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Science & Technology

DEA Adds More Technology To Its Fight Against Heroin

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Another reason President Trump says he wants to build a wall along the Mexico border is because of drug trafficking, specifically in heroin. The Drug Enforcement Administration says more than 90 percent of the heroin coming into the United States arrives from Mexico. And that's where the DEA is sending drones and geolocation technology to find out where Mexican farmers are growing poppies, the crop used to make the drug.

MIKE VIGIL: Once you attack the problem in one location, it's the balloon effect, where it shifts into another area.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Mike Vigil, the DEA's former chief of international operations and one of the agency's longest-serving agents in Mexico.

VIGIL: I remember being in Mexico many, many years ago as a young agent. And the opium poppy crops were being planted throughout the mountains. You could just see massive amounts of fields, huge fields. And as the eradication efforts started to take place, those fields started to become smaller and smaller. They started to hide them in ravines. And they're very difficult to locate in certain areas.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You said it would be more efficient to create markets for other crops in Mexico.

VIGIL: Eradication is not going to work because people depend on opium poppy cultivation to support themselves and to support their families. We have to give them an alternative.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And he stresses that America's relationship with Mexico is more valuable than any tech the DEA could employ.

VIGIL: Mexico has always collaborated with the United States in terms of counterdrug efforts and other issues. One of the big factors is the exchange of information. And we need that because as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to stopping drugs and other issues that we have to deal with here in the United States, Mexico is the virtual wall, OK?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what you mean by that is Mexico is the virtual wall because they have their own law enforcement acting as a barrier and protecting us from some of these things...

VIGIL: That is absolutely correct. But when you have an individual as caustic as Donald Trump, you know, accusing Mexicans of being murderers and rapists and the fact that he's going to do away with the North American Free Trade Agreement, that he's going to build a wall, that - obviously, sending the National Guard troops to the border - you know, the Mexican government takes great offense at that. And if he continues, I can tell you that Mexico will probably not be as cooperative. And if they stop cooperating with the U.S. government, we are going to be in a world of hurt.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mike Vigil is the former chief of international operations at the DEA and one of the longest-serving U.S. agents in Mexico. Thank you very much.

VIGIL: Thank you, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "THROUGH YOUR EYES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.