We can’t stop talking about it. Everywhere I turn, it’s heroin, heroin, heroin. Overdose. Deaths. Potent, cheap, and available; heroin. And the surge that is happening as we speak, can be traced back to the remote valleys of the northern Sierra Madre.
A GLOBAL TRADING SYSTEM: POT IS SO LAST YEAR, POPPIES ARE IN
Sierra Madre? Sierra Madre refers to one of many mountain ranges in Mexico, Central America, and the United States. So what does that have to do with anything.
With the wholesale price of marijuana falling, partially because of the decriminalization of the drug in certain parts of the US, Mexican drug farmers have begun to turn away from cannabis and have started filling their fields with, you guessed it, poppies. Poppies are heroin in its very first, au naturale form. Mexican heroin has been flooding the north as US authorities with perfect timing. The flood of heroin, came right as the prescription drug epidemic came to a screeching halt, following tightened control on synthetic opiates such as Vicodin and OxyContin. As the pills became harder to get and more costly, Mexican drug trafficking organizations have tapped into the new markets for heroin in places such as Winchester, VA., and Brattleboro, VT., where, until recently, needle use for street narcotics was unknown.
So yeah. The farmers are smart. The famers in the fabled “Golden Triangle,” of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, which has produced some of the countries biggest and most infamous gangsters, as well as their biggest marijuana harvests, say they have stopped growing pot because the price has collapsed in the past 5 years. It has gone from 100 dollars per kilo to less than 25. It just isn’t lucrative anymore, nor is it worth it.
So as any good business does, they tap into the consciousness of their consumers. Growers are now sowing their plots with opium poppies and large-scale heroin operations are turning up in places were they have never been seen before.
Let’s go back to January really quick: Police in Honduras found their first poppy farm in the country, raiding a sophisticated mountain greenhouse as big as a soccer field. That same week, soldiers and police in Guatemala came under attack by farmers armed with clubs and gas bombs, as they moved in to destroy 160 acres of poppy.
Along the border with Mexico, US authorities have seized 2,162 kilos of heroin. That is up from 367 kilos in 2007. So as the needle habit in the US makes a comeback, the Mexican farmers are more than happy to tap into a money making machine, known as your heroin addiction.
Although prescription painkillers remain more widely abused and account for far more fatal overdoses, 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 Drug Enforcement Administration. With its low price and easy portability, heroin has reached beyond New York, Chicago and other places where it has long been available. Rural areas of New England, Appalachia and the Midwest are being hit especially hard, with cities such as Portland, Maine; St. Louis;and Oklahoma City struggling to cope with a new generation of addicts. Pike and other DEA officials say the spread is the result of a shrewd marketing strategy developed by Mexican traffickers. They have targeted areas with the worst prescription pill abuse, sending heroin pushers to “set up right outside the methadone clinics,” one DEA agent said.
But can you blame them?
While Columbia is historically known as being the biggest source of heroin, Mexican output has surpassed it recently. Together the two, account for 90% of the heroin in the United States. As seizures of cocaine and marijuana along the border have fallen over the past several years, flows of methamphetamine and heroin have soared, federal statistics show.Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel continues to be the biggest provider of heroin to the United States, controlling as much as half of the North American market. Sinaloa boss Joaquín “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzmán grew up here in the mountains outside the municipal seat of Badiraguato, and his organization remains the dominant criminal power along the western border and west coast of Mexico.
This area though, all it knows is how to grow potent drug making plants. The entire region is a giant drug farm and has been for decades. “There’s no other way to make a living here,” said Silla, who has brought up his sons in the business, as his father did before him. Feeling confident after several years of good harvests, Silla and other families here planted more poppies than ever this year, but their radiant purple, red and white flowers were spotted by aerial surveillance last month. Mexican soldiers in pickups came roaring up the creek bed soon after and tore out the crop, chopping up irrigation hoses and searching homes for guns and cash.
A kilo of the raw, sticky opium sap that is used to make heroin sells wholesale for $1,500 in the northern Sierra Madre, nearly double its 2012 price, according to growers. With fertilizer and favorable weather, a well-tended poppy field can yield eight kilos of sap per acre, nearly enough to make a kilo of raw heroin. It’s a much better cut than the whole marijuana game.
The increased demand for heroin in the United States appears to be keeping wholesale prices high, even with abundant supply. The Mexican mountain folk in hamlets such as this one do not think of themselves as drug producers. They also plant corn, beans and other subsistence crops but say they could never earn a living from their small food plots. And they just can’t compete with the American marijuana growers. And with more and more of the American marijuana market being flooded with potent and cheaper pot, Mexican trafficking groups have reorganized.
When a product starts losing value, you diversify. It’s true of any farmer as well as business man. And that’s how they see it.
If anything, it just goes to show that the legalization of a drug can help to curb cartel and gang involvement. The War on Drugs, may finally be moving closer to a solution. If only we could slow down the heroin.