Our Heroin: From Afghanistan or Mexico?

While speaking on the topic of heroin in America, I’m often asked how much of our supply comes from Afghanistan, as we’ve been in a war over there for many years.

My answer, from interviews with traffickers, cops and DEA agents, is that most of our heroin comes from Mexico.

That view was confirmed this morning by William Brownfield, the U.S. State Department’s assistant secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

In a conference call with reporters, Brownfield estimated that 90 to 94 percent of the heroin consumed in the United States originates in Mexico, with another 2 percent or so coming from Colombia and the remainder from other countries around the globe.

That represents a massive shift in our heroin supply since roughly 1980, when a lot of our heroin came from the Far East, and had for decades.

Interestingly, Brownfield said, a lot of Afghan heroin does make it to Canada, but not to the United States, where Mexican trafficking organizations, too close by, enjoy a more advanced and efficient distribution network, and offer therefore cheaper prices.


Brownfield was talking about the just-issued International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), which talks a lot about the heroin/opioid problem in America. Brownfield’s message was a positive one about cooperation between Mexico and the United states on issues of drug enforcement.

A wall of law enforcement cooperation is in place, without constructing an actual wall, he said. Serious problems existed, he said, “but we have a far better architecture to address them today than we did in years past.”

Nevertheless, his answer on heroin’s origin stunned even me. I would not have guessed the estimate would be that high.

I’ve written elsewhere about my belief that it’s unlikely that more border walls between the two countries will do much to staunch the flow of heroin into the United States. What’s really necessary is even deeper cooperation, frank discussion with Mexico that a wall and the emotion it provokes would do much to corrode.

Yet Brownfield’s response highlights two things worth mentioning.

One is that Mexico must truly step up to this challenge. Its unconscionable that such a high percentage of illegal highly addictive dope come from one country to another. China had a similar issue in the 1800s, when the British forced opium into that country, resulting in the massive addiction of Chinese people for decades after.

If border walls are insulting to Mexico, it must understand that they are proposed because of Mexico’s own failings – both with regard to law enforcement and criminal justice, and in channeling the desires of its most hardworking citizens, who then feel the need to migrate illegally to the United States.

Second is that U.S. demand for heroin grows organically out of doctors’ massive prescribing over the last 20 years of pharmaceutical narcotic painkillers – the subject of my book DREAMLAND — something that no border wall will stop, of course. Also, if we get into discussions with Mexico about this topic, soon that discussion will also turn to our very accessible market for guns, many of which then go south through a variety of channels and end up being weapons in that country’s bloody drugs wars. So if we ask a neighbor to behave with maturity, we better be willing to do the same.

We have almost 700 miles of walls along the border that separate the two countries. Drugs aren’t much trafficked through those areas that have no walls, most of which are in forbidding terrain. Our drugs, instead, are trafficked through ports of entry where walls already exist. They are trafficked in cars, trucks, and by pedestrians. With heroin, the problem is exacerbated, as I’ve written elsewhere, by the fact that is the most condensable drug, thus the most easily and profitably trafficked,and one that we now have a huge demand for.

All in all, the issue begs a binational, cooperative solution, seems to me.


Filed under Border, Drugs, Mexico, The Heroin Heartland

4 Responses to Our Heroin: From Afghanistan or Mexico?

  1. Pingback: Can We Treat Our Way Out of This? -

  2. Joan Peters-Gilmartin

    Thank you for stating what I have been saying for past few years. A wall will not fix the problem and it is a binational problem. Afghanistan/Iraq poppy production is paying for the war/terrorism and being sold by Russian Maria through Western Europe markets

  3. sandra sarges

    I think it is very sad that the United States does not call a National Health Crisis or Emergency in regard to the opiods/heroin/fetynol and carfetynol.. We are losing good people every day. The National Guard should be called out to stop the trafficking. What does it take? We are told 53,000 plus died due to the epidemic which I call a plague or pandemic. So many families are broken due to the loss of their loved ones. Children are being raised by aunts and uncles or grandparents. So many children are in foster care. I only pray that doctors stop giving opiods out like they are candy. Our nation is in trouble and his been in trouble with Big Pharma making millions at the expense of human lifes. Drugs are evil and the devil. People have fallen away from God and the drugs take over their lives. The jails and prisons are full of people who suffer from the disease of addiction. People who are ill from the disease of addiction need to be treated in all hospitals and not condemned and belittled for being sick. They need help and treatment. I pray for all affected by this sad sad time in the USA and world. Mental hospitals and orphanages are needed. If we can give so much money to other countries, we need to take care of our own people.

  4. Richard Ferguson

    I once read that many farmers in Mexico started raising opium poppies because the USA didn’t have enough opiates to treat soldiers injured in WWII (it could have started in WWI.) The USA government paid the farmers in Mexico to raise opium poppies. When the war was over, the government said they didn’t need the poppies anymore so stop. The farmers had a good living from the opium so they didn’t stop. I can’t produce a source for this information but I do remember reading it.

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