After Joaquin Guzman, "El Chapo," used an elaborate tunnel for his great prison escape last July, the Mexican drug lord portrayed himself to actor Sean Penn as a kind of Robin Hood, producing a vital product in Mexico for distribution to the world.
But the reality, according to Jack Riley, the number two guy at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), is much uglier.
Even after the recapture of the billionaire kingpin, Jack blames El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel for pouring poison into the veins of New Englanders.
In the heroin epidemic of the 1970s and the crack epidemic of the 1980s we could say, “Oh, is it only those people.” Now “those people” is all of America.
- Geraldo Rivera
“They're selling death and misery in the form of heroin. And that relationship between organized crime south of the border and our own organized crime operating on the streets here in New England is really the reason you've seen the explosion of distribution of heroin.”
The veteran cop is talking about the unprecedented epidemic of heroin abuse and overdose deaths that is gripping New England, from Maine to Massachusetts. and especially New Hampshire.
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The Granite State, where the first in the nation primary election happens next Tuesday, is in the throes of an extraordinary crisis. Although it is more than 3,000 miles from Sinaloa to New Hampshire, that small, overwhelmingly white and middle class state has suffered more than 800 overdose deaths in the last two years from heroin and Fentanyl, a synthetic form of the drug also produced by the cartel.
Since the beginning of this year, there have been at least 23 fatal overdoses. In the largest city of Manchester there have been seven drug overdoses since Monday, two of them fatal.
Part of the problem is that the Fentanyl is even more toxic than heroin. The New Hampshire Forensic Pathologist Kim Fallon told me that Fentanyl is killing many unsuspecting junkies.
“We go to death scenes all the time where family and friends are saying that they knew how much they could take…and they think they're taking heroin but it's really Fentanyl in most cases and they really have no idea what they're taking.”
It is small wonder that on the eve of the all-important primary the most urgent political issue according to polling by the University of New Hampshire and WMUR is not terrorism or jobs or the economy. It is drug abuse.
At the famed Red Arrow Diner, which has been memorialized in the TV show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives – and where since 1922 every presidential candidate has made his way here to curry favor and get promises of votes – it is on the mind of every customer and waitress in the joint.
A veteran waitress named Ellen told me, “It is the worse I've seen. A couple of weeks ago there was a young girl with a baby and she was in here and she literally passing out at the table with a baby sitting with her. She's sitting at the table with a nine-month-old baby high on heroin falling asleep. It's the saddest thing.”
Another waitress, Penny, told me, “It just saddens you because they are so young and every other day you're hearing somebody passed away. And, you know, they OD'd and they just barely made it and we just were wondering when is it going to end ... how is it going to end?”
Acknowledging that they can’t arrest their way out of this crisis, local, state and federal authorities are still working hard to stem the tide with an ongoing operation they call “Granite Hammer.”
But no matter how many people they arrest, it won’t stop the epidemic. I’ve been covering the War on Drugs since President Nixon declared the war more than 40 years and a trillion dollars ago. It won’t stop without a major national commitment to educate and treat this scourge as the disease it is.
Maybe because the voters in New Hampshire care so deeply about this crisis, something concrete will be done. It is encouraging that so many of the candidates are sharing their own tragic experiences with friends and family members who have overdosed. Ted Cruz tells of losing a half-sister to drug abuse. Carly Fiorina lost a daughter. Jeb Bush has seen his daughter arrested twice for violating rehab.
It is not like the previous heroin epidemics I have reported on. This is not a ghetto plague where most of the victims were poor black and Latino. Then, in the heroin epidemic of the 1970s and the crack epidemic of the 1980s we could say, “Oh, is it only those people.” Now “those people” is all of America.
Geraldo Rivera currently serves as a roaming correspondent-at-large for Fox News Channel. He joined the network in 2001 as a war correspondent.