The opioid epidemic that has caused so much pain in the U.S. is savaging Mexico, contributing to a breakdown of order in rural areas, the Washington Post reports. The newspaper says, “Heroin is like steroids for drug gangs, pumping money and muscle into their fight to control territory and transportation routes to the United States.” Mexico provides more than 90 percent of U.S. heroin, up from less than 10 percent in 2003, when Colombia was the main supplier. Poppy production has expanded by 800 percent in a decade as U.S. demand has soared. The western state of Guerrero is the center of this business, producing more than half of Mexico’s opium poppies, the base ingredient for heroin. Guerrero also is Mexico’s most violent state, with more than 2,200 killings last year.
“These groups have transformed themselves into a super-criminal power,” said Ricardo Mejia Berdeja, head of the security committee in the Guerrero state congress. “The anchor for organized crime is heroin poppy.” Organized crime used to be more organized, with one main cartel in the state paying off police and officials and moving drugs. The booming heroin business has encouraged the rise of new gun-toting trafficking bands, which in turn has triggered the rise of citizen militias. Heroin, per kilo, is more lucrative than cocaine, and easier logistically to transport to the U.S. Unlike cocaine, which originates in South America and is moved by sprawling Mexican cartels, heroin is made in Mexico. Smaller drug gangs, sometimes just a handful of friends or relatives, have sprung up to compete for profits. With the marijuana business slowing as U.S. states allow more production, heroin is more important for the gangs’ bottom line.