Gangs frequently target private, unlicensed rehabilitation centers, because they are more likely to take in active gang members seeking to free themselves from an addiction to their own product. In contrast to government-licensed rehabilitation centers in Mexico, private clinics are not associated with the penal system and often have very little security, leaving their patients vulnerable to attacks by gangs seeking to avenge the death of a friend or eliminate a potential police informant. Some unlicensed clinics may also serve as fronts for drug dealing, or even as safe houses for gangsters seeking to lay low.
After a 2009 attack on a center in Juarez, the Chihuahua state Secretary of Public Security, Victor Valencia, said the rehab clinics had become a hotbed of criminal activity, adding that “cartels are using them to recruit young people from 17 to 23 years old.”
According to him, it is difficult for these youths to escape from a life of crime, as they are seen as a “disposable” liability by the leaders of criminal organizations.
Drug cartels cannot afford to have a former member come clean, either about himself or, worse, his bosses. Because these young people can be quickly replaced, they are often killed in order to minimize this risk.
In some cases, organized criminal groups even run their own rehabilitation centers.