[2015 Drug Threat Assessment  Continued from Part 80 CPDs]

U.S. Justice Department Drug Enforcement Administration

DEA Releases 2015 Drug Threat Assessment  Heroin

The US Drug Enforcement Administration 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) is a comprehensive report of the threat posed to the United States by the trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs, the nonmedical use of CPDs, [Controlled Prescription Drugs] , money laundering, TCOs [Transnational Criminal Organization], gangs, smuggling, seizures, investigations, arrests, drug purity or potency, and drug prices, in order to provide the most accurate data possible to policymakers, law enforcement authorities, and intelligence officials.  


Part 81 United States Drug Enforcement Administration  Releases 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary from Heroin deaths, arrests,  Mexican, Asian,  overdose, Trafficking, China White, US Customs and Border Protection, smuggling, 8,000 deaths.


(U) Map 4. Percentage of NDTS Respondents Reporting High Heroin Availability, 2008 – 2011, 2013 – 2015 Source: National Drug Threat Survey

Map 4 High Heroin

Overview Heroin

The threat posed by heroin in the United States is serious and has increased since 2007. Heroin is available in larger quantities, used by a larger number of people, and is causing an increasing number of overdose deaths. Increased demand for, and use of, heroin is being driven by both increasing availability of heroin in the US market and by some CPD abusers using heroin. CPD abusers who begin using heroin do so chiefly because of price differences, but also because of availability, and the reformulation of OxyContin®, a commonly abused prescription opioid.

                  Heroin overdose deaths are increasing in many cities and counties across the United States, particularly in the Northeast area (the Mid-Atlantic, New England, and New York/New Jersey OCDETF Regions), as well as areas of the Midwest. Possible reasons for these increases in overdose deaths include an overall increase in heroin users; high purity batches of heroin reaching certain markets, causing users to accidentally overdose; an increase in new heroin initiates, many of whom are young and inexperienced; abusers of prescription opioids (drugs with a set dosage amount and no other adulterants) initiating use of heroin, an illicitly-manufactured drug with varying purities, dosage amounts, and adulterants; and the use of highly toxic heroin adulterants such as fentanyl in certain markets. Further, heroin users who have stopped using heroin for a period of time (due to treatment programs, incarceration, etc.) and subsequently return to using heroin are particularly susceptible to overdose, because their tolerance for the drug has decreased.

Egypt and Poppy.

DEA heroin arrests nearly doubled between 2007 (2,434) and 2014 (4,780).

According to the 2015 NDTS, 38 percent of respondents reported heroin was the greatest drug threat in their area; more than for any other drug. Since 2007, the percentage of NDTS respondents reporting heroin as the greatest threat has steadily grown, from 8 percent in 2007 to 38 percent in 2014. (See Chart 2 in the Executive Summary and Map A8 in Appendix A.)

Availability Heroin

Reporting from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies indicates heroin availability is increasing in areas throughout the nation. Availability levels are highest in the Northeast and areas of the Midwest. (See Map 4.)

• According to the 2015 NDTS, 53 percent of respondents said heroin availability was high or moderate in their areas. In addition, 65 percent of respondents reported that heroin availability was increasing and 64 percent said that heroin demand was increasing.

• DEA investigative reporting shows increasing heroin availability in cities throughout the United States. Ten of DEA’s 21 FDs reported that heroin availability was high during the first half of 2014; all others reported availability was moderate. Seven FDs reported heroin availability across the Division area of responsibility (AOR) was increasing from the previous reporting period. (See Table 8.)

• Seizure data also indicate a substantial increase in heroin availability in the United States. According to National Seizure System (NSS) data, heroin seizures in the United States increased 81 percent over five years, from 2,763 kilograms in 2010 to 5,014 kilograms in 2014. (See Chart 10.) Traffickers are also transporting heroin in larger amounts. The average size of a heroin seizure in 2010 was 0.86 kilograms; in 2014, the average heroin seizure was 1.74 kilograms. Law enforcement officials in cities across the country report seizing larger than normal quantities of heroin over the past two years.

