The head of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, Edward Jurith, is in Mexico City for a two-day conference on reducing demand for drugs. The emphasis at the meeting is on bilateral cooperation to end drug use on both sides of the border.

For many years Mexicans tended to view the drug problem as primarily a result of demand in the United States, but that has now changed. In his speech at the inauguration of the fourth binational conference on reduction of drug demand, Mexican National Security Advisor Adolfo Aguilar Zinser acknowledged his nation's drug use problem. He says Mexico and the United States need to confront the problem, together. He says "regardless of what victories the two nations might have in drug interdiction or the fight against money laundering, there can be no success in the drug war without controlling addictions." Aguilar Zinser says "no one should speak of a drug-producing nation and a drug-consuming nation because Mexico has now become a drug-consuming nation, as well."

Figures from Mexican Health Ministry surveys show drug abuse has grown significantly in the country, over the past several years. In 1993, 3.9 percent of Mexicans responding to surveys said they had used a drug within the past month. In 1998, that figure had jumped to 5.3 percent. The surveys showed a significant increase in drug use among young people and women.

Edward Jurith says this reflects, to a great extent, the side effect of having great amounts of cocaine being smuggled through Mexico from South America. "What that is reflective of is the increasing amount of cocaine coming through Mexico from the Andes. U.S. use of cocaine is relatively flat, it is going down. It has gone down since 1985 and is relatively stable and increasing amounts of cocaine, unfortunately, are being abused now in Mexico, South America and in Europe," Jurith continues. "That is why we are having this conference, because America went through a terrible struggle with cocaine through much of the 1980's and we have learned a lot about how to treat it and prevent it."

The U.S. anti-drug chief says the percentage of people using drugs in the United States is half of what it was 20 years ago. Still, he says demand remains strong because of the 14 million drug users, about five million of whom are addicted to a narcotic substance.

During this conference, health and drug control experts from the United States are sharing their experiences and ideas with Mexican counterparts. Officials from both nations agree that such cooperation is the best way to combat both the abuse of drugs and the criminal organizations that supply the illicit substances to users here in Mexico, as well as in the United States.