North America’s Drug Wars

Students present research on trans-national violence

Crawford County had 36 drug-related deaths in 2021, according to Open Data Pennsylvania. That same year, the U.S. reached over 106,000 deaths of the same cause, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. At the end of 2022, The Guardian reported that over 26,000 people had been murdered in Mexico’s ongoing “epidemic of violence.”
Professor of Political Science Shannan Mattiace and her Political Science 235: Latin American Politics class are collaborating with Allegheny College’s Center for Political Participation to explore connections between the shared international struggle with drugs and violence.
“We think of drug violence — or the drug issue — as very focused on Mexico,” Mattiace said. “We say, ‘Oh, look at the cartels.’ We watch the Netflix series ‘Narcos,’ ‘Queen of the South’ and all sorts of different things. And we say, ‘Wow, that is a terrible problem Mexico has.’ We know, all of us, that it’s drug consumption that’s fueling it. We know that. And yet, we think about the people who overdose on drugs as just kind of like, ‘Well, that’s an individual problem that they have. Their addiction is personal. It’s a failure on the individual, or at the very most, it’s a health problem.’”
The collaboration, titled North America’s Drug Wars, invites both the Allegheny and Meadville communities to observe how drug consumption and the violence arising from it are issues that cross international borders. For Guillaume Loinard, ’24, who is taking Mattiace’s Latin American politics course, the drug wars are personal. Growing up in Michoacán, a Mexican state in the western part of the country that touches the Pacific Ocean, Loinard is familiar with the violence the drug issue entails.
“That (Michoacán) is one of the places where violence and cartels have been most prominent over the past 20-30 years,” Loinard said.
Experiencing drug violence is different than how American media often portrays it, especially in terms of police encounters, according to Loinard.
“It’s a little bit more watching over your shoulder,” he said. “That’s the main aspect of it for those people.”
CPP fellow Olivia Brophy, ’23, took Mattiace’s Political Science 235 last year and further contextualized the media’s relationship to the drug wars.
“The drug war is really a North American drug war — it’s not just one-sided,” Brophy said. “I think sometimes the media tends to put a lot of blame on south of the border when really, north of the border is driving a lot of the demand and the consumption.”
Loinard knew when he came to Allegheny that something related to international studies was in the cards for him academically. Participating in North America’s Drug Wars fuses his academic focuses on politics, cultural studies and international studies as well as his own personal experiences.
“The reason I’m so involved comes down to what I’ve lived through and the impact that I want to make,” Loinard said. “I want to give support to those people who are in trouble with this problem because I’ve got to see what the problem affects people back home. I’ve got to see the violence. I’ve got to see overdose. I’ve lost friends and family to this drug war whether it’s through violence or through drugs.”
North America’s Drug Wars consists of two parts. The first was a Quigley Town Hall event in the Quigley Auditorium on Thursday, April 27. Latin American politics students were more responsible for the “Mexico Macro” story — the recontextualizing of drug violence within Mexico to include the negative U.S. effects on the war — being told by this event, according to Mattiace.
The second event is scheduled to take place at the Meadville Public Library on Monday, May 1, and will host a number of community partners who work on drug overdose issues within Crawford County.
Mattiace explained that this research-based collaboration was partly spurred by Associate Professor of Political Science Andrew Bloeser, who is currently in his first year as the director of the CPP. Bloeser wanted CPP fellows to get involved in projects that include research and community partnerships, and the work Mattiace’s students do with Mexico’s drug wars felt like a good fit, Mattiace explained.
Like Brophy, CPP fellow Son Nguyen, ’23, also took Mattiace’s Latin American Politics course the previous academic year. Their past experiences with the material made them “poised to be the bridge between the CPP and my class,” according to Mattiace.
Brophy first learned about how U.S. markets perpetuate the drug war in Mattiace’s class. Learning how U.S. policy and consumption intertwined with Mexican violence was a topic of study that drew her interest, as it is observable domestically and internationally.
“I’m a TA for her (Mattiace) this semester, so she’s just been a personal mentor, and when she presented me with the project I was really excited just to get to have a full-circle moment with her and also with myself,” Brophy said.
Brophy explained that she has spent the semester reaching out to community partners to understand the work they do and generate a better picture of how drugs and overdoses affect Crawford county. Brophy could only confirm with certainty the attendance of community partners she had spoken to and invited to the May 1 discussion, but that does not mean they will be the sole community partners present.
“I know we’re talking to people who work at Meadville Medical Center and people who work at CHAPS (Crawford County Mental Health Awareness Program),” Brophy said. “So that’s kind of the medical side of it — people who work directly with people struggling with addiction and rehabilitation within the community.”
Brophy said that the CPP has also reached out to local employers like Acutec Precision Aerospace, Inc., “who have taken really tremendous steps to aid people who have a history of drug addiction.”
Mattiace hopes that through events like this, more local community members — and U.S. citizens — see the direct relationship between Mexico’s drug wars and U.S. issues.
“We really can’t understand drugs in the U.S. and drugs in Mexico without understanding the links between them,” Mattiace said. “So, of course, some kind of cooperation is really probably the only route to actually doing something to protect the lives of citizens in both countries.”