How Drug Trafficking Works in CA (Mexico & More)

Treatment Options

If you live in San Diego near the border and struggle with addiction to drugs, you are not alone. San Diego County provides many options for evidence-based help.

College students in the area can get help through two programs: Addiction and Recovery Treatment through UC San Diego Health or Alcohol and Drug Treatment through Scripps.

If you are looking for more specific sources in your immediate area, with certain types of treatment, there is an online treatment finder and national hotline available, maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

call center agent using phone

Baja California, San Diego, and the Drug Trafficking Problem Over the Border

Southern California borders the western part of Mexico. Although Mexico and the United States are two separate counties with their own border control agencies, this area tends to be very porous. Thousands of people who live in this area cross the border every day for school, to see their family, or to work.

Further Reading

A 2015 report from the Office of Binational Border Health (OBBH) to the California Department of Finance (DOF) found that there nearly 3.5 million people living in the California border region, most of whom lived in San Diego County. Of those, 187,689 lived in Imperial County, a much smaller area. With many people crossing from Baja California, Mexico, into the San Diego and Imperial areas, it is important to keep track of health issues that may arise from these crossings, including mental and behavioral health problems.

The U.S. has long been the world’s largest consumer of illicit drugs, and Mexico has been a hub for smuggling drugs from South American into the border country. The Tijuana-San Diego geographical connection is the prime area where drugs are smuggled illegally into the United States; however, the high levels of dangerous, addictive drugs that move through that region of Mexico and Southern California, along with the amount of drugs grown and produced in that area, fuel struggles with addiction and related violence on both sides of the border.

border of Tijuana and San Diego

The Political and Border Issues

Three countries — Afghanistan, Colombia, and Peru —produce most of the world’s drugs. The U.S. represents 40 percent of global consumption, so these countries try to get their product into the U.S. Peru and Colombia typically ship drugs into Mexico where they are refined and distributed by Mexican cartels; some is shipped into Caribbean nations and sent through Florida. Once most of the drugs enter Mexico, they are sent across borders with Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California.
The total U.S.-Mexico border spans 1,933 miles, and California is only a small part of that mileage with 140 miles, but California has one of the most fortified borders to block illegal drug trafficking operations. About 105 miles of the California-Mexico border are walled off by pedestrian fencing or vehicle barriers. The beginning of the wall juts out into the Pacific Ocean before it hits land, making clear that residents on either side should not cross around it. The San Diego Coastline hosts 55 guardsmen who work counterdrug surveillance missions on a regular basis.

No matter how tight security is, the border remains very porous, and it has for the last century. A canyon nearby has been a drug trafficking route since the 1880s, after the U.S. opened San Ysidro Port to the east.

Drugs were not the only goods smuggled across the border. In addition to feeding opium addictions, people also smuggled cows, horses, sheep, alcohol, cigars, lace undergarments, and humans across the border. Now, the numerous roads crossing California into Mexico and back are, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the main way that drugs are smuggled from Mexico northward.

cocaine and guns

The Drugs Smuggled Over the Border

The U.S.-Mexican border became the primary place for drugs to enter the northern hemisphere in the 1980s after the rise and fall of South American and Panamanian cartels. Cocaine and marijuana were the main drugs smuggled through Mexico and into the U.S. By the late 1990s, Mexican cartels were the main source of methamphetamine.

In 2013, six drugs were the primary substances reported in drug trafficking offenses, especially at the border:

Here are some details about illicit drug production and smuggling from Mexico into the U.S. through Southern California.

Drug Abuse Increasing in Mexico

Due to the increasing presence of cartels in the Tijuana region of Mexico, along with increasing production of drugs — starting with marijuana, but now moving to meth and heroin since marijuana is legal for recreational use in California — more Mexican residents are coming into contact with addictive drugs and trying them, so there are increasing rates of substance abuse in this western region. A survey of Mexican men ages 12 to 65 who used illegal drugs doubled in a decade, to 15.8 percent; the rate of drug abuse for women more than doubled, to 4.3 percent. Abusing both meth and heroin is increasingly popular in western Mexico, especially in the Tijuana area.

As more people in the U.S. struggle with addiction to both prescription and illicit substances, not only do Americans need more help, but people in other countries, like those living in Mexico near the border, are also deeply impacted by drug problems. Mexicans have long been impacted by violence from the cartels and employed by their drug production operations. Now, more Mexican residents are also struggling with addiction, as violence spills over into the U.S.

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Substance Use Disorder Services. Health & Human Services Agency, San Diego County.

Addiction and Recovery Treatment. US San Diego Health.

Alcohol and Drug Treatment. Scripps.

National Helpline. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Border Health Status: Report to the Legislature, 2015. (2015). California Department of Public Health (DPH), Office of Binational Border Health (OBBH).

Control for Street Drug Trade Pushes Tijuana to Grisly New Record: 1,744 Homicides. (January 14, 2018). San Diego Union-Tribune.

Cocaine, Heroin, Cannabis, Ecstasy: How Big Is the Global Drug Trade? (May 8, 2014). Global Research.

A Journey Along the Entire 1,933-Mile U.S.-Mexico border Shows the Monumental Task of Securing It. (September 26, 2018). Business Insider.

History of Drug Trafficking. (May 31, 2017). History Channel, A&E Television Networks.

How Might Marijuana Legalization in California Affect Drug Trafficking Revenues and Violence in Mexico? (2010). RAND Corporation.

Mexican Cartels Pushing More Heroin After U.S. States Relax Marijuana Laws. (February 24, 2018). USA Today.

Deaths From Fentanyl Surge to Record in California. (June 15, 2018). San Francisco Chronicle.

Would a Border Wall Have Prevented the Opioid Epidemic? (February 2, 2018). Politifact.

San Diego, California.

Border Report: Teens Are Smuggling Deadlier Drugs Across the Border. (May 14, 2018). Voice of San Diego.

Latest ‘Street Meth’ Coming From Labs in Mexico. (December 12, 2017). Healthline News.

Mexico’s Drug Trade Hits Home. (December 21, 2017). The Washington Post.