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Anexos and Mexico's controversial answer to drug addiction

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Mexico faces a rising tide of addiction, not just for trafficked drugs but also for substances closer to home.

While the country grapples with its role as a supplier, studies show a concerning increase in local drug use. Fentanyl, methamphetamine and heroin plague communities. Rampant violence resulting in PTSD, grinding poverty, lack of opportunity, and unchecked corruption has created a breeding ground for addiction. Mexico’s under-developed treatment infrastructure is unable to keep pace, leaving many battling addiction without support. But some are now turning to anexos.

Mexico's anexos, private rehabilitation facilities, are a double-edged sword in the fight against drug addiction. On the positive side, they offer a crucial lifeline for families struggling with addiction. Anexos often provide a low-cost option, especially in areas lacking government resources. These centers remove users from their environment and drug supply, imposing a much-needed structure.

However, the dark side of anexos is significant. Many operate outside regulations, resorting to brute force, confinement and isolation to keep people there. Their methods are often far from therapeutic, relying heavily on religious indoctrination, shaming tactics, and even physical punishment. This harsh approach can be emotionally and even physically damaging. Furthermore, anexos typically lack trained medical professionals and evidence-based treatment programs, hindering long-term recovery.

There is also evidence that suggests that the drug cartels themselves are somehow connected to some anexos. There are reports of cartels targeting anexos and murdering everyone on site. There was a high-profile drug rehabilitation center attack in Ciudad Juarez in 2009 that left 26 dead. In 2020 there were at least four anexos attacked by a drug cartel in the state of Guanajuato.

There is evidence that anexos are now popping up in parts of the United States. This could be happening because in many underserved areas of the US, access to quality addiction treatment is all but impossible to access. This could lead to a rise in unregulated or faith-based rehab centers with some similarities to anexos. Also as Hispanic communities grow in the US, there might be a demand for treatment approaches familiar to their cultural background. This could lead to the emergence of centers inspired by the anexo model, but hopefully operating within legal and ethical boundaries.


Angela Garcia is an anthropologist and writer. She is the author of The Way That Leads Among the Lost: Life, Death, and Hope in Mexico City's Anexos.
Her first book The Pastoral Clinic: Addiction and Dispossession Along the Rio Grande received the Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing and the Pen Center USA Award for Exceptional First Book.

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*This interview will be recorded on Monday, April 29, 2024.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi