opium-poppyWhile the demand for Mexican cocaine and marijuana continues to decline, the need for Mexican heroin continues to rise – a byproduct of the prescription opioid epidemic in America. The market for low-grade Mexican weed has been diminished severely by medical marijuana and states moving toward legalization. The loss in market share has prompted cartels to step up heroin production, trafficking the drug into the United States using pre-existing marijuana and cocaine distribution routes, the Associated Press reports.

In the past, black tar heroin (a low-grade form of the drug) was the only kind of heroin Mexican cartels dealt with; but the drugs rise in demand has put Mexico in a unique position to shift from black tar to high grade white powder heroin (China White). In the Filo Mayor mountains in the southern state of Guerrero, poor farmers grow poppies whose opium is the only thing that will guarantee them a cash income, the article reports.

“Almost everyone thinks the people in these mountains are bad people, and that’s not true,” said Humberto Nava Reyna, the head of the Supreme Council of the Towns of the Filo Mayor, a group that promotes development projects in the mountains. “They can’t stop planting poppies as long as there is demand, and the government doesn’t provide any help.”

Once the opium is in the cartel’s hands it is then refined into high-grade white heroin to be sold in the U.S. market. While Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of the drug, in 2014 a DEA National Drug Threat Assessment found that Mexico produces nearly half of the heroin found in the United States, up from 39 percent in 2008. Most Afghan heroin is being sold in the Europe/Asia market.

There is much cause for concern when considering high-grade heroin is being produced just a mere 1,500 miles south of Tucson, AZ. Trafficking the drug into the U.S. market is done with ease, providing American addicts, crippled by prescription opioid addiction, a cheaper and more potent high – overdoses are inevitable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that U.S. Heroin deaths doubled from 2011 to 2013, while cocaine and prescription opiates overdoses stayed level.