elderly working 12hr days, 7 days a week collecting the Poppy gum in little metal cans. They harvest once a season and the gum they kill themselves collecting, for sale to the cartels, has to Last them all year!
    The drug business follows the same model as every other business or service- Supply & Demand. Where the whole thing goes horribly wrong is demand is so lucrative that each of the cartels is killing the others to get the their share of the billions. Not sure what there is to LEARN!! Drug addicts need drugs. MX is so poor that many families cannot survive unless they grow Poppy. Many narcos are dirt poor as well. The Kingpins exploit the desperation of their minions and wage war on other groups. The people dying aren't the Chapo's, Mayo's or Menchos. In many cases it's teenagers, or ex military, who are cash starved and buy into the hope of getting rich- something they cant see any other way.

  3. Hay un aspecto historiografico en este proyecto?

    1. 10:20 Google "The Opium Wars", then buy the book and everything ever written on the subject, have a good time and thanks for asking...

  4. I want to comment, but I seem to be blacklisted... censored?

  5. Sounds like another failed alternative farming program incentive the US and Columbia government implemented years ago. But without the success of eradicating coca production which is in higher demand.

    Offering incentives for farmers where alternative crop prices fluctuate can have a devastating impact for farmers profits.
    Another waste of time & money addressing a topic where consumption & productivity will never cease.


    1. Dirt poor farmers get paid a very high price for their Poppies,
      they are allowed to go on living and make a few pesos for their gum.

  6. Sounds like a recipe for more people to end up missing or assassinated

  7. Simple math
    If an individual's earnings prove less than cost of habit, double-digit intelligence proves high enough to resolve the one and only correct answer.

  8. THEY should START with Afghanistan

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. O.k. We're good again.

    I have a sneaky feeling, that this "means well" efforts is another cover for academics to advance their careers and to suck tax payer funds.
    I sincerely hope good comes from the efforts at knowledge building.
    From years of inside university social engineering research efforts, I suspect underlying truer motives for the efforts.
    I do not expect practical or viable ideas to come from the Mexico Opium Network. Much is promised, little is accomplished.
    I've been there, seen that, and know how these academic games are played.
    It is a shame to build false hopes. The disappointments and waste of monies are hurtful and can lead people to feel cynical, me.


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