ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
In the Mexican city of Juarez, just across the Texas border, drug rehabilitation centers are under attack. Last week, masked gunmen killed nearly 20 people at one such facility. This was the fifth mass shooting at a drug rehab center in Juarez over the last year.
As NPR's Jason Beaubien reports, the massacres have prompted more than a dozen centers to shut down.
(Soundbite of plaza)
JASON BEAUBIEN: In downtown Juarez, Christine Umtuch shines shoes in a small plaza in front of a towering Catholic church. She's originally from Washington state, but she has lived on the streets of Juarez for more than a decade. She says she has kicked a long heroin habit. A large bruise around her right eye and tracks on her arms, however, suggests she still lives a rough life. She says none of her friends will go into rehab right now.
Ms. CHRISTINE UMTUCH: There's a lot of people that want to clean up and do the, you know, right thing, but they're scared now.
BEAUBIEN: Last week, gunmen with AK-47s stormed into a drug rehab center just blocks from the U.S. border, ordered the residents to line up against a wall and then opened fire. Sixteen people died at the scene. It was one of the worst massacres in Mexico's almost three-year-old war on drugs. And it came on the heels of four other mass shootings at drug treatment centers. Umtuch says Juarez has its own rules right now, and she can understand the thinking of the killers.
Ms. UMTUCH: Well, maybe because they know somebody that's there and they owe them or they did something wrong — stole their car, stole their money or something, that's why. And when they go and get that person, everybody pays for it, not just that person, everybody does.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified People: (Singing in foreign language)
BEAUBIEN: A few blocks away at a storefront church called Alcance Victoria, a band is practicing for Mass. Upstairs, recovering addicts sleep in cubicles along one side of a space that feels like what it is — an abandoned paper factory. Jose Nevarez runs the drug rehab center at this church. He says for 19 years, he used heroin and cocaine, but he's been clean now for a decade.
Mr. JOSE NEVAREZ: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Yeah, yeah, we are worried that they might come and attack us, Nevarez says, but in our hearts we don't have fear because we know we are working for God. In Juarez right now, it's one of the few protections available. Government officials are gunned down along with their bodyguards. Businessmen and doctors are kidnapped. The Mexican army has taken over the police department, but despite the presence of thousands of soldiers in the streets, the murder rate just keeps going up. Last month, the border city had 338 drug-related killings, the highest number ever recorded in a single month.
Mr. NEVAREZ: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Nevarez says the city is awash in drugs and it gets worse by the day. Juarez has long been a drug transit point, but as moving narcotics across the border becomes more difficult, local officials say there are more drugs for sale on the street.
Mr. NEVAREZ: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: We work in neighborhoods where there's a lot of gangs, a lot of drug addiction, he says. There are kids 8 or 10 years old smoking crack and injecting heroin and this is increasing. There's a lot - a lot of drug addiction here. As the drug war intensifies, help to get off drugs is disappearing. Over the last year, 15 drug rehab programs in Juarez have shut their doors. Others have put in place strict rules where the residents aren't allowed to leave the building for weeks at a time.
At Alcance Victoria, the residents are free to come and go. In the middle of the day, Gustavo Luna and four other men are putting prizes into small plastic capsules that will go into gumball machines. They do this and other piecework to raise money.
Mr. GUSTAVO LUNA: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Luna says he came to this center about a year ago because he'd been living a bad life.
Mr. LUNA: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: When I was addicted to heroin, life was terrible, Luna says. It was the worst because I wasn't living in my house. I wasn't living with my wife. I wasn't with my children. I couldn't even go back to my mother's house. He says God led him here to Alcance Victoria and to this drug rehab program. And he says he couldn't have quit drugs all by himself. With the recent shootings, he worries that other addicts caught up in that really bad life are going to have fewer and fewer places to turn for help.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Juarez.
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