David T. Johnson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
George Marshall Conference Center, U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC
February 23, 2010

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As prepared

Secretary Cordova, Secretary Sebelius, Director Rodriquez Ajenjo, Director Medina Mora, Director Kerlikowske, distinguished guests: on behalf of Secretary of State Clinton, I’m pleased to welcome you to the State Department’s Marshall Conference Center and to join my American colleagues in welcoming our Mexican friends to this important undertaking.

When the Secretary made her first visit to Mexico in March 2009, she made clear that Mexico’s counter-narcotics challenge was one we shared. Several factors make that shared responsibility crystal clear, but none of them surpass the driving force that demand for illicit drugs in the United States plays. So this gathering is part and parcel of our joint effort to confront a shared threat to both of our nations.

This meeting represents a critical advance in forging our partnership (eight bi-national drug demand reduction conferences) to combat illicit drug use. It reflects our understanding that a genuine bi-national security partnership requires more than dismantling narcotics networks, destroying caches of illicit drugs, and addressing the flow of guns and money. Yes, we must do these things and do them well. But to sustain the gains we make there – and to protect the health and safety of our citizens – together we must make significant progress in preventing and treating drug abuse.

This week’s conference is an important opportunity for the government and NGO sectors of both our countries to join together to share ideas, experiences, and discuss best practices to reduce drug use, to advance the fight against gangs and violence, and to build partnerships from the ground up to improve people’s lives.

The United States is proud to partner with President Calderon in his fight against drug cartels, and with our partners in Central America and the Caribbean. Our joint efforts support our neighbors throughout the region in the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking. Under this partnership we aim to create a cycle of declining crime, declining drug abuse, and better governance. To support that effort, we aim to do more within our own borders to reduce drug demand and to stem the flow of illegal weapons and laundered money.

Mexico and the U.S. share a commitment to an evidence-based drug demand reduction program, one that prevents the initial on-set of drug use and reduces existing drug use. We share the goal of mitigating the detrimental effects drug use has on our societies, our families, our economies, and our security.

Under the Merida Initiative, the United States will help fund the efforts of Mexico’s Secretariat of Health to expand its demand reduction activities nationwide. This joint demand reduction effort is an integral part of the Merida Initiative. And it will serve as a key element in our strategy to strengthen cooperation in security and free our societies from organized crime.

Experts around the world have noted our continued progress in reducing drug demand in the United States. The U.N.’s 2007 World Drug Report highlighted the sharp reduction in Americans’ abuse of illicit drugs. Countries around the globe have reached out for ideas on “what works.”

We have made progress in stopping the initiation of drug use, intervening with drug users, and improving treatment delivery. We have achieved a significant and sustained reduction in the number of drug dependent individuals and we are more than willing to share the techniques and programs we have developed. At the same time, we look forward to learning from Mexico’s experience, since we have much to learn from you.

We know that every country has unique patterns of drug abuse as well as different historical and cultural experiences. Thus, our goal is to exchange information on best practices and to provide training and technical assistance to our partners.

You have a busy schedule this week and I look forward to the results of this important bi-national meeting. Long term reduction in demand for illicit drugs is imperative if we are to end the epidemic of drug abuse. It is indeed an honor to be a part of this important discussion.