In July, the authorities in central Ohio warned the public about an extremely dangerous type of heroin moving around the community. They arrested a dealer (black male, not an immigrant) on charges who was a focus of this new stuff. It was not heroin but was a synthetic opioid. Fentanyl and carfentanyl laced powder sold as heroin was going to hit the streets. A little over a month later, and suddenly the overdoses are piling up and the NY Times is on it. There is a great unspoken in these synthetic heroin overdose tales. The stuff is made here. No smuggling needed. The heroin story has entered a new phase.
The media mentions smuggling in from China and Mexico. It's Mexico mostly as the Sinaloas control a huge percentage of America's heroin inflow. What this addition of synthetic heroin more and more into the heroin market means is that there is now enough infrastructure and consistent demand for the heroin distribution network to not need to import. Heroin may not need to ride waves of usage as it did before and rely on the problem of foreign imports anymore.
When heroin first began to skyrocket fifteen years ago (don't forget the early '90s heroin wave), the flood of Afghanistan production increased the global supply enough that all distributors had enough product to move. This did drop the price to where one could get high off heroin cheaper than buying a bag of M&Ms. This also had the tailwind of American pill manufacturers of oxys changing the way pills were so they were harder to crush and raised awareness nationwide of youths and others abusing people's pills. Supply and demand came together for an increase in consumption and a switch in good consumed by users.
Heroin still had a distribution network problem. There was little infrastructure. This is why immigration is so important. The Mexicans could move whether Sinaloa, Zeta or Gulf cartel aligned among the millions that came into the US over the border. They could sell directly or move the product through current street gangs. Going wholesale gave them a buffer. Plus, being a new "other" in our society made infiltrating and penetrating those gangs more difficult.
Even with the product moving quickly, and Mexico ramped up heroin inflows to the US after marijuana was made in legal in some states, there was the reputation for Mexican brown, dirty heroin. Users wanted the white fine china. Here's where fentanyl and carfentanyl come in. They are synthetic. They are manufactured and made to look white. The local gangs, which have been selling dirty Mexican heroin, now have a way to sell white heroin looking substances but via their Mexican suppliers now that the cartels have a network here. Some may even become independents.
No way are cartels risking smuggling heroin looking powders over the border when they can just manufacture them in America, in safe locations. Hispanics are 17% of the American population now. Tell me they can't hide? This is not meth. This is not Breaking Bad. Fentanyl is manufactured at room temperature. It can be mixed into a powder in your home and only at room temperature. I stress room temperature for two reasons. First, there is no need for special equipment. Second, any heat scans are not going to pick up anything. No toxic gases, and the Meth House smell is not present. No need for trailers in the woods or desert as it can be whipped up in any home.
The other very difficult thing about synthetics like fentanyl and carfentanyl are the potency. At just 10-20 times as powerful, they can manufacture one kilo of the fentanyl and have the equivalent of twenty kilos of heroin. They cut it with white powders, and now they have what looks like 20 kilos of heroin and will give users the same high despite far less product. No smuggling risk. If held pre-cut, that is a tiny amount of powder to flush down the toilet if a bust happens. Some can even just cook up one kilo of fentanyl and add a bit to each heroin baggie for that extra kick. The marketing might be that yes the Mexican brown stuff is dirty, but this stuff has kick the white powder does not have. The incentives are there for them to try this and change their product if not in spikes in outright substitutions.
The dangerous sign is that they are moving to this more and using more exotic opioids. Users need to chase the greater high, so the synthetic stuff will meet that need. The cartels and dealers now feel heroin is a secure enough market that they can abandon their former smugglers and produce onsite. The ease of production is a factor in their favor. They will continue to use it because they know the demand will be there now and do not care if you overdose and die.