Mexican Cartels Taking Over Heroin Market As U.S. Demand Grows

By May Wilkerson 11/17/15

How the drug cartels are flooding the U.S. market with heroin.

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A new government report shows how heroin production is shifting from South America to Mexico and steadily rising, as U.S. demand for the drug continues to grow.

Heroin use in the United States has skyrocketed in recent years. The number of heroin users in the country has risen by nearly 300,000 over the last decade, according to a report released this past summer by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The rise has occurred among men and women in most age groups and all income levels, and has been primarily driven by the increase in use of opiate painkillers (like Oxycontin), as well as heroin’s increased availability and cheaper price.

Heroin was more available in 2015 than it was in 2008 in every region of the country, according to the 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment issued in October.

But where is all this heroin coming from? According to the report, most of it is entering the United States from Mexico and Colombia. The countries dominate the market because of “their proximity, established transportation and distribution infrastructure, and ability to satisfy U.S. heroin demand,” said the report. “Despite significant decreases in Colombian heroin production between 2001 and 2009,” the report continued, “South American heroin continues to be the predominant type available in eastern U.S. markets.”

Mexican cartels are responsible for a growing share of the U.S. heroin market, the report found. In 2014, nearly a quarter-million pounds of heroin were smuggled into the United States by Mexican traffickers. Much of Mexico’s opium cultivation takes place on the west coast, an area dominated by the hugely powerful Sinaloa cartel, as well as the rising Jalisco New Generation cartel.

White-powder heroin seized at the U.S. border indicates that a bulk of the drug is made from Mexican poppies, produced using South American methods, and trafficked along cartel-established routes through Mexico and into the United States. Drug seizures along the border has more than doubled from 1,016 kilograms in 2010 to 2,188 kilograms in 2014, the report found. Heroin is also regularly seized at airports in Miami, Newark, New York City, and Orlando.

The new report's findings paint a grim picture, with Mexican drug organizations aiming to expand their reach as demand grows.

Government data also shows that overdose deaths involving heroin increased 244% between 2007 and 2013, and seem likely to continue to rise. “Heroin use and overdose deaths are likely to continue to increase in the near term,” the report concluded.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.