MOUNT VERNON — An old enemy has re-emerged in America’s war on drugs. Heroin from Asia, Mexico and South America is sold in every corner of the United States, and along with opium-based prescription medications, ranks high among law enforcement concerns.
“There has definitely been an increase in heroin,” said Mount Vernon Police Detective Craig Feeney, “and probably two-thirds of our latest roundup involved heroin.”
For decades, heroin was found mainly in low-income urban areas, and the word conjured images of seedy “shooting galleries,” needle-borne infections and John and Jane Does covered by track marks and morgue sheets. Heroin use went into decline for a time, but fed by the explosive problem of prescription painkiller abuse, it is back in a big way, preying on young and old, rich and poor alike.
Ironically, the more successful police are in attacking illegal sales of opioid painkillers, the more attractive heroin becomes as an alternative.
“People who can’t find or afford prescription drugs (such as Percocet, OxyContin and Vicodin) go to heroin because it’s cheaper and more available,” Feeney said.
The potential market for traffickers is huge, and along with more than 4 million Americans who have already tried heroin (according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy), 7 million are estimated to abuse prescription opioids.
Along with increased demand comes a whole new heroin supply line. Where Asia’s Golden Crescent and Golden Triangle once accounted for nearly all heroin consumed in America, Latin American cartels have seized on the opportunity to expand their lucrative marijuana and cocaine empires. Only Afghanistan produces more heroin than Mexico, and Mexican cartels exploit competitive advantages including an intricate U.S. distribution network and proximity to the American hunger for illegal drugs.