Tuesday, July 19, 2011

As poppy fields flourish in Mexico, heroin use surges in U.S.

A Mexican Army soldier walks in a poppy field in El Durazno, Guerrero state, Mexico, June 16, 2011. A U.S. State Department narcotics report in March said Mexico had surpassed Myanmar to become the world's second largest cultivator of poppy. (Marcelo A Salinas/MCT)

By Tim Johnson | McClatchy Newspapers

Mexico's heroin industry has had a bullish few years, and for traffickers the outlook is as uplifting as the scarlet, orange and yellow poppy flowers from which the narcotic is processed.

What was once a problem largely confined to hubs in California and Texas, Mexican traffickers have expanded into the Midwest and the Atlantic Seaboard, narcotics experts say.

Using savvy marketing tactics, they've also repositioned heroin commercially, revamping its image from the inner-city drug of yore, with its junkies and needles, into a narcotic that can be snorted or smoked, appealing to suburban and even rural high school youth.

A coincidental factor has given the drug gangs a tail wind: The epidemic abuse of painkillers has ebbed in the United States, and youth now hunger for a cheaper high.

"We've heard around the country of changes away from prescription drugs, because they are either more expensive or more difficult to obtain, and a movement toward heroin, which is less costly," said Gil Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief who's the White House drug czar.

The U.S. State Department said in March that Mexico has surpassed Myanmar as the world's second largest poppy cultivator and produces 7 percent of the world's heroin, mostly for the U.S. market. The State Department and the United Nations say that Mexican poppy production has nearly tripled since 2007, though Mexico strongly disputes that estimate.

What's indisputable is that drug syndicates that produce black tar and brown heroin in Mexico's Sierra Madre mountains are pushing aggressively into areas where they haven't been active before.


Teenagers in Albuquerque, N.M., Milwaukie, Ore., Fenton, Mich., Troy, Ill., La Porte, Ind., and Mentor, Ohio, have died from apparent heroin overdoses in the past nine months. Law enforcement officials warn that heroin has gained a foothold in suburban Atlanta and is the fastest-growing drug in northern Ohio. Prosecutors indicted 20 people in Toledo on May 10 on charges of conspiring to bring Mexican heroin to the city.

A police detective told Charlotte, N.C., council members this week that the city ranks No. 5 among U.S. cities in black tar heroin use.

"You've had a couple of selected cartels move forward very aggressively into the Eastern United States," said Dave Gaddis, a former chief of operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration who left the DEA in April and now heads a security consulting firm, G-Global Protection Solutions.

Even in the Western United States, where Mexican heroin has been present for decades, law enforcement officials say they're seeing more of it than ever before.

"The heroin numbers have skyrocketed," said William Ruzzamenti, a former federal anti-narcotics agent who now heads a federally funded regional drug task force in California's Central Valley. "Just in our little area, we've already surpassed all seizures from last year, and we're not even to July yet."

At about $15 a hit, heroin is a lot cheaper than prescription painkillers such as oxycodone (known by its brand name, OxyContin), which can cost $50 to $80 a tablet on the black market. Both opiates, they have similar highs.

The U.S. government once was enthusiastic about bringing poppy to Mexico. During World War II, it encouraged Mexico to plant the opiate-producing flowering plant to ease a shortage of morphine for wounded U.S. soldiers.

Afterward, the poppy stayed in the Sierra Madres of western Mexico. It now stretches from the mountainous junction of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango states in the north down into Nayarit, Michoacan, Guerrero and Oaxaca states.

For decades, less-refined Mexican heroin was a poor cousin to white Asian heroin, and later Colombian heroin. Mexico's black tar heroin gets its name from its dark color and gooey consistency, caused by less-exacting processing. By the 1990s, Mexican traffickers saw opportunity passing them by and took action to catch up.

"They brought in experts, chemists, folks from Asia who taught them how to produce better heroin," said a U.S. law enforcement official based in Mexico City, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity for security reasons. "You saw purity levels climb from 40 to 50 percent up to 90 percent."

He said Mexican heroin now might hold two-thirds of the U.S. market.

"You're seeing it everywhere. It's cheap. The market base is teenagers. They are the target consumers," the official said.

Poppy grows best in warm, temperate climates with low humidity. In Colombia and Mexico, it's cultivated on steep mountain slopes. Poppy fields need irrigation, yet a heavy rainstorm can wipe them out.

"The less sun that hits the poppy plant, the better," said Col. Dante Castillo Calleja, a Mexican army officer who escorted a reporter and a photographer deep into the mountains of Guerrero state to observe soldiers eradicating poppy fields.