(U) Table 8: DEA Field Division Reporting of Heroin Availability in the First Half of 2014 and Comparison to Previous Period

Availability During First Half 2014

Availability Compared to Second Half 2013

Field Division

Atlanta Field Division High Stable

Caribbean Field Division Moderate Stable

Chicago Field Division High More

Dallas Field Division Moderate More

Denver Field Division Moderate Stable

Detroit Field Division High Stable

El Paso Field Division Moderate Stable

Houston Field Division Moderate Stable

Los Angeles Field Division High Stable

Miami Field Division Moderate More

New England Field Division High Stable

New Jersey Field Division High Stable

New Orleans Field Division Moderate More

New York Field Division High Stable

Philadelphia Field Division High More

Phoenix Field Division Moderate Stable

San Diego Field Division Moderate More

San Francisco Field Division Moderate More

Seattle Field Division High Stable

St. Louis Field Division Moderate Stable

Washington Field Division High Stable

(U) Chart 10. Heroin Seizures in the United States, 2010 – 2014 – Source: EPIC National Seizure System

Chart 10 Heroin Seizures

(U) Chart 11. Source of Origin for US Wholesale-level Heroin Seizures, 1977 – 2012, Source: Heroin Signature Program

Chart 11 Heroin Source

Availability by Heroin Type

Most of the heroin available in the United States comes from Mexico and Colombia. (See Chart 11.) Despite significant decreases in Colombian heroin production between 2001 and 2009, South American heroin continues to be the predominant type available in eastern US markets. While Southwest Asia supplies most of the world’s heroin, very little makes it way to the United States; most Southwest Asian heroin supplies markets in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Southeast Asia was once the dominant supplier of heroin in the United States, but Southeast Asian heroin is now rarely detected in US markets. 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 US heroin demand.

Production of White Heroin in Mexico

“Alleged Mexican White” (AMW) heroin is a South American-heroin-like powder that is most likely made from Mexico-produced poppies, with morphine extracted by Mexican or South American methods, and processed into heroin hydrochloride using South American processing methods. The DEA Special Testing and Research Laboratory (SFL1), which uses signature analysis to determine the geographic source region of heroin samples, has analyzed an increasing number of Mexico-sourced heroin samples, as well as heroin samples of an unknown classification. The “unknown” samples are found primarily in the Eastern and Midwestern United States, where South American heroin typically dominates the market. Seizure data indicate that these unknowns are Mexico-produced. When they are seized in transit they are routinely seized at or near the Southwest Border, and also along trafficking routes to markets in the Midwest established by Mexican organizations over the past two decades. This indicates that Mexican TCOs may be producing white heroin in Mexico and also may be mixing South American heroin with Mexican brown powder heroin to create a product more appealing to white powder markets in the eastern United States. Further, DEA investigative reporting indicates Mexican TCOs are producing white heroin. SFL1 has established a formal signature of this type of heroin.

The suspected production of white powder heroin in Mexico is important because it indicates that Mexican traffickers are positioning themselves to take even greater control of the US heroin market. It also indicates that Mexican traffickers may rely less on relationships with South American heroin sources-of-supply, primarily in Colombia, in the future. If Mexican TCOs can produce their own white powder heroin, there will be no need to purchase white powder heroin from South America to meet demand in the United States. This would also reinforce Mexican TCOs’ poly-drug trafficking model and ensure their domination

(U) Southwest Asian Heroin: A Small Part of the US Heroin Market

Southwest Asian (SWA) heroin is the most common type of heroin produced in the world; however, its availability in the US market is very low. In 2012, SWA heroin accounted for only four percent of the total weight of heroin classified by the HSP. SWA heroin is available in the United States in some major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Pittsburgh, and Washington, DC; however, it is available at much lower levels than heroin sourced from South America or Mexico.

The small amount of SWA heroin available in the United States is generally transported by West African, primarily Nigerian, traffickers, via commercial air, into large cities in the eastern United States. SWA heroin is more commonly found is in eastern US cities because it is a white powder heroin, which meets regional market demands.

               According to Canadian law enforcement, SWA heroin is the predominant type of heroin available in Canada, but it does not appear to be entering the United States across the Northern Border. SWA heroin in Canada is currently cost prohibitive for the US market. In the first half of 2014, a kilogram of SWA heroin in Canada cost an average of $95,000 per kilogram while a kilogram of South American white powder heroin in the United States cost an average of $63,360. Further, SWA heroin traffickers cannot compete with the transportation and distribution networks of Mexican and South American organizations in the United States.

