Pubdate: Sun, 25 Jun 2006
Source: Berkshire Eagle, The (Pittsfield, MA)
Copyright: 2006 New England Newspapers, Inc.
Author: Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Not a pinch of heroin is produced in the United States, yet thousands 
of pounds of the drug infiltrate our communities every year.

The story of how heroin gets here has all the hallmarks of a 
best-selling novel. It involves big money, murder, high-tech 
espionage, international politics, puppies, and people from across 
the economic and social spectrum.

The plot begins in a fertile Latin American field, where a peasant 
farmer illegally plants exotic, eye-catching opium poppy flowers to 
make money to feed his family. Months into the growing process, the 
flower pods are scored five times with a knife. Within days, black 
opium gum oozes from the flower's wounds.

The gum is harvested, sold to a criminal organization, transported to 
a refinery, and converted by a series of chemical processes into 
morphine. That drug is then pressed into bricks and blended with more 
chemicals. The end product is pure heroin.

Facts Nicknames Brown sugar, China white, Dope, Dr. Feelgood, H, 
Horse, Junk, Lady, Scag, Smack Cultural odes Books (with authors) 
"The Basketball Diaries" Jim Carroll "Naked Lunch" William S. 
Burroughs "Requiem for a Dream" Hubert Selby Jr. Films (with 
directors) "Drugstore Cowboy" Gus Van Sant "Maria Full of Grace" 
Joshua Marston "Pulp Fiction" Quentin Tarantino "Trainspotting" Danny 
Boyle Songs (with artists) "Junkhead" Alice in Chains "Habit" Pearl 
Jam "Mr. Brownstone" Guns N' Roses "The Needle and the Damage Done" 
Neil Young "Under the Bridge" Red Hot Chili Peppers Famous users John 
Belushi, Ray Charles, Kurt Cobain, Miles Davis, Jerry Garcia, Howard 
Hughes, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, River Phoenix, Sid Vicious

The late 1980s saw enterprising Latin American drug lords supplement 
their burgeoning cocaine trade by enticing curious Americans with a 
form of heroin cheaper and purer than had been seen before. Abiding 
by a term familiar to economic majors -- vertical integration -- the 
crime organizations devoted fields to growing the opium poppy flower, 
knowing they could get their product to the United States quicker and 
easier than their competitors in Asia and the Middle East.

In the two decades since Latin America increased heroin production, 
the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy says the 
number of addicts in the United States has doubled.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Afghanistan 
produced 92 percent of the world's heroin in 2004, while Latin 
America accounted for just 2 percent. Yet 84 percent of the heroin 
that reached the United States that year came from either Colombia or 
Mexico (60 and 24 percent, respectively).

Most of Mexico's heroin -- a lower-potency, sticky form called "black 
tar" -- heads to the West Coast, while Eastern states receive 
Colombian high-grade: a light brown, powdery substance.

"The majority of our heroin here in the Northeast is Colombian," DEA 
spokesman Anthony Pettigrew said. "Our goal at the DEA is to work 
with local police on cases and track the heroin as far back as 
possible, all the way to Colombia. We're always trying to work it 
back to the original source, to nab everyone involved in the chain."

After production, heroin reaches U.S. soil by couriers, whose 
techniques are limited only by their imagination. It's sewn into 
luggage, hidden in porcelain dolls, or stashed in the soles of shoes. 
Teenage girls swallow bags of it, board planes and land in U.S. 
airports, where they later excrete it and exchange it for cash; that 
is, if the bag doesn't burst in their stomachs and kill them.

DEA agents regularly find heroin hidden inside cars crossing the 
border and in cargo hulls on ships. A recent border patrol in Texas 
uncovered $5 million worth of the drug stuffed in a human corpse that 
had been stolen from a hospital. In one instance, six puppies were 
found with a total of three kilograms of liquid heroin baggies 
implanted beneath their skin.

Once the journey to the United States is complete, the drug is cut. 
Some dealers add minimal cutting agents, leaving the purity levels 
high to attract customers. On the tame side, the dilutants can be 
powdered milk, baking soda or caffeine. On the dark side, heroin can 
be bulked up with strychnine, crushed prescription pills or rat 
poison. As many times as it passes hands, it could be cut with a 
different substance, yielding a mishmash of mystery chemicals.

The DEA said a kilogram -- 2.2 pounds -- of pure heroin costs 
Colombian cartels $8,000 to produce. By the time it ends up in a 
heroin corridor such as Holyoke, it's sold for $55,000. And by the 
time it's cut, packaged in small, glassine baggies and sold for $5 -- 
in 0.025 gram bags (a pinch of salt) -- it can fetch $250,000.

Dealers, using the marketing skills of "dopenomics," stamp flashy 
labels on the bags -- names like Mo Money, Bad Habit or Sniper -- 
along with logos of dollar bills, handguns or naked women. If users 
try a bag of Mo Money heroin and like it, they know exactly what to 
ask for when they come back for more.

Average drug traffickers can lose 90 percent of their product to 
police or thieves and still remain profitable.

U.S. Army personnel and the DEA work with South American governments 
to eradicate the poppy crops, spraying chemicals and busting the drug 
organizations, but the drug still seeps into our communities.

"We're doing all we can do to fight the drugs," said Pittsfield 
Police Detective Glenn F. Decker. "In the end, we lose the war on 
drugs because we can't protect our borders."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman