An increase in demand for opiates in the United States and dwindling revenue in the marijuana trade has seen Mexican cartels become increasingly involved in poppy cultivation and heroin production, a trend that is seemingly supported by US interdiction statistics.
According to the Washington Post, the move has been spurred by a tightening of controls over prescription painkillers in the United States, as well as a price crash in the marijuana market which has seen the value of the drug drop 75 percent -- from $100 per kilo to $25 -- over the past five years. In response, drug farmers in the fabled "Golden Triangle" of Mexico's Sinaloa state have replaced marijuana crops with poppies in an attempt to feed the demand for opiates north of the border.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Heroin
The report suggests that the price drop in marijuana has been partly driven by recent legalization legislation in the likes of Colorado and Washington State, with one Mexican farmer quoted as saying "I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization."
Officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) believe that Mexico is now the number one supplier of heroin to the United States, a status previously held by Colombia, with the Sinaloa Cartel thought to be responsible for much of the heroin flowing into the United States.
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The suggestion that marijuana legalization has driven drug crop substitution casts considerable doubt over recent statements made by the head of the DEA that such legislation would see an increase in cartel activity in the United States, however it raises some pressing concerns of its own, with heroin a much more addictive and socially destructive drug than marijuana.
The suggestion Mexican cartels are behind the flow of heroin into the United States is nothing new, though in recent months the Sinaloa Cartel has been blamed for up to 80 percent of the heroin flowing into the United States, as well as an uptick in murders in cities such as Chicago. According to the US Justice Department's 2013 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA -- pdf), Mexican traffickers have expanded into eastern and Midwest US markets and increased the drug's availability.
In an attempt to deal with the threat, the DEA has pioneered new law enforcement tactics, which it says are yielding results. Nevertheless, the 2013 NDTA reveals heroin seized at the Southwest border increased by 232 percent between 2008 and 2012 -- from 559 kilos to 1.8 tons -- a rise so profound it suggests the flow has increased significantly.