Papaver red flowers and green unripe poppy heads. Photo by Satirus via

UC San Diego announced Monday its Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies will be a major partner in the new Mexico Opium Network, an international effort to examine the sociopolitical challenges posed by illicit poppy crops and heroin production in Mexico.

In addition to UCSD, the global network is composed of researchers from Noria Research, Mexico United Against Crime in Mexico, the Latin American Center for Rural Development in Colombia, the Transform Drug Policy Foundation in the United Kingdom and the Transnational Institute in the Netherlands.

“The poppy economy is crucial to some of the Mexico’s most marginalized rural regions, despite its illegality and constant efforts at eradication,” said Rafael Fernandez de Castro, director of UCSD’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies. “More research and data on the opium economy and its stakeholders is needed to understand these communities’ social realities.”

According to a UCSD statement, recent lockdowns have disrupted the flow of synthetic opioids and have ostensibly increased production of heroin in Mexico, which is the world’s second-largest producer of opium and heroin.

An estimated 128 people die every day in the U.S. from opioid overdoses, largely caused by synthetic opioids manufactured in China and Mexico, the statement says.

Reports of the pandemic’s impacts to the production of synthetic opioids like fentanyl have incentivized poppy cultivation in Mexico, which could lead to more substance abuse, violence and drug trafficking.

“While we know that the opium production in Mexico is the top source of opioids to the U.S. and other countries, in most publications and discussions regarding poppy cultivation in the world, Mexico is — at best — mentioned, when not totally absent,” said Cecilia Farfan-Mendez, head of security research programs at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies.

“Therefore, when it comes to addressing challenges posed by this issue we are almost blind; however, the launch of this new network will allow us to build a decisive new space for research and public policy dialogue, both at the Mexican and the international level.”

Poppy production is often a complementary activity in the family farming economy in mountainous regions, providing a source of income that is alternated with food production, manufacturing and local trade, to sustain economies that can be precarious.

The opium network will seek to shed light on these communities by understanding how many farmers work and live from opium poppy production in Mexico.

The Mexico Opium Network will focus on five key activities:

  • Produce systematic knowledge on the Mexican opium economy, and the evolution of law enforcement policies, through fieldwork and quantitative analysis.
  • Work with the producing communities in order to design a rural development strategy.
  • Generate an evidence-based debate with civil society at the national and international level.
  • Engage with key civil decision-makers within national and international forums.
  • And offer alternatives addressing rural development, drug policy and public security strategies.

— City News Service

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