Chart 12.

(U) Chart 12. Signature Source for Retail-level Heroin Purchased in Western US Cities, 1999 – 2012

(U) Chart 13. Signature Source for Retail-level Heroin Purchased in Eastern US Cities, 1999 – 2012

Chart 13. Retail Heroin

(U) Chart 14. Signature Source for Retail-level Heroin Purchased in St. Louis, 1999 – 2012 Source: Heroin Domestic Monitor Program

Chart 14. Retail Heroin St. Louis.

(U) The DEA’s Heroin Signature Program and Heroin Domestic Monitor Program

The DEA’s HSP and HDMP provide in-depth chemical analysis on the source area origin and purity of heroin found in the United States. Since 1977, the HSP has reported the geographic source and purity of heroin seized at ports-of-entry, as well as wholesale-level seizures within the United States. Each year, chemists at SFL1 perform in-depth chemical analyses on 500 to 900 samples to assign geographic origin based on authentic samples obtained from the heroin producing regions around the world. The HDMP, initiated in the New York FD in 1979, provides data on the price, purity, and geographic origin of street level (retail-level) heroin purchased in 27 US cities. xii  to wit Albuquerque, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, Newark, Orlando, Philadelphia , Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Richmond, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Juan, Seattle, St. Louis, and Washington DC. Both programs provide a snapshot of the US heroin market. Since not all heroin seizures in the United States are submitted for analysis, the source area proportions should not be characterized as market share.

For at least the past 30 years the retail US heroin market has been roughly divided by the Mississippi River, with Mexican black tar and brown powder heroin dominating west of the Mississippi and white powder heroin (most recently South American) more common in the East. There are a few markets that do not conform to this description (for example, there are markets in Ohio and North and South Carolina where Mexican black tar heroin is used), but these are exceptions. Data from the DEA Heroin Domestic Monitor Program (HDMP) shows the majority of retail-level heroin purchased in eastern US markets was South American in type, while almost all of the heroin purchased at the retail level in western US markets was Mexican in type. (See Charts 12 and 13.) The Miami FD was the only DEA FD to have 2014 HDMP purchase exhibits of both Mexican and South American heroin signatures. Heroin purchases in St. Louis indicate a heroin market in flux, as availability has transitioned from black tar heroin to white powder heroin. (See Chart 14.)

(U) Chart 15. Current Heroin Users, 2007 – 2013 Source: National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Chart 15 Heroin Users.

Use Heroin

National-level treatment, survey, and epidemiological data indicate heroin use and demand are increasing. Indicators of increased use were reported in cities across the United States in 2014, particularly in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic states.

• According to TEDS information, primary heroin-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities stayed relatively stable between 2008 (281,410) and 2012 (285,451). (See Table B3 in Appendix B.) Of the total number of users admitted for heroin-related treatment in 2012, 67.4 percent reported their frequency of use as daily and 70.6 percent reported their preferred route of administration as injection.

• Repeated sessions of treatment are often necessary for heroin users. In 2012, 80 percent of the primary heroin admissions had been in treatment prior to the current episode, and 27 percent had been in treatment five or more times.

• From 2002 through 2012, heroin treatment admission rates were consistently highest in the New England and Mid-Atlantic states.

• According to the NSDUH, the number of heroin users reporting current (past month) use increased by 80 percent between 2007 and 2012. (See Chart 15.) There was an 83 percent increase in users who reported past year heroin use during that time, and a 26 percent increase in users who reported lifetime heroin use.

• NSDUH data also indicate an increase in the number of people who initiated heroin use in the past year. The estimated number of new heroin initiates fluctuated but increased 43 percent overall between 2004 (118,000) and 2013 (169,000).

(U) Chart 16. Percentage of the Total Heroin-Dependent Sample that Used Heroin or a Prescription Opioid as Their First Opioid of Abuse. Source: Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry; Cicero, Theodore J., PhD; Matthew S. Ellis, MPE; Hilary L. Surratt. PhD; Steven P. Kurtz, PhD, The Changing Face of Heroin Use in the United States: A Retrospective Analysis of the Past 50 Years, July 2014. *Note: 2010s data includes only 2010 to 2013.

