Monday, December 15, 2008

Thank the drug warriors for Arizona's heroin bargains

It's too early to call it a new drug of choice, but the ranks of heroin users appear to be growing here in Arizona. The local emergency room -- in a rural area -- is accustomed to a steady flow of meth heads. But it's now seeing the occasional heroin user, with more expected. As often happens, fanciers of illicit intoxicants are responding to the marketplace, turning to a fresh flow of inexpensive opiates as prices rise for their old preferred means of getting high.

KVOA news recently reported:

The Northwest commmunity and the foothills are becoming hotspots for black tar heroin use according to some law enforcement officials.

The mother of a former heroin addict tells us, "It was so bad and so infested in the foothills, the drug dealers actually come to the end of the street."

At about the same time, the East Valley Tribune said, "In the last year, there has been a 200 percent increase in heroin trafficking arrests."

The actual number of users involved is small, but the growth in heroin use in Arizona bucks a national trend. Across the country, "The number of current heroin users decreased from 338,000 in 2006 to 153,000 in 2007," according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

But that decrease among heroin users was a minor blip in drug-use numbers that have remained remarkably static for years. No matter what anti-drug initiative has been pursuded, despite all the widely proclaimed busts, use of illicit intoxicants has remained at roughly constant levels.

If drug use has remained relatively steady over the years, with a recent downward blip in heroin use across the U.S., why are Arizonans switching their brand loyalty from meth to heroin?

It's all a matter of availability.

Earlier this year, the Tucson Citizen reported:

Adding to the drug's lure are the climbing street prices of methamphetamine and cocaine, caused by a crackdown on smugglers of both of those drugs by authorities on both sides of the border, local and federal drug investigators say.

While the price for meth rises, a single hit of black-tar heroin costs $10 on the streets of Tucson.

The Department of Justice's National Drug Threat Assessment for 2009 says (PDF):

Heroin production trends in Mexico and Colombia, the two primary sources of heroin in the United States, have diverged as Mexican heroin production has increased and Colombian heroin production has decreased. ...

In fact, Mexican heroin production increased 105 percent from 1999 (8.8 MT) to 2007 (18.0 MT).

During those years, the U.S. government pumped $5 billion into anti-drug efforts through Plan Colombia. The money failed to scratch cocaine production, which increased -- but heroin production, in fact, dropped by about 50%.

Mexican drug suppliers picked up the slack by increasing their own heroin production, as well as the purity of their product, from 21% in 2001 to 30% in 2006. Heroin became more available and higher quality from Mexican sources even as the drug warriors focused their efforts on methamphetamine and cocaine. And Arizona shares a border with and serves as a smuggling route for, Mexico.

Hence the surge in heroin use in Arizona, where the stuff is suddenly cheap and abundant.

That's the drug war for you. It can't actually reduce the number of people who choose to use illegal drugs. But it can invoke the laws of economics and get drug entrepreneurs to take advantage of new markets and consumers to respond to rock-bottom prices and surging availability.

Who ever would have guessed?



Blogger Gledwood said...

Isn't Arizona on or near the Mexican border? And as you say the local heroin's so-called Mexican tar... of course it's going to come to you first and be cheaper as you're higher up the geographical chain of supply...

I'm a heroin addict and yet I've never knowingly seen Mexican black tar in my life... then again the fact that I'm in London, UK might have something to do with that!

Great blog you got here. I blog about my addiction at Gledwood Vol 2 ~ drop by sometime!

All the best

January 6, 2009 4:56 AM  

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