According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Mexican produced heroin is to blame for a new wave of addictions and overdoses in the United States. Heroin deaths have doubled from 2011 to 2013, while deaths from cocaine and prescription opiates remained at previous levels.
Across America, 5,927 people died after using heroin in 2012 and that number jumped to 8,260 deaths in 2013. These are the latest numbers available from the CDC, and represent the third year in a row that heroin deaths have increased nationwide.
Increasingly, Mexican heroin has become cheaper and more powerful. Officials claim it is combined with dangerous additives like fentanyl, a synthetic opiate also produced in Mexico where major cartels are turning their attention to increasing production for illegal export to the U.S.
According to reliable sources, remote areas of the Filo Mayor Mountains located in the southern state of Guerrero near the town of Sierra Madre Del Sur, fields are covered with red and purple blossoms with fat, opium-filled bulbs. The fields are mostly found along isolated creek sides and gorges in the mountainous region.
The multibillion-dollar Mexican opium trade starts here, where poppy farmers are so poor they live in wood-plank, tin-roofed shacks, most with no indoor plumbing.
The growing heroin trade represents a losing proposition for everyone except the Mexican cartels, who have found a new way to make money in the face of falling cocaine demand and the legalization of marijuana in some parts of the United States.
Just as Mexican drug traffickers improved their production techniques of methamphetamines and produced a purer less expensive product, they are now refining opium paste into high-grade white heroin and flooding the U.S. with the illegal drugs, using the distribution routes they built for marijuana and cocaine.
Much like the poppy farmers of Afghanistan, the Mexican farmers donâ€™t necessarily like the business of growing the illegal crop, but they say the gummy opium paste produced from the poppy plant is the only thing that will assure them a cash income. According to Humberto Nava Reyna, the head of the Supreme Council of the Towns of the Filo Mayor, “Almost everyone thinks the people in these mountains are bad people, and thatâ€™s not true, but they canâ€™t stop planting poppies as long as there is demand, and the government doesnâ€™t provide any help.â€
According to the DEAâ€™s 2014 National Drug Threat Assessment, Mexico produces nearly half of the heroin found in the United States, up from 39 percent in 2008. Afghanistan is still by far the worldâ€™s largest producer, but it largely sends its product to traffickers in Asia and Europe.
Trends appear to be consistent with the dramatic increase of Mexican government seizures of opium and eradication of poppy plantations in recent years. Opium paste seizures in Mexico were up 500 percent between 2013 and 2014, and poppy field eradications were up 47 percent. Seizures of the processed drug increased by 42 percent. Along the U.S. border seizures are three times what they were in 2009.
The state of Guerrero has been Mexicoâ€™s most violent state since sometime in 2012. But when 43 college students disappeared last September, it drew world attention to the escalating problems there. The students are presumed dead, at the hands of the Guerreros Unidos, who had close ties to the mayor of Iguala, the small town where the kidnappings took place. Local reports indicate they were viewed as members of a rival gang.
Growers in the area wonâ€™t say which gang buys the opium paste they produce when the poppy plants finish flowering about three months into the winter growing season. Thatâ€™s when the farmers collect the opium paste. They typically gather about 300 grams, worth around 4,000 pesos, or about $275 U.S. dollars, in a single day.
Now that most all the producers are making the high-grade white heroin, Cartels are realizing they can increase their profits exponentially if they manage the whole production chain just as they do with methamphetamines.
But competition between the gangs has proven to be a recipe for violence as the gangs tend to feud against each other. The ongoing violence in Mexico is expected to only escalate this year as turf wars between the fracturing cartels spill into the streets of Mexicoâ€™s urban areas.
For the farmers, the days of growing inexpensive low quality marijuana are nearly over. The quality isnâ€™t competitive with the higher quality U.S. grown crops, but officials say itâ€™s too early to judge the actual impact.
Marijuana seizures at the border are still a measurable industry. But farmers are more inclined to grow a crop of poppies that nets them the equivalent of $900 USD per kilo verses $17 USD for a dried and pressed kilo of marijuana.
However, many farmers say they would like to give up poppy cultivation and plant legitimate crops, in part because of the bloodshed the trade has brought.
Just this last week, two U.S. Army veterans disappeared in a Mexican border town that has become a bloody battleground in a dispute between two rival factions of a drug cartel. Ernesto Garcia and his brother, Jesus, were last heard from during the early morning of Monday, Feb. 2. The two brothers, from Brownsville drove into Matamoros on Jan. 31 to visit their grandmother. According to news reports from KGRV-TV, they havenâ€™t been seen since.
The city of Matamoros has been spinning with drug cartel related violence in recent days, with the U.S. Consulate there issuing an advisory warning of increased violence between the Matamoros and Reynosa factions of the Gulf Cartel. The cityâ€™s mayor, Leticia Salazar, warned citizens to protect their families as skirmishes erupted across the city.
Last week, Enrique Juarez Torres, the editor of the local Matamoros newspaper was kidnapped and beaten. The three armed kidnappers let him go with a warning to stop reporting on the local gun battles that have left more than 15 people dead.
In Juarez, violence has also escalated to a point reminiscent of 2012, when the city was considered the most violent city in the world. Last Saturday, five bodies were left on the curb of the street in front of a home owned by a local businessman. He was one of the five dead after a group of armed assailants attacked a gathering at his home with assault rifles and Molotov cocktails.