Hovering at the edge of a sloping field shrouded in late-afternoon mist, Castillo plucked a poppy to demonstrate the walnut-sized seedpod that contains the latex precious to narcotics traffickers.

"You need a delicate hand to do this," he said, demonstrating how poppy farmers score the seedpods with light incisions, returning after a few hours to wipe away the latex that oozes out. "They often use children to make the incisions. Also women."

Soldiers whacked the brittle poppy stalks with sticks, knocking them flat, while others used machetes to destroy hoses set up as an impromptu irrigation system from a nearby stream.

Guerrero state, which is perhaps best known for the tourist beach resort Acapulco, has among the densest concentration of poppy in Mexico, and the prosperity of the drug trade is evident. Even along remote dirt roads, most houses have satellite dishes on their roofs and recreational all-terrain vehicles parked out front. Farmers ride the vehicles to poppy fields deep in the mountains.

"The peasant farmers get ahead but those who really profit are the middlemen and the owners of the labs," Castillo said.

Despite a broad military presence in the region, the army hasn't destroyed any of the simple field laboratories that can turn the latex gum first into opium, then morphine and finally heroin.

"We haven't found a single laboratory," said Brig. Gen. Benito Medina Herrera, the top military officer in this western region of Guerrero. Asked where the laboratories were, he said: "In Cuernavaca, in the capital, in the United States."

No matter where the heroin labs are, smugglers who take the narcotic across the United States are growing bolder in their tactics. Smuggling vehicles sometimes work in tandem with decoy trailing vehicles, Ruzzamenti said.

When police spot a suspicious car, "the trail vehicles will intercede to get the police to go after them. They'll ram the police car or race by it at 100 miles an hour," he said. "We've even had them shoot at the police."

19 comments:

  1. everyone knows the most heroin comes from Afghanistan were U.S. troops protect poppy fields

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  2. yeap..the taliban had totally halted poppy cultivation...but "they" can't have that shit ...so our loyal, brave misinformed troops are sent there to kill and die to fix that shit...now poppys are flourishing again

    so someone tell me again..just exactly why are American soldiers in afgannystan...killing guys who don't have shoes?...

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  3. Yet another pro US government, Let's Make a Drug War Inside of Mexico commentary.... claiming this time, that it is all necessary to wage more war or otherwise all the sweet US kiddies will soon be dying right and left of heroin overdoses! What a crock of total bullshit!

    The real addiction in the US is to militarism, a drug for the Nationalist Pseudo Patriot Right Winger set. Can't we wage a war against that? We could spend trillions and yap yap yap about it, too! And wave our national flag!

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  4. It's been an epidemic for years, and they are right about the kids going from pills to heroin, it's cheaper and more readily available , the rich kids have the money and time to say on it until the parents but them in cushy rehabs for thousands of dollars, and there on every corner in newport beach.

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  5. 4:03 PM....for the CIA and DEA to distribute world wide.

    2:47 PM....what does that have to do with the price of tea in China. Do you have to make the same lame comments about NRA and ATF over and over. Guns are about all the US makes anymore and they are for damn sure going to let them sell them. No ones listens, no one cares.

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  6. As fewer and fewer people work and more and more in the USA live off of Govt programs the use of drugs increases the DEMOCRATIC PARTY prospers, the USA sinks,Prescription and street drugs have become common low class recreation, It is difficult to accept the HEROIN,etc reality what about all the thousands of hard working people who are drug free work like HELL and pay taxes so that the Drug users can live their lives. Same in Mexico hard working people keeping society together and Criminals taking the easy way feeding off of the backs of the workers?? Why are the Criminals tolerated in Mexico??

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  7. So all these statistics are just great. Guns, drugs, murders. I've never once seen on here how US aid would be better served by forcing the resource rich Mexican Goverment to give the people of Mexico legitimate work. If the US would focus on the root of the problem (the goverment of Mexico) and not the illicit activities their people can either get involved in or starve to death if they choose not to...the war on drugs might have a chance.

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  8. Thanks for posting BB. The high school kids got into snorting and smoking synthetic heroin from their parents medicine cabinets. Oxycontin, eh? The "savvy marketing tactics" were perfected by pharmaceutical companies some time ago. The drug war is so twisted it shames the devil.

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  9. @ LB
    We are in Afgahanistan because the terrorists hate our freedoms.

    No really It was part of " operation enduring freedom" to stop Alqiada and prevent Afganistan from being used by the " terrorists". The ironic part is that we, the US, "created" ( notice it's in quotations) the Taliban when we left in the 80's after they defeated the USSR

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  10. 2:47pm, 4:03pm, 6:09pm Ignorance can be helped, but stupidity is with you for ever.Ignorance is the lack of facts,and knowledge,maybe theres hope for you yet. GOD BLESS OUR TROOPS - PRAY FOR THE MEXICAN PEOPLE Thanks B.B.

