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Drug Problems in California's Imperial Valley Get National Attention


February 1995

The drug problems in California's Imperial Valley "cocaine corridor" are receiving national attention as a law enforcement task force starts work there and the only methadone clinic in the region is criticized for mismanagement (Sebastian Rotella, "17 Agencies Join to Target Desert 'Cocaine Corridor,'" Los Angeles Times, Jan. 14, 1995, p. A30; Tony Perry, "Calamities of a War on Drugs," Jan. 22, 1995, p. A3).

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick announced Jan. 13 that seventeen law enforcement agencies would be joining forces to combat drug trafficking in that area. 70% of the cocaine that enters the U.S. over the Southwest border comes over the California border, officials said.

The agencies include the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Customs Service, the Border Patrol, the Army and others. The task force will pool information to gain a larger picture of smuggling operations in that area, and will be headed by U.S. Attorney Alan Bersin.

The only methadone maintenance clinic in the Imperial Valley area is coming under fire and may soon close. The director of the Imperial Valley Methadone Clinic in Calexico, Dr. Amalia Katsigeanis, has been criticized for poor management and shoddy accounting.

The non-profit clinic has offered methadone maintenance to patients for 20 years, operating on state and federal funds. Because of the high incidence of drug trafficking in the area, drug treatment officials estimate that Imperial Valley has higher rates of heroin addiction than some urban areas.

Katsigeanis has been criticized for improper record-keeping of patients' blood tests and for not withholding income taxes from the clinic's employees. The clinic doctor believes that these incidents of mismanagement have been seized on by those that want to close the clinic.

"This clinic has been a thorn in their side," she said. "So when these things occurred -- the financial shortfalls, the audit problems -- they said, 'The hell with you. We don't want you around here anymore.' The state immediately picked up on that. But if they close the doors -- which I will never allow to happen -- they are going to have a big problem with the heroin users."

The Imperial Valley Methadone Clinic treats patients from the region, many of whom travel long distances for methadone. Law enforcement officials estimate the heroin addict population in the county (population 137,500) at 1,500. Adding the number of occasional users, and the total number of users for the county is estimated at approximately 2,500.