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U.S. Scourge Spreads South Of The Border

Essay, Research Paper

U.S. Scourge Spreads South of The Border


A Written Final Project Presented to Professor Larry Herzog San Diego State



MAS 355 The U.S. Mexico International Border


by Leo P. Dano Jr. December 02, 1996

In a recent newspaper article written in the San Diego Union Tribune

called ?U.S. Scourge Spreads South.? A very disturbing fact was opening drug

doors just south of our own community, which is why I chose to do an in depth

study of the easiness of drug purchase in our southern neighbor. It’s not new

news but a overwhelming growth in the usage of drugs, especially Rohypnol.

“The Mexican border town called Tijuana across from San Diego,

California, once was a famous as a playground for drunken sailors and college

students. Today, authorities on both sides of the border warn, it has turned

into a gangland run by a growing number of ruthless cartels that sell drugs. It

is no longer just marijuana (pot), but a growing problem with other types of

drugs like Heroin, Crystal Methamphetamine, and Cocaine.”

I recently visited the neighbor city of Tijuana and rode in a Tijuana

taxi and was immediately met with a taxi driver named Jose, a Tijuana taxi

driver in an open-necked, baby blue silk shirt, he sizes up the tourists

trudging off the footbridge from the United States. ?Taxi, sir? You want

pharmacy? I get you a good pharmacy,? he urges, stepping from a line of

beckoning taxi drivers in big belts and straw cowboy hats. ?Good prices! No

prescriptions!? Do I look like I want drugs?! I didn’t even solicit the

business. I almost felt weird because this is exactly what I was planning to do

my paper on. Soon he is nosing his long yellow Oldsmobile through scruffy

streets choked with pharmacies. I asked for Somas-a drug that gives the user a

feeling of drunkenness without all the liquor, and illegal in the United States.

In less than 45 minutes I was able to purchase the drug right over the counter.

Of course, I didn’t actually purchase the drug, but kindly told the pharmacy

that his price was too high.

This just goes to show you how easy it was to get an illegal drug just

30 minutes from SDSU. And instead of being sold by gun-toting drug traffickers,

it is available in much of Latin America with a doctor’s prescription–often

easily obtained. It appears to be crossing the U.S. border via booming

pharmacies in cities such as Tijuana.

The sudden popularity of the drug (Somas) has returned the spotlight to

Mexico’s border drugstores, which for years have done a thriving business with

Americans but have recently exploded in number with the Tijuana residents. ?

Tijuana residents are nearly twice as likely to have used an illegal drug as

Mexicans nationwide.?

Drugs are not only a problem with our poverty ridden society here in

U.S., but with a lot of our middle to upper class are now being the focus of

drug usage. In a recent news broadcast, Rancho Bernardo, Scripps Ranch, and

other well to do communities are being hit with a heroin craze with our youths.

I couldn’t believe people would actually want to stick a needle in their arm for

joy and pleasure. It is no longer the sniff, smoking of drugs but a whole new

trend of slamming (using needles to induce a drug). Even the worldwide scare of

Aids doesn’t keep the drug of heroin from society. Dirty needles also scar the

arms of the heroin addict for life. ?At the municipal jail, inmates detained

the night before for minor infractions such as loitering or fighting in public

pull up their sleeves and bare arms covered with needle tracks.?

Rohypnol is another nightmare for every parent in America which is

another easily obtained drug in the pharmacies in Tijuana. This is the drug also

known as the ?date-rape drug,? which has been televised many of times. But

unlike heroin or cocaine, Rohypnol has a respected corporate manufacturer–the

Swiss pharmaceutical giant F. Hoffman-La Roche, which produces in Mexico City.

There are so many American tourists buying drugs that Tijuana’s pharmacies have

doubled in the past five years and now number around 700.

With their cheap, government-controlled prices, they have drawn tens of

thousands of Californians, often retirees, who snap up brand-name blood pressure,

cholesterol and other medications, often saving 50% of more. and thanks to

looser regulations, the pharmacies also readily sell drugs that are unavailable

or require prescriptions in the United States, from Prozac to treatments for

Aids and cancer.

On Tijuana’s Avenida Revolucion, a tourist strip where merchants hawk

liquor and Cuban cigars amid the blare of mariachi music, bustling drugstores

with names like Pharmacy America and New York Pharmacy ring up an average of

$3000.00 in sales a day, a local Tijuana pharmacist said.

While they lack hard proof, U.S. authorities have told the Mexican

government at a couple of meetings in the past month that they believe the

pharmacies are selling Rohypnol to young Americans. Mexican officials say they

are cracking down. Well, they say they are, but are they? With so much

government corruption, especially in the city of Tijuana, you can only think of

how much money is being made in this enterprise and who’s getting some kick-


My recent visit to Tijuana indicates that Rohypnol is still readily

available. It has become a revolving door doctor atmosphere. The U.S. police

first began to spot abuse of Rohypnol, the brand for drug flunitrazepam, in 1993.

Although it has never been approved for use in the United States, the sleeping

medication is sold legally in 64 countries.

But it wasn’t insomniacs who use the drug in Florida and Texas, where

Rohypnol first became a problem. The small, inexpensive pills were popped by

addicts to heighten a heroin trip, or by teenagers who wanted to feel drunk.

