According to Business Insider, heroin availability in the US — and overdose deaths related to the drug — has skyrocketed over the past several years.
Eleven of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 21 field divisions in the US rated it has the number-one drug threat in 2016. And while the DEA says heroin from Mexico, South America, Southwest Asia, and Southeast Asia is all available in the US, the agency’s testing and research indicate that the US’s southern neighbor is the dominant source.
“Mexico and, to a lesser extent, Colombia dominate the US heroin market because of their proximity, established transportation and distribution infrastructure, and ability to satisfy heroin demand in the United States,” the DEA notes in its 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment.
Mexican cartels’ shift to producing heroin — as well as synthetic drugs like fentanyl — has been driven in part by loosening marijuana laws in the US, and the Sinaloa cartel appears to be the main player in a lucrative market.
The cartel’s former leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was rearrested in Mexico in January 2016 and extradited to the US in January this year. During his incarceration and in the wake of his extradition, the cartel was wracked by infighting between members competing for control and faced growing competition from the Jalisco New Generation cartel, its only real rival in terms of power.
But one of Guzman’s peers, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, appears to have stabilized the cartel, quelling internal conflict and forging a kind of peace with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), according to Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the DEA.
A Mexican government report earlier this year said Zambada had maintained the cartel’s “cohesion” and avoided a war between its principal factions. Now the cartel “is more powerful than ever,” members told Sinaloa state-based newspaper Rio Doce in October.