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Drug demand reduction a key issue in border security

The fight against border drug trafficking must address reducing demand, federal and Arizona law enforcement officials told a congressional panel in Phoenix.

The Arizona Republic reports that several officials said Monday that there needs to be a coordinated effort to decrease the appetite for drugs in the U.S.

Matthew Allen, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Phoenix, said fewer drugs would get produced and be smuggled into the U.S. if Americans didn’t use them.

Allen’s comment came in response to Congressman Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., asking about ways to improve cooperation among law enforcement at a time of government budget cuts.

Gosar, along with U.S. Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, conducted the hearing at the Arizona National Guard headquarters.

Quayle told The Arizona Republic he agrees that demand is an issue.

“We have to work on the demand side as well as the supply side,” Quayle said.

Critics argue the issue of demand hasn’t been dealt with while billions of dollars are spent targeting suppliers. Others say devoting resources toward demand is a soft-on-crime stance.

Brig. Gen. Jose Salinas, director of the Joint Staff of the Arizona National Guard, said a drug-prevention program taught by the Guard at elementary schools is as important as other intelligence-gathering support they provide for federal agencies. However, because it’s hard to quantify, the program is being cut, Salinas said.

Officials said Arizona is a primary path for people smuggling marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin from Mexico. While some applauded the instances in which the U.S. and Mexico have joined efforts to gather intelligence, they say capturing smugglers isn’t enough.

“I was going to arrest every bad guy, and we were going to eliminate the drug-abuse problem,” said Elizabeth Kempshall, executive director of the Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. “But I’ve learned through experience and hard knocks that it has to be a coordinated approach between law enforcement, demand reduction and treatment.

“We need to keep teaching our children about the dangers of drug abuse,” Kempshall said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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