A lethal business model targets Middle America

Sugar cane farmers from a tiny Mexican county use savvy marketing and low prices to push black-tar heroin in the United States. Immigrants from an obscure corner of Mexico are changing heroin use in many parts of America. Full Story »

Posted by Kaizar Campwala - via LA Times (Most Emailed)

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Phil Snead
by Phil Snead - Feb. 21, 2010

Quinones' series and the accompanying video presentation, illustrating the life of addiction led by one young U.S. couple, work together powerfully. The impression is indelible, and I expect the series should leave most readers quite interested in further information about black tar heroin trafficking and addiction, both south and north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

This riveting LA Times series includes a powerful and intimate video slide presentation. Sam Quinones writes in a straightforward, convincing style, about powerful "black tar" heroin marketed from Xalisco, Mexico at lowball prices to U.S. users who could otherwise be classed as typical Wal-Mart shoppers. The marketing operation emphasizes customer service and attempts to steer clear of populations and neighborhoods that might draw elevated attention from law enforcement. Quinones relates the rapid spread of black tar use to middle class locations throughout the U.S. Quinones appears to have researched his story quite thoroughly, and quotes verifiable sources both in Mexico and in U.S. cities impacted by the use and the elevated health/mortality risks of black tar. He provides a 20-year history of the phenomenon, and fascinating accounts of the lives of several Mexican families involved in the black tar economy. Sam Quinones has written compelling, unadorned accounts of the users, dealers, marketers and manufacturers. Presented through the clear prism of his narration, the entire black tar economy and culture come across as a familiar and almost comfortable small-business scenario. Reinforcing this impression is Quinones' description of the market forces that sustain relatively non-competitive franchising. The spread of black tar addictions appears likely to continue only slightly impacted by U.S. law enforcement, at least until the franchise density reaches the point at which turf competition becomes unavoidable. There's a long way, and a long list of potential addicts, to go before the trade reaches that point. From the addicts' viewpoint, what sets black tar apart from other injectable opiates is low price combined with drug strength. Quinones alludes in a couple of places to the drug's appeal to existing addicts as well as to an increasing number of newly-minted ones, for whom black tar presents a much lower barrier to adopting an opiate habit.

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