Chart 16 Heroin Opioid Abuse

CPD Abusers Using Heroin

Some CPD abusers are initiating heroin use, which is contributing to the increased demand for and use of heroin. This trend represents a continuing opioid abuse problem in the United States. CPD abusers and heroin users are all classified as opioid abusers. CPD abusers who begin using heroin should not be viewed as quitting one type of drug and starting another; rather, these are opioid abusers who started their abuse with one type of opioid and are also using another type of opioid: heroin. Heroin use is a progression of an untreated substance use disorder. It is also important to realize that in earlier decades prescribers only provided patients with opioids in rare circumstances (e.g., for terminal cancer). The present era is the first time in many decades where much of the US population has had appreciable exposure to prescription opioids.

This trend has been consistently reported by law enforcement and treatment officials in areas throughout the United States. A recent NSDUH study found that, from 2002 to 2011, heroin use was 19 times higher among those who had previously used pain reliever CPDs non-medically. The study also found that four out of five recent heroin initiates had previously abused pain relieving CPDs. While the number of CPD abusers initiating heroin use was a relatively small percentage of the total number of CPD abusers from 2002 to 2011 (an estimated 3.6%), it represented a large percentage of new heroin initiates (79.5%).

Research indicates those CPD abusers who begin using heroin do so because of price differences, availability differences, and the reformulation of OxyContin®, a commonly abused prescription opioid. A 2014 study examined heroin-dependent individuals who started their use in each decade from the 1960s to the 2010s. The study found that most users in the 1960s started their opioid use with heroin; however, that steadily changed until the 2000s, when 75 percent of heroin-dependent users in the study reported starting their use with prescription opioids. (See Chart 16.) More than 90 percent of the prescription opioid abusers who began using heroin did so because of the high it provided and because it was more readily accessible and much less expensive than prescription opioids. The study also found that there seemed to be widespread acceptance of heroin use among those who abused opioid drugs. Further, a 2012 study examining the effects of the reformulation of OxyContin® found 66 percent of patients studied indicated switching to another opioid, with “heroin” the most common response.

It is important to note that the OxyContin® reformulation appears to have been successful both in helping to curb abuse of the drug and in reducing overdose deaths. In 2011, emergency department visits involving oxycodone declined for the first time after steadily rising since 2004, and overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics began to decrease in 2011, after more than a decade of steady increases. The reformulation will also help to prevent new users from beginning opioid abuse.


Chart 17. Poison Deaths.

(U) Chart 17. Drug-poisoning Deaths Involving Heroin, 1999 – 2013  Source: National Center for Health Statistics/Centers for Disease Control, Final death data for each calendar year. Note: Heroin includes opium..

(U) Heroin Deaths Are Often Undercounted

Heroin deaths are often undercounted because of variations in state reporting procedures, and because heroin metabolizes into morphine very quickly in the body, making it difficult to determine the presence of heroin. Many medical examiners (MEs) are reluctant to characterize a death as heroin-related without the presence of 6-monoaceytlmorphine (6-MAM), a metabolite unique to heroin, but which quickly metabolizes into morphine. Thus many heroin deaths are reported as morphine-related deaths. Further, there is no standardized system for reporting drug-related deaths in the United States. The manner of collecting and reporting death data varies with each ME and coroner.

Overdose Deaths Heroin

The number of heroin-related overdose deaths in the United States has increased significantly, rising 244 percent between 2007 and 2013. There has been a particularly sharp increase in deaths since 2010. (See Chart 17.)

Heroin, while used by a smaller number of people than other major drugs, is much more deadly to its users. The population that currently uses prescription pain relievers non-medically was approximately 15 times the size of the heroin user population in 2013; however, opioid analgesic-involved overdose deaths in 2013 were only twice that of heroin-involved deaths. Current cocaine users outnumbered heroin users by approximately 5 times in 2013, but heroin-involved overdose deaths were almost twice those of cocaine. Deaths involving heroin are also increasing at a much faster rate than for other illicit drugs, more than tripling between 2007 (2,402) and 2013 (8,257).

