When most Americans hear the word heroin, they probably imagine a junkie underneath a highway overpass or an aging rock star with a needle sticking out of his arm. But the face of heroin abuse and addiction in America has changed dramatically in the last few years, and Mexican cartel drug traffickers are making sure those deadly little “balloons” filled with black-tar venom get into the hands of Middle America’s youth.
According to a longform report by the Washington Post, heroin has surpassed cocaine and methamphetamine to become the number one drug threat in the United States. As a result, the cartels in Mexico that produce the substance and smuggle it across the border have adjusted in quick order to the surge in demand and modified their distribution logistics accordingly.
Ohio is now the epicenter of this heroin revolution, with Dayton as the focus of the report. Crack cocaine used to be the drug of choice there, supplied by the Mexican cartel known as La Familia Michoacana. La Familia is better known for its pioneering endeavors in the Mexican meth trade, but has expanded its offerings in the US based on market demand. “I was shocked,” local DEA Special Agent Lucas told the Post of the market shift. “One day it was kilos of coke, and suddenly it was heroin.”
Heroin has typically not been a popular drug of choice in the US, as potential users are sometimes wary if getting involved with needles and the drug’s reputation for horrible withdrawal symptoms is notorious. Opiate addiction became rampant in the US with the creation and marketing of drugs like OxyContin, but soon a government crackdown on pill abuse sent its black market price skyrocketing. Soon, it became easier and cheaper for a high school student to score a balloon of more-potent heroin that could be smoked or snorted, avoiding the stigma of nasty track marks junkies are known for. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told the Post, “There used to be some psychological barrier to heroin. That barrier is gone today.”
The form that Mexican heroin takes is also evolving. The country used to be known for brown powder heroin—low in purity and thus quality. White powder heroin from Afghanistan was the gold standard in the US, and the Mexican variety, while cheaper, fell far short. Then cartels moved to the production of black tar heroin, which is much higher in quality, but takes up more volume than the powder variety. Now DEA agents are seeing that Mexican drug organizations are learning from Colombian producers how to create the highest quality white powder heroin for export to the US.
The delivery model for dealers has also changed. It used to be that dealers operated out of a home or apartment or other fixed location like a street corner. These dealers are fully mobile and go to the user, in what’s being called the pizza-delivery model. They use rental cars that can’t be seized and burner phones that, extraordinarily valuable while they’re being used, can easily be destroyed and are almost impossible to track.
Agencies like the DEA are working hard to keep up with these market shifts and distribution trends, but it’s a challenge. La Familia in Mexico has been decimated due to Mexican military actions and war with its rivals, but the drugs keep flowing north. Trying to determine who’s in charge at the source is even more elusive than the dealers on the street, but this battle will continue as long as US drug demand remains steady.
Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about cross-border issues in her latest book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer. [http://www.amazon.com/Border-Insecurity-Fences-Drones-Making/dp/1137278900/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1402246316&sr=8-1&keywords=longmire+border]