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Mexican Heroin Addiction

Mexico produces several different types of heroin and uses numerous methods to traffic the drugs into the United States. With Mexico’s rising production and distribution of heroin has also come an increase in drug use in Mexico itself.
Mexico is the main source of heroin for the United States.According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 93% of the heroin seized in the United States in 2015 came from Mexico. An increasing amount of fentanyl in the United States has also been traced back to Mexico.2
The country’s heroin production tripled between 2013 and 2016, rising from 26 to 81 metric tons. The increase was driven, in part, by a 15% decline in the eradication of Mexican opium crops in 2016.2

What Kind of Heroin Is Produced?

Mexico produces “black tar,” brown powder, and white powder heroin.

In the past, Mexico was mostly known for black or Mexican tar heroin, a dark sticky substance that was mainly found in cities in the western United States.3,4

However, beginning in 2013, Mexican cartels replaced the Colombians as the main producers and suppliers of white heroin in the U.S.

The DEA reports that Mexican and South American white powder heroin are the most common types of heroin found in the Northeast and Midwest U.S. However, Mexican white heroin is increasingly being found in western markets as well. Mexican black tar, Mexican brown powder, and other crudely manufactured forms of Mexican heroin are found in markets west of the Mississippi River.1

Mexican heroin is also purer and cheaper than Asian or Colombian heroin—2 of the country’s major competitors. A kilogram of Asian heroin can cost up to $5,000 to $10,000 more than a kilogram of Mexican heroin, which can also be more than double the purity of Asian heroin.3

In addition, Mexican traffickers have begun to mix the powerful opioid fentanyl into white powder heroin. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. Cartels use fentanyl to increase profits and strengthen low-quality heroin. Users are often unaware that their heroin contains fentanyl, leading to an increased likelihood of overdose.1,4

How Does It Get Across the Border?

The majority of Mexican heroin is transported across the Southwest border in passenger vehicles. The cartels often conceal heroin in compartments or with legal goods on tractor trailers. They may also use commercial cargo trains and passenger buses or sea vessels off the California coast.1

Another method is to use “mules,” who hide heroin on their body, in body cavities, or in their shoes. They use secret trails in remote areas to cross over into the U.S. The cartels may also use scouts along the border to spot any U.S. authorities.1

A less common technique is to use ultralight aircraft or drones to air-drop drugs. Aircraft are mostly used to drop marijuana close to the Southwest border and can only deposit small amounts of other drugs. But this technique may be more commonly used in the future.1

Finally, cartels may sometimes use underground tunnels to transport drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border. These often lead to safe houses in the United States. Like drones, these tunnels are mostly used to smuggle marijuana, but they can be used for other drugs.1

Prevalence of Use and Abuse in Mexico

Heroin abuse and addiction has become a growing problem in Mexico due to the increased flow of drugs through the country.

Drug use in Mexico is lower than in the United States. But over the past decade, the percentage of Mexican men between 12 and 65 who used illegal drugs nearly doubled. The percentage of women more than doubled.5

Further, it is estimated that the number of addicts in Tijuana has doubled in the past decade, with many of them using heroin and methamphetamine.5

Only a small number of Mexicans who are addicted to drugs seek treatment.5

Addiction Treatment Options

With the increased availability of heroin in the United States, more people are at risk of using the drug and becoming addicted. If you know someone who’s addicted, or you’re suffering from an addiction yourself, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. A number of treatment centers are available across the country to help.

In many rehabilitation programs, treatment for heroin addiction and other opioid use disorders involves a combination of medication and behavioral therapies to help users stop using drugs and learn skills to help them lead lives free of heroin.

If you’ve tried talking to your loved one about their addiction, and they do not want to get help, you can try an intervention. During an intervention, family, friends, and possibly work colleagues confront the person about their heroin use, show them how it has affected others, and convince them to seek help. A professional interventionist can organize the intervention and may ensure it runs more smoothly.6

When you’re ready to seek treatment, you can browse our directory of program listings on this site.


  1. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment.
  2. Beittel, J. (2017). Why is Violence Rebounding in Mexico? CRS Insight.
  3. Insight Crime. (2017). China White, Mexico’s New Heroin Threatening the United States.
  4. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of Abuse.
  5. Partlow, J. (2017). Mexico’s Drug Trade Hits Home. The Washington Post.
  6. National Association on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2015). Intervention—Tips and Guidelines.

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