Rock star Kurt Cobain overdosed on Rohypnol and champagne a month before killing


The most widely know cases are that Rohypnol is blamed in numerous date-

rape cases. Men allegedly have slipped it into their companions’ drinks,

rendering them unconscious. Since the drug causes short-term memory loss, women

have awakened confused and dishelved, only to learn that they have been


The Drug Enforcement Agency says it has logged more than 2,400 criminal

cases involving Rohypnol. As it increasingly turns up in California,

legislators are trying to establish prison terms for people possessing or

selling the pills, nicknamed ?roofies.? Last month, Florida put Rohypnol into

the same legal category as heroin and cocaine.

Worried about the abuse, Hoffman-La Roche has slashed its Rohypnol

distributors in Mexico from 200 to 16 and said it hired a former DEA agent, who

established that there was no diversion from its Mexico City factory. The U.S.

authorities don’t see much of a let-up in the amount of Rohypnol from hitting

the streets.

Even with recent actions, Rohypnol has become much tougher to obtain and

sell, several drugstore owners said. Nonetheless, in a personal visit to 15

pharmacies, I was able to find one willing to sell it over the counter. Others

suggested nearby doctors who would provide a prescription. I went to nearby

medical office lined with oil paintings of Jesus, I filled out a brief form

asking if I had ulcers or heart attacks. At no point was I asked of my symptoms.

A doctor with a white coat glanced at the form and asked what drug I wanted. ?

Rohypnol,? I replied. ?Each prescription is $25,? he responded. The visit

lasted a brief 10 minutes. No comment on the exact location of the medical

office in order to protect my source of information.

I took the prescription to one the Tijuana pharmacies and the price for

Rohypnol was $10. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration frowns on the

practice, there is nothing stopping Americans from buying most medicines from

Mexican pharmacies. U.S. Customs normally allows Americans to bring in a ?

personal supply? of prescription drugs-up to 90 days worth, to be declared a the

border. The average age of the consumer was around 34 (when I asked one of the

United States Customs agents). I feel the Rohypnol problem is fairly new in

California, but also Californians may simply be stuffing the drug in tote bags

or pockets.

Rohypnol is also apparently being smuggled to the United States from

Columbia, where Hoffman-La Roche has a plant. But what is turning up in Texas

and California is from Mexico and appears to be coming through the pharmacies.

The Haight Ashbury Clinics, a San Francisco group, recently conducted Hoffman-La

Roche- funded studies of Rohypnol in Florida and Texas.

I made a recent phone call to the Los Angeles Police Department and

found out that the police officers were provide free kits to detect Rohypnol in

urine. In the state of Florida they use the kit to convict date-rapists.

“Here we have everything, and it’s very accessible,” said Sanjuana

Covarrubias, director of the Centros facility in Tijuana.”

Some U.S. officials would like even tougher action. Specifically, the

DEA is pushing to have the sedative classified as a Schedule 1 drug, as Florida

did last month. that permits prosecutors to seek sentences such as those

imposed for selling heroin or cocaine.

Currently, the drug flunitrazepam is classified in the United States as

a schedule four drug, defined as substances with low potential for abuse and

acceptable for medical use in the United States. When the drug is legally

administered, it is used for the short-term treatment of insomnia and as a mild

sedative. Rohypnol is marketed in one milligram and two milligrams varieties,

with two milligrams being considered a ?heavy dose.?

During my research, I found that most of the people bringing the drug

across are very young aged, college students. All they have to do is fill out a

declaration form (which lists what they are bringing across the border).

The Office of National Drug Control Policy says the use of Rohypnol may

lead to the development of physical and psychological dependence. The risk of

dependence increases with dose and duration and can be considered greater in

patients with histories of alcohol and drug abuse. One physical dependence has

developed, abrupt termination of the drug will result in withdrawal symptoms

such as headaches, muscle pains, extreme anxiety, tension, confusion and

irritability. Extreme cases of withdrawal may experience numbness and tingling

of the extremities, hypersensitivity to light and noise, convulsions and

hallucinations. I believe that education on this drug and it’s effects need to

be addressed in the near future; if not now, because our youths are going to

suffer in the long run and so will out communities.

Rohypnol is very hard to detect and only one way to get a positive

reading is to do a urine sample. Even this detection process is very costly,

which means it is hard to prosecute because of this reason. You have to be

specifically trying to detect this type of drug in order to get a positive


In conclusion, it is very evident on the problem with drugs in the

border town of Tijuana. I have identified the danger of drugs, easiness in

obtaining drugs in Tijuana, U.S. side usage, Mexico side usage, Rohypnol,

affects and side affects and finally the U.S. noticing the problem and taking a

step to combat the drug. I feel that the United States is not well educated on

the problem with Rohypnol here in this country. Most parents would never know

of such a drug existed, and especially the easiness of obtaining the drug. I

might have heard of the drug once being a student here at SDSU, but it exists

and seems to be the hush-hush; lets keep it ourselves secret drug. We need to

take a stand and get the media involved in this, so the parents of an unexpected

casualty doesn’t have to hear about it from an autopsy report. The literature

and statistics are there, but finding it can be a different task at hand. A

war on drugs can’t be won unless we all take an active role in the cause!


Dibble, Sandra. “U.S. Scourge spreads South.” The San Diego Union Tribune

Sunday, November 17, 1996.

Trotta, Dan. “FEATURE-U.S.-Mexico border becomes fertile new killing ground.”

Reuters, October 24, 1996.