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  11. ... L.B.@ check out book "CRITICAL PATH" and understand WHY American troops are in Afganistan. Not only the drugs, but it's also about a place called "Kybler Pass". Who ever controls these area, controls the importing and exporting, so Russsia also wanted these area. The Brits also controlled it for a long time...Funny Thing About this World !!!...It's always, always about MONEY AND POWER!!!!!

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  12. What knowledge bro? Fuck the troops. If they knowingly signed up to destroy countries around the world then may they go to hell. If they signed up ignorant of the fact that they're nothing more than mercenaries then may they go to hell too for their ignorance. What kind of man signs up to something without knowing that organization's historic record for committing atrocities worldwide? Fuck the fascist right wingers and the libtards, fuck the cartels, fuck the mexican and american govt.s, they're one in the same. It's all about self-sufficiency, it's about boycotting anything un-american, it's about weapons training, it's about closing our borders to all foreigners once and for all. It's all about The Constitution, get it in your thick skull. That means we do not engage in any foreign wars unless directly provoked, that means complete legalization of all drugs, that means you stay the fuck out of this country, that means we protect our land by any means necessary. Got it? Good!

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  13. you could go onto youtube and see geraldo rivera interviewing a US general for FOX NEWS who admits that the US is helping farmers grow poppy

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  14. What knowledge bro? Fuck the troops. If they knowingly signed up to destroy countries around the world then may they go to hell. If they signed up ignorant of the fact that they're nothing more than mercenaries then may they go to hell too for their ignorance. What kind of man signs up to something without knowing that organization's historic record for committing atrocities worldwide? Fuck the fascist right wingers and the libtards, fuck the cartels, fuck the mexican and american govt.s, they're one in the same. It's all about self-sufficiency, it's about boycotting anything un-american, it's about weapons training, it's about closing our borders to all foreigners once and for all. It's all about The Constitution, get it in your thick skull. That means we do not engage in any foreign wars unless directly provoked, that means complete legalization of all drugs, that means you stay the fuck out of this country, that means we protect our land by any means necessary. Got it? Good!






    LMAO....when you say this

    " it's about closing our borders to all foreigners once and for all.... that means you stay the fuck out of this country

    you sound like this : fascist right wingers

    Whe you say this " that means complete legalization of all drugs..."

    you sound like this : the libtards

    oh lord what a contradiction...were you high when you wrote this...oh btw...."our land"? where is your land?

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  15. July 19, 2011 6:21 PM
    Anonymous said...

    " As fewer and fewer people work and more and more in the USA live off of Govt programs the use of drugs increases the DEMOCRATIC PARTY prospers, the USA sinks,Prescription and street drugs have become common low class recreation, It is difficult to accept the HEROIN,etc reality what about all the thousands of hard working people who are drug free work like HELL and pay taxes so that the Drug users can live their lives. Same in Mexico hard working people keeping society together and Criminals taking the easy way feeding off of the backs of the workers?? Why are the Criminals tolerated in Mexico??"

    From years of experience in the US drug rehab industry I agree with the above post. I would like to add one other important factor of Americans' attraction to Mexican heroin "other than price."

    In very simple terms, in times of economic downturns and hardships, people "stress out" and use drugs of all kinds to deal with stress induced issues. Many in this population discover that alcohol, pharmaceuticals, or street drugs help them cope .... Within this population some find that the opioid class of drugs works best for them. As mentioned, cheaper costs and less hassles availability lead to Mexican brown and black heroin.

    My point is that the combination of increased stressors on Americans combined with a street fix for this predict more Mexican heroin addict.

    Mexico Watcher

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  16. Since when is 1723 pounds equal to 1567 kilos?

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  17. 1723 lbs = 783 kilos

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  18. That's end game if you ask me. If they are driving up the popularity of the drug, then it pretty much over.

    Canada needs to legalize marijuana so those dumb kids can get real weed, nothing laced, something in a package, and no street dealer go betweens.

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  19. @ anon July 20, 2011 12:28 AM,good rebuttal,where is his land?I dont consider my self a racist,I do however stand-up for my Heritage & my Country(Mexico) & when I read these comments that badmouth my Country I will speak my mind.As for anon July 19, 2011 10:13 PM,your ancestors should have stayed the fuck off this continent!!And if youre one of those traidores whos bloodlines lead back to my country,your mom should'ved either swallowed or aborted you!!!

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