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Heroin Sales Soar as Illegal Marijuana Output Falls

With marijuana becoming legal in many states, traffickers have been shifting their business model towards heroin.

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Mexican soldier finds a poppy field. Photo via

By Desiree Bowie

04/09/14

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The illegal drug trade is taking a major hit with the ongoing decriminalization of marijuana in the United States. The drop in sales has forced the Mexican trafficking organizations to replace wholesale marijuana with heroin. Because of the shift in the cartels' business model, U.S. authorities are now experiencing a major outbreak of cheap heroin across North America. 

Heroin has been in the midst of a major comeback since 2007. The National Drug Intelligence Center, which was shut down in 2012 and its functions transferred to the Drug Enforcement Administration, reported that between 2007-2012 heroin use was up 79 percent with four out of five users reported to have used prescription drugs like Oxycontin.

There has been a major crackdown on the abuse of prescription drugs, pushing users to the more inexpensive and easily portable drug heroin. Attorney General Eric Holder reported that about 80 percent of heroin users have previously taken pain medication without a prescription. Because of the seamless transition from prescription pills, street heroin has been “moving all over the country and popping up in areas you didn’t see before,” said Carl Pike, a senior official in the Special Operations Division of the DEA.

Pike and other DEA officials believe the spread to be a result of a clever marketing plan developed by Mexican traffickers. The dealers did their research and found areas that have historically had the worst prescription drug abuse like Maine, St. Louis, and Oklahoma City. One agent said that the traffickers sent street dealers to “set up right outside the methadone clinics.” 

New heroin typically users begin by snorting the drug until eventually working their way up to intravenous use for a more powerful high. The cheaper price tag of the heroin aids the transition from pills, which can go for up to $80 a pop with effects that last four-to-six hours.

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