Mexican Drug Cartel Behind Rise in Heroin Use in Midwest

The Sinaloa drug cartel of Mexico has fostered the re-emergence of heroin use in the Midwest, Bloomberg reports. The cartel gained control of narcotics sales in the region after federal prosecutors sent many top gang leaders to prison.

Sinaloa’s heroin sales are increasing in part due to reduced cocaine production in South America, and tighter control on prescription drugs in the United States, the article notes. The cartel is offering packs of heroin for as little as $10.

“Economics is driving people towards it for sure,” Dan Bigg, Director of the Chicago Recovery Alliance, told Bloomberg. “It’s a much cheaper way to go for a unit dose.”

As deaths from heroin increase in Chicago and surrounding suburbs, law enforcement officials point to the increased volume and purity of heroin sold by the cartel. New heroin users in the area are more likely than in the past to be white, suburban and in their late teens or 20s.

The Justice Department says Mexican heroin production rose more than six-fold from 2005 to 2009, to about 50 metric tons. About half of heroin in the United States originates in Mexico. Heroin seized from the Sinaloa cartel was 94 percent pure in 2011. A year earlier, heroin seized in Chicago was on average 64 percent pure, the Chicago office of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said.

The cartel sells the heroin to dealers, who dilute it with other white powder. Heroin bought on the streets of Chicago in 2010 was 35 percent pure, compared with about 4 percent in the 1980s.

A recent government report found Americans ages 12 to 49 who illegally use prescription drugs are 19 times more likely than others in their age group to begin using heroin. Almost 80 percent of people who recently started to use heroin said they had previously used prescription painkillers illegally.