Possible reasons for the increase in heroin overdose deaths include an overall increase in heroin users; high-purity batches of heroin reaching certain markets, causing users to accidentally overdose; an increase in new heroin initiates, many of whom are young and inexperienced; abusers of prescription opioids (drugs with a set dosage amount and no other adulterants) initiating use of heroin, an illicitly-manufactured drug with varying purities, dosage amounts, and adulterants; and the presence of highly toxic heroin adulterants such as fentanyl in certain markets. Further, heroin users who have stopped using heroin for a period of time (due to treatment programs, incarceration, etc.) and subsequently return to using heroin are particularly susceptible to overdose, because their tolerance for the drug has decreased.

Death data may not be representative of user locations

Heroin overdose data may be over-accounting for cities that are heroin distribution centers, and under-accounting for outlying areas. Many law enforcement agencies have reported that overdose numbers in their communities include a significant number of deaths of non-residents. Heroin users from suburban and rural areas are traveling to distribution cities, usually in more urban areas, using heroin, and overdosing in those cities, which causes the overdose statistic (hospital admission, death data, etc.) to be counted in the city where the user overdosed instead of the user’s city of residence. A 2014 snapshot study of Camden, New Jersey, heroin overdoses, conducted by the New Jersey State Police Regional Operations Intelligence Center (ROIC), found that only 40 percent of the overdose cases were Camden residents; 60 percent had come from outlying areas. In Washington, DC, a significant portion of the people who purchase, use, and overdose on heroin in the District were found to have travelled there from the numerous communities surrounding the city. This trend is notable because law enforcement and treatment officials in these outlying areas may be unaware of the magnitude of heroin use in their communities.

Naloxone (“Narcan®”)

In response to increasing overdoses caused by the use of heroin and other opioids, many law enforcement agencies are training officers to administer naloxone, a prescription drug that can reverse the effects of opioid overdose, and ensure follow-up medical attention. Naloxone can be nasally-administered and generally has no adverse effect if administered to a person who is not suffering from opioid overdose.

In April 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Evzio®, a device that delivers a single dose of naloxone via a hand-held auto-injector. Evzio® is injected into the muscle (intramuscular) or under the skin (subcutaneous). Once turned on, the device provides verbal instruction to the user describing how to deliver the medication, similar to automated defibrillators. It is the first naloxone treatment specifically designed to be given by family members or caregivers.

xiii Mainly Afghanistan, also Pakistan.

xiv Mainly Burma, also Laos and Thailand.

xv Small amounts are also produced in neighboring Guatemala.

xvi The potential production of 42 metric tons may be an overestimate or an underestimate of the actual figure. There are no recent, reliable crop yield studies of opium poppy in Mexico, thus it is impossible to estimate potential heroin production in Mexico with high confidence.

Some areas reported shortages of naloxone and substantial price increases in late 2014. In Massachusetts, the price per kit (2 atomizers and 2 vials) increased from $42 to $75 and naloxone was back-ordered for several months. The price increases for naloxone will have a significant impact on public health and law enforcement budgets. However, Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the manufacturer of naloxone, has reached agreements with the states of New York and Ohio to offer a rebate of six dollars per dose to state public entities that purchase naloxone. The rebate will also automatically increase, dollar-for-dollar, to match any future growth in wholesale naloxone prices.

Monaco drug and smoker.

Production Heroin

Poppy cultivation

Opium poppy is produced in four major source areas of the world: Southwest Asia,xiii Southeast Asia,xiv Mexico,xv and South America. Southwest Asia produces, by far, the majority of the world’s heroin; however, very little of the heroin produced in Southwest Asia supplies US markets. Most of the heroin produced in Southwest Asia is consumed in Europe and Asia. Likewise, very little of the heroin produced in Southeast Asia is transported to the United States. The majority of the heroin produced in Southeast Asia is consumed in that region and in Australia. Mexico is the primary supplier of heroin to the United States. Opium poppy cultivation in Mexico has increased significantly in recent years reaching 17,000 hectares in 2014, with an estimated pure potential production of 42xvi metric tons of heroin. This increase was driven in part by Mexican organizations shift to increased heroin trafficking. In 2014, the US Government estimated that 800 hectares of opium poppy were under cultivation in Colombia, sufficient to produce about two metric tons of pure heroin. The DEA Intelligence Division assesses that opium poppy cultivation in Colombia remains limited.

