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Sinaloa Cartel has become a major heroin distributor in the U.S.

Alejandra S. Inzunza and José Luis Pardo*| El Universal
09:33Monday 24 November 2014

According to the DEA, 50% of the heroin sold in the United States is produced in Mexico, between 43% and 45% comes from Colombia and the rest from Asian countries. (Photo: LUIS CORTÉS / EL UNIVERSAL )

An investigation by EL UNIVERSAL revealed that the Sinaloa cartel has taken over the heroin market in the United States, displacing Colombia and Afghanistan.

Jeen Blake, 40, drove his truck from Queens, New York to Riverside, California. The journey of at least 42 hours to cross the entire country from one end to another had an extremely profitable purpose: to deliver 750,000 dollars in exchange for 15 kilos (33 pounds) of heroin. 

Blake, an employee of Good Guys Transport Corporation, took a week to go to California and return to New York. Inside his truck there were shoe soles in which part of the drug was hidden. The rest was hidden in square packages placed in secret compartments. After traveling 4,800 kilometers (2,982 miles), the driver arrived in New York on August 26, unaware that he was monitored by a special operation of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the state police. 

The driver had planned to meet with the owner of the company, Dorian Cabrera, in a parking lot in Long Island to deliver the goods. However when they both entered the trailer they were surprised by the agents, who found more than US$300,000 in cash apart from the drug. In the business of Cabrera they found US$190,000 more and expensive jewels. Both were charged with drug possession and conspiracy. The cargo was worth nine million dollars street price, according to DEA Special Agent in New York James Hunt. 

"We believe that the drug entered the country through New Mexico, was taken to California and then to New York. They go in circles. There is so much money involved that it is worth the effort of transiting safer routes. Even if they lose a significant amount on the road there is much more," said Bridget Brennan, Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York. 

An investigation by EL UNIVERSAL revealed that the Sinaloa cartel has taken over the heroin market in the United States and even though authorities have it under the microscope, the criminal gang has not only succeeded in displacing Colombia and Afghanistan, but is also seeking to distribute it in more U.S. states. 

Presence in over a thousand cities 

According to the DEA, 50% of the heroin sold in the United States is produced in Mexico, between 43% and 45% comes from Colombia and the rest from Asian countries. However, almost all of it is supplied by Mexican cartels. 

In an interview with EL UNIVERSAL, Brennan said that the Sinaloa cartel supplies heroin to New York and the rest of the country. According to the latest report from the Justice Department, Mexican traffickers operate in 1,286 cities. In less than 10 years Mexico has managed to replace Colombia and nations like Pakistan and Afghanistan as the main heroin supplier in the United States. Currently, Mexico is the second largest producer of opium and marijuana, according to the latest report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 

New York is currently experiencing a heroin use epidemic that had not been seen since the 70s that according to Brennan is due to the increased supply since late 2008, when groups like the Sinaloa cartel began to produce it. 

According to the latest estimate from the Office of National Drug Control Policy of the White House Mexico grows about 10,500 hectares (25,946 acres) of opium poppy. 

"The heroin we have seized was not only going to be distributed in New York, but also in other states like Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Vermont. New York has become a hub," the prosecutor said. 

35% of heroin seizures across the country in the past year have taken place in this city. The largest seizure in the last five years was in 2013: 356 kilos (784 pounds). Until May 2014, 98 kilos (216 pounds) had been seized, compared to 63 kilos (138 pounds) last year in the same period. 

New routes 

The new heroin routes have also affected states that had never had heroin problems before, such as Maine or Vermont. In January Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin declared a health emergency due to a 770% increase in opiate use from 2000 to date. 

According to James Hunt, DEA special agent in New York, when oxycodone prescriptions become harder to get, Mexican cartels take the opportunity to replace that drug with heroin, which is much cheaper and more addictive. 

"Mexicans are filling the market. They are smart businessmen with a product that is poison. Heroin today is cheaper and more abundant and powerful than it was 20 years ago," he said at a press conference in September. 

In 2008 supplies of Mexican heroin increased, and so did its quality. In previous decades it was common to find a poor-quality heroin called black tar. However, in recent years, Mexican heroin has become mainly white and its effect is more powerful with a 40% to 60% purity compared to 10% in the 70s. 

A kilo (2.2 pounds) of pure heroin can be used to produce more than 50,000 doses worth half a million dollars after being "cut" with chemicals such as strychnine and quinine or substances like sugar, chalk or borax. 

On the streets of New York and vicinity, several groups control the sale of heroin. While the drug comes from Mexico, once in the city it falls into different hands. 

"We have seen Russians, Eastern Europeans, Colombians and Mexicans. It is not exclusive to one group," the prosecutor added.


* The authors won the 2013 National Journalism Award and the 2014 Ortega y Gasset Journalism Award for a series entitled "Narcotics in America", published by EL UNIVERSAL.