Nightly News   |  September 24, 2011

Drug flow from Mexico on the rise

This year, U.S. Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley alone have seized nearly 500 tons of marijuana coming across the border from Mexico, and it doesn’t look like trafficking will slow down. NBC’s Mark Potter reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

HOLT: must come down.

LESTER HOLT, anchor: For the men and women patrolling along the Southwest border, there are signs of a growing challenge to stem the flow of illegal drugs from Mexico . US officials say the supply for Mexican traffickers is actually increasing. NBC 's Mark Potter has the latest in our special series, MEXICO , THE WAR NEXT DOOR .

MARK POTTER reporting: In the dark of night on a lonely road along the Rio Grande , US border patrol and Texas agents seize another load of marijuana, along with two suspected Mexican smugglers. How much do these weigh?

Unidentified Man #1: Probably about 50 pounds or so.

POTTER: Each. This year, border patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley alone have seized a record nearly 500 tons of marijuana from Mexico .

Mr. ANTHONY COULSON (Retired DEA Supervisor): We have more drugs available now, more drugs are coming across the border, and more drugs available. So the strategy with Mexico isn't working.

POTTER: Despite Mexico 's vicious five-year drug war in which an estimated 40,000 people have been killed, US officials say they have seen no drop in the supply of illegal drugs produced or shipped by Mexican traffickers. According to a Justice Department report released this month, "Mexican-based cartels control distribution of most of the heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine available in the United States ... Moreover, production of these drugs in Mexico appears to be increasing." The DEA reports that since the Mexican drug war began in 2006 , seizures in the four US border states of California , Arizona , New Mexico and Texas have gone up dramatically for marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin. The US drug czar says Mexican troops are too busy to control the rise in drug production.

Mr. GIL KERLIKOWSKE (Office of National Drug Control Policy Director): President Calderon has used military forces to help to reduce violence. And therefore, they're not as available to do things, for instance, eradication of marijuana.

POTTER: With so many drugs coming across the border in south Texas , a big cottage industry has sprung up here on the US side of the river. Home and business owners often rent out their properties to smugglers who need a place to temporarily stash all their drugs before moving them around the country.

Unidentified Man #2: There's the weed.

POTTER: A former US drug czar accuses current administration officials of trying to play down the threat posed by smugglers along the border.

General BARRY McCAFFREY, Retired (NBC News Military Analyst): Law enforcement is routinely shot at or intimidated. It is an extremely serious situation, and it's getting worse. And we're in denial.

POTTER: US officials insist they are addressing the threat, and say they've greatly increased law enforcement capabilities along the border amid concerns that a growing drug supply from Mexico could lead to more addiction with huge costs to American families and communities. Mark Potter , NBC News, McAllen, Texas .