(U) Chart 18. Heroin Seizures at the Southwest Border, 2000 – 2014 Source: EPIC National Seizure System

Chart 18. Seizure Heroin.

Heroin Milling in the United States

Heroin is commonly milled (wholesale quantities broken down and packaged into mid-level and retail quantities) in the United States. Wholesale quantities of heroin are delivered to the “mill” location (usually a private home or apartment) where members of the trafficking organization break the heroin down into smaller quantities. Heroin baggers can be paid as much as several thousand dollars per shipment for their labor. Kilogram- and pound-sized blocks are broken down using blenders or food processors, and diluents and adulterants such as lactose, mannitol, and quinine are added to the heroin. The heroin is then repackaged for mid-level or retail sale.

Heroin mills are most commonly seized in the New York City metropolitan area. In 2014, DEA dismantled 13 heroin mills in the New York FD AOR. DEA reporting also indicates heroin trafficking organizations are operating heroin mills and stash locations in the suburbs and more affluent areas of New York City and nearby states, because these groups believe they will avoid interdiction by law enforcement and theft by other organizations.

Transportation Heroin

Heroin is most commonly brought to the United States overland across the Southwest Border (mostly Mexican heroin, some South American heroin) or transported by couriers on commercial airlines (South American, Southwest Asian, and Southeast Asian heroin). Seizures at the Southwest Border are rising as Mexican TCOs increase heroin production and transportation. Heroin seizures at the border more than doubled over five years, from 2010 (1,016 kilograms) to 2014 (2,188 kilograms), most likely due to increased Mexican heroin smuggling and enhanced law enforcement efforts along the border. (See Chart 18.) Most heroin smuggled across the border is transported in privately-owned vehicles, usually through California, as well as through south Texas.

• In 2014, more than half of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) heroin seizures at the Southwest Border were seized in the southern California corridors of San Diego and El Centro; seizures in both corridors increased from 2013. Seizures in the South Texas corridors of Laredo and Rio Grande Valley, while decreasing from 2013, still represent a significant portion of the heroin seized at the Southwest Border. (See Map 5.)

(U) Map 5. 2014 – Change in Heroin Trafficking in the CBP Corridors – Source: DEA and US Customs and Border Protection

Map 5. Mexican Cartels.

(U) Chart 19. Heroin Seized by the DEA Los Angeles FD in California, FY2005 – FY2014

Chart 19. Heroin in Los Angeles.

(U) Chart 20. Heroin Seized by the DEA Dallas FD, FY2009 – FY2013  Source: DEA Dallas Field Division Seizure Data

Chart 20

Heroin is still commonly transported by couriers on commercial aircraft, particularly to the New York City metropolitan area. JFK International Airport in New York City is the primary arrival point for heroin couriers, usually carrying South American and, to a lesser extent, Southwest Asian heroin. Heroin is also commonly seized at airports in Miami, Newark, and Orlando.

More Heroin Transiting Western States

As more heroin enters the United States through the Southwest Border, the western states’ roles as heroin transit areas are increasing. Reporting from several western states indicates heroin is transiting those areas in greater volumes and in larger shipment sizes.

Los Angeles, California: Reporting from the DEA Los Angeles shows a notable increase in the volume of heroin transiting southern California during the past three FYs. (See Chart 19.) The increase in heroin seized in Los Angeles FD cases was not the result of a higher number of incidences, but of larger-sized seizures. The median seizure size increased from 26 grams in FY2010 to a kilogram in FY2014.

Dallas, Texas: In the DEA Dallas FD AOR, in addition to Mexican black tar or brown powder heroin, which are the primary types used in the Dallas area, bulk seizures of white powder heroin passing through the area have occurred, destined for East Coast markets. DEA heroin seizures in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have increased significantly since FY2009. (See Chart 20.)

Seattle, Washington: The DEA Seattle FD reports seizing heroin in larger amounts in recent years. Seizures are now commonly 6 to 12 pounds in size. In one notable 2014 investigation, approximately 35 pounds of Mexican black tar heroin were seized from the trunk of a car.

Phoenix, Arizona: In the Phoenix metropolitan area, up until 2008, only multi-ounce quantities of heroin were seized and the seizure of a pound was considered significant. Now, kilogram quantities of heroin are commonly seized, usually transiting the area.

