South America is a mess. Three countries - Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil - are dragging the other countries down with them as those three spiral downward economically.

The financial futures of Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia are all directly affected by these three main countries. The people there have become desperate, which is why so many have risked their lives to cross over into America. Meanwhile, the drug cartels are destroying Mexico, Columbia and Brazil. Regardless of what our politicians may tell us, crime in South America directly affects crime in the United States.

South America is home to five of the most powerful crime cartels in the world: Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN), Brazil's First Capital Command (PCC), Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, Mexico's New Generation Jalisco Cartel (CJNG), and Colombia's Ex-FARC Mafia. Not even the Russian Mafia and China's Tongs are as powerful as these South American cartels, and all five are competing for markets in the U.S. All five have members inside their respective governments. All five reportedly use their money and political influence to affect the political arena in the U.S. All five make fortunes from selling illicit drugs, including methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine is the No. 1 killer in Oklahoma. As much as 15 pounds of meth comes into Oklahoma from Mexico every week. Oklahoma's restrictions on pseudoephedrine at pharmacies initially reduced the death rate among Oklahomans. However, drying up the local sources just eliminated the competition for cartels, and opened the floodgates coming from Mexico into Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Meth comes into Oklahoma, money goes out.

Meth reduces appetite and increases alertness. I asked a now-deceased cousin once why anyone would take meth. He told me it keeps you alert and awake, and is a strong aphrodisiac. He stopped using the drug 20 years ago, but suffered the side effects the rest of his life. His heart, liver and lungs eventually stopped working. Today's meth, however, is far more powerful and dangerous than what was available to my cousin from local drug dealers.

It's a so-called victimless crime, but anyone with a meth-addicted family member knows there are many victims besides the user. Long-term effects of meth addiction are numerous, most noticeably rotten and missing teeth. Less obvious, but more painful to family and friends, are the emotional and neurological changes a meth user faces. Scientists call it changes in brain structure and function, which is a clinical way of saying the drug forever changes users by breaking down their moral and social barriers. The most important aspect of life ceases to be family and friends, and instead, defaults to an addiction that often cannot be overcome.

Methamphetamine took the lives of 327 Oklahoman's in 2017, an increase of 600 percent in 10 years. Statistics for 2019 are not available, but meth killed more Oklahomans last year than opioid painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, and no real treatments are available.

The cartels do not care that your once-loving son or grandchild has become a thief and a liar to support his habit. They only care about how much money they can make. So we can ignore South America and claim its dilemma does not affect us, but we are deceiving ourselves. South America's problems really are our problems. Governments south of the border need to be held accountable. Their crooked politicians and police officers are our enemies. They and our own politicians or law enforcement officers who profit from the destruction of our youth should be held severely accountable.

Mark Stepp is a retired senior technical writer and former newspaper reporter/editor. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and a graduate of Northeastern State University with a BA in education and journalism.

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