Heroin by Area of Origin
Heroin is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), meaning that it has high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. Schedule I controlled substances like heroin are, under federal law, illegal to manufacture, sell, or possess.1
Despite its illicit status, heroin regularly finds its way into the U.S. and other countries. As long as demand for heroin remains high, heroin producers in various countries will continue to process and smuggle the drug for their customer base.
Heroin has become increasingly available in the U.S. over the last 7 to 10 years. The supply of heroin has also become purer, less expensive, and more likely to be adulterated with other drugs, such as fentanyl—increasing the likelihood of overdose. Heroin-related overdose deaths quadrupled in the U.S. between 2010 and 2015.2
Read on to learn more about which countries supply heroin to the United States, and how the areas of origin for the drug have changed recently.
Top Heroin-Producing Countries
Mexico is the major source of heroin in the U.S. It produces 3 main forms of the drug: brown powder, black tar, and white powder.2
The 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment found that Mexican cartels expanded their market share in the U.S. to nearly 80% in 2014, pushing out South American and Southwest Asian producers.4 In 2015, 93% of the heroin the DEA seized and analyzed came from Mexico.3
According to the DEA, Mexico and to a smaller degree Colombia have the strongest footholds in the U.S. heroin market because they are relatively nearby, have set up distribution networks, and can meet the demand.2
Mexico’s poppy cultivation tripled in the last three years due to decreased eradication of poppy fields throughout the country. In 2016, poppy cultivation reached 32,000 hectares in Mexico. That’s enough to produce 81 metric tons of heroin. Three years earlier, cultivation only allowed the production of 26 metric tons.3
Historically, Colombia was predominantly known for cocaine production. But it also entered the heroin trade relatively recently, and is now the other major Latin American supplier of heroin to the United States apart from Mexico.
For years, while Mexicans trafficked black and brown forms of heroin into smaller western U.S. markets, Colombia became the lead supplier of the relatively pure “China White” heroin to larger, eastern cities. However, in more recent years, Colombia’s poppy production has declined somewhat. The demand for heroin in the U.S. hasn’t, however, and Mexico has risen to the challenge of filling this gap.6
Southeast and Southwest Asia
Between 1988 and 1994, Southeast Asia was the origin for most wholesale heroin seizures in the U.S.8 But Southeast Asian heroin has rarely been available in the United States in the past decade. This is due to production in the Golden Triangle (which includes Burma (Myanmar), Laos, and Thailand) declining significantly since 2000.2
Southwest Asian heroin is available in certain U.S. markets. But overall, little heroin from this region is available in the U.S. This area mostly supplies markets in Asia, Africa, and Europe.2
In addition, Southwest Asian heroin has to travel a much farther distance than competitors closer to the U.S. So it’s harder for these countries to ship heroin to the U.S. in amounts that can rival Mexico and the South Americans. The heroin from Southwest Asia can also be distributed and diluted en route.4
Afghanistan produces 95% of the global supply of raw opium, which is used to source nearly all of the heroin consumed in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. It has seized a sizeable share of the heroin markets in certain areas in Asia, the Pacific, and Canada. The country produces about 375 tons of heroin every year, which is more than the next 2 largest producers combined (Mexico, 26 tons per year, and Myanmar, about 50 tons). Yet it supplies very little of the heroin consumed in the U.S.6
Types of Heroin in U.S. Markets
Mexican heroin is the main heroin type available in retail markets throughout the U.S.2
Mexican and South American white powder heroin are the main types of heroin found east of the Mississippi River, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest. These regions contain the largest numbers of U.S. heroin users.2
Mexican black tar, brown powder, and other forms of heroin produced in Mexico are the primary types found west of the Mississippi.2
Heroin Addiction Help
The increased availability, higher purity, and lower cost of heroin, combined with the increased use of prescription painkillers, has changed the face of heroin addiction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that U.S. heroin use has grown among both genders, almost all ages, and at every income level.7
However, many people who are addicted to heroin seek help. The DEA reports that there were more treatment admissions for heroin than for any other illicit drug in 2014. This despite the fact that the heroin user population is not as big as the user population of other drugs such as methamphetamine and marijuana. Encouragingly, many heroin users seek out treatment on their own instead of being required to do so by the criminal justice system.2
Even so, many heroin addicts have a hard time admitting they have a problem. If you or someone you know is addicted to or abusing heroin, reach out for help today. Treatment is available across the country in many communities in the form of 12-step groups, inpatient programs, or outpatient options. Different types of rehabs are available to fit your schedule and needs.
Many programs offer detox, counseling, medical care, screening for HIV and other diseases, and medication-assisted treatment such as the use of methadone and buprenorphine to help people withdraw from the drug and resume their normal lives.
. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of Abuse.
. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment.
. Yucatan Times. (2017). Mexico is primary source for heroin in the U.S.: DEA.
. Woody, C. (2016). Mexican cartels are expanding their control over the US heroin market. Business Insider.
. LaSusa, M. (2016). Mexico, Colombia Groups Compete for US Heroin Market. InSight Crime.
. Hamilton, K. (2016). The Golden Age of Drug Trafficking: How Meth, Cocaine, and Heroin Move Around the World. Vice News.
. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Today’s Heroin Epidemic.
. Mosendz, P. (2017). America’s Heroin Epidemic Starts in Mexico. Bloomberg.