Denver, Colorado: Heroin shipment sizes in the DEA Denver FD AOR are increasing. A few years ago a large shipment of heroin for the Denver area was one to five pounds in size; now heroin shipments of 10 to 12 pounds are common.

• Salt Lake City, Utah: Law enforcement in Salt Lake City report a sizeable influx of heroin  into that area. The DEA Metro Narcotics Task Force seized 31 pounds of heroin over the course of a single investigation in 2014. Mexican organizations operating out of Sinaloa and Nayarit, Mexico increasingly send multi-pound quantities of heroin to Utah using couriers.

Distribution  Heroin

Mexican traffickers are expanding their operations to gain a larger share of eastern US heroin markets. Mexican traffickers already control many western US heroin markets where Mexican heroin is commonly used. However, heroin use in the United States is much more prevalent in the Northeast and Midwest areas, where white powder heroin is used. The largest, most lucrative heroin markets in the United States are the big white powder markets in major eastern cities: New York City and the surrounding metropolitan areas, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston and its surrounding cities, Detroit, Washington, DC, and Baltimore. Mexican traffickers are expanding their operations to gain a larger share of these markets. Mexican organizations are now the most prominent wholesale-level heroin traffickers in the DEA Chicago, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC FD AORs, and have greatly expanded their presence in the New York City area.

Black Tar Heroin in the Eastern United States

There were several sizeable seizures of Mexican black tar heroin in eastern US states in 2013 and 2014, including Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. This may indicate Mexican traffickers are attempting to open up black tar markets in the East; however, efforts to do this have been unsuccessful thus far. With the exception of some markets in North and South Carolina, heroin users in states along the East Coast prefer white powderxvii heroin, and are unwilling to switch. Nevertheless, Mexican traffickers who distribute black tar heroin may continue to attempt to create such markets in the eastern United States because of the large number of heroin users in those states. These black tar seizures are also indicative of the growing influence of Mexican traffickers in eastern US heroin markets.

Changing Trends in Heroin Trafficking

Increased heroin availability has prompted some local traffickers to begin distributing heroin. Reporting also indicates that cocaine and methamphetamine distributors in some cities are now distributing heroin. In the DEA New Orleans FD AOR, traffickers having difficulties obtaining cocaine are switching to distributing heroin. In the DEA Atlanta FD AOR, oversaturation in methamphetamine markets has caused some methamphetamine traffickers to turn to distributing heroin. The steady flow of heroin into the United States and the increasing number of heroin users are attractive to traffickers.

DEA reporting from the Dallas FD indicates that Mexican traffickers are forcing methamphetamine distributors in Texas to buy and distribute heroin along with methamphetamine. The distributors are being told they must also buy heroin or they will not be supplied with methamphetamine. Mexican traffickers are also trying to present heroin to CPD abusers as an alternative to prescription opioids.

Outlook  Heroin

Heroin use and overdose deaths are likely to continue to increase in the near term. Mexican traffickers are making a concerted effort to increase heroin availability in the US market. The drug’s increased availability and relatively low cost make it attractive to the large number of opioid abusers (both prescription opioid and heroin) in the United States.

(U) “China White” Heroin: Not Southeast Asian Heroin

“China White” is a term that was historically used to refer to high-quality Southeast Asian white powder heroin. Southeast Asian heroin is now rarely available in the United States, but the term “China White” is still used in many US heroin markets to refer to any high-purity white powder heroin, regardless of source origin. Many Mexican heroin traffickers are using “China White” as a marketing strategy both in the United States and Mexico. Traffickers in Chicago, Miami, and Newark use the term “China White” as a marketing tool to imply their heroin is high-purity. In some areas of New York State the term is also used in reference to fentanyl and heroin mixed with fentanyl.

Source: DEA

“White powder heroin” is a term referring to the type of powdered heroin generally produced in South America, Southeast Asia, and Southwest Asia. White powder heroin is generally off-white or tan in color, but can be brown or gray depending on how it is processed and what diluents/ adulterants are added to it. Users who prefer white powder heroin may believe that a lighter color powder is indicative of a higher-purity product, however this is not necessarily true.

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[2015 Drug Threat Assessment continues next at Part 82 Fentanyl]