Deangelo Curtis measured his work in kilos and ounces. The year he turned 27, the scales were turning in his favor, says the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The St. Paul gangster sat atop a multimillion-dollar heroin boom sweeping Minnesota — the point man for an international drug cartel that linked the poppy fields of Mexico with the streets of the Twin Cities. To agents watching from the shadows, Curtis was a case study in the economics of Minnesota's new heroin trade: A highly structured trafficking operation that has spawned a new market of middle-class suburban users and delivers a product so pure that young Minnesotans are willing to risk their lives for the high.
The wreckage can be seen across the Twin Cities, from a gathering where parents told stories of death and addiction, to a courthouse where a 20-year-old addict, pregnant with her first child, was sentenced to jail this month. The number of local heroin deaths has tripled since 2011, to 63 last year. Hospital emergency rooms recorded 3,500 visits from panicked heroin users in 2011, and court dockets are crowded with heroin cases. “What you are seeing is a Mexican cartel … creating a business model that is ingenious and cornering the market on what is now an epidemic,” said Dan Moren, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief in Minnesota. By marketing heroin for as little as $10 a dose, in a powder form that users can snort or smoke rather than inject, the cartels have developed a new market of users who might once have been frightened off by the drug's sordid reputation.