How the Heroin Trade Operates

People who have never used heroin before might be well aware of what the drug looks like, and what it can do, based on movies and television shows they have watched. It’s all too easy to see characters on these shows warm up heroin, prepare their arms for injections and then nod away when the drugs take hold. While movies and television shows often make the usage of heroin easy to see and understand, these venues might not help to explain how the drug was created, and how the drug made its way into this country in the first place. This article might help to clear up confusion.

From Plant to Powder

Heroin takes a long and complicated journey before it’s presented for sale. The path begins with a modest poppy plant, grown by, as PBS puts it, “impoverished farmers on small plots in remote regions of the world.”

These poppy farmers live in countries such as:

  • China
  • Turkey
  • Pakistan
  • Afghanistan
  • Laos
  • Colombia

Poppy seeds grow quickly, developing bright flowers in about three months. When the petals wither and die, the pod of the plant remains and its full of a sticky, milky sap. Farmers slit the poppy pod with specialized tools and they collect the sap that oozes away. All of the collected sap is scraped into packets, and it’s sold on the black market as opium.

The black market for opium and heroin is particularly vast in Afghanistan, and according to investigative reports produced by the New York Times, farmers often grow poppies as a cash crop. In this cash-starved country, it might be the only way these people can keep food on the table, and American forces who want to win the trust of the people of this country might be loathe to burn down their crops in support of their country’s drug laws. So while opium and heroin is technically illegal in Afghanistan and the United States provides subsidies that would ensure that poppies are removed, the crops still dot the countryside.

Once the poppies are harvested, the sap goes through many purification steps involving chemicals, alcohol, sodium carbonate and more. These steps can be dangerous, as the chemicals are quite flammable and they can explode during specific points during the purification process. If all goes well, however, the end result will be fluffy granules of pure heroin that can be bundled and sold to dealers.

Heroin Crosses the Border

In order to transport heroin from the laboratories where it is made to the users who are prepared to take the drug, dealers employ a variety of frightening and risky maneuvers. For example, some heroin dealers ask employees to carry packets of heroin in their luggage, and they disguise those packets so the couriers can evade detection. This is what happened in August of 2012, according to news reports, when a woman attempted to bring packets of heroin through the John F. Kennedy International Airport. The heroin was disguised as hair cream. Heroin dealers might also ask their employees to swallow bags of heroin and then bring them across the boarder concealed within their bodies. Some dealers ship large amounts of heroin in plastic containers. When these containers arrive, dealers use acid to remove the heroin from the inert ingredients, so the drug can be sold.

Heroin Hits the Street

Once heroin crosses the border into this country, it is sold to regional suppliers, who might then pass the supplies to one or two local suppliers, who then use 15 dealers, according to an interview conducted by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Each time the heroin takes a step down this distribution line, the dealers must face the temptation to mix the heroin with inert substances, to make a small amount of the drug balloon into a larger amount that can be sold at the same price, or adding in other chemicals that could make a basic amount of heroin pack a bigger punch.

Inert ingredients that are often added to heroin include:

  • Sugar
  • Starch
  • Powdered milk
  • Baby powder

In the past, these inert ingredients were quite common in heroin, but now, heroin is often sold in a very pure form that can be smoked or even snorted. The competition among dealers can be stiff, however, and some dealers respond by adding in unique ingredients to make their heroin more powerful, and thereby bring in more customers. Some heroin dealers add in the drug quinine, but others add in powerful drugs like fentanyl. Powerful additives like this can be incredibly dangerous. For example, according to news reports, heroin laced with fentanyl was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of addicts in the United States in 2006.

People who are accustomed to taking heroin that is cut with sugar could quickly overdose if they take heroin that isn’t cut with anything at all. Similarly, heroin that is laced with toxins such as rat poison could be fatal, no matter how much heroin the user is accustomed to taking. The production and distribution of heroin isn’t regulated in any way, so people may never know what they are buying until they try it in their bodies. To help decrease this risk, some heroin users become dependent on their dealers, buying drugs from the same person each and every time, and hoping this will protect them from unpleasant surprises.

Heroin is allowed to be diluted, and even made fatal, because the drug is completely illegal within the United States. People caught with heroin for their own personal use may face jail time, and people who have needles that contain a small residue of heroin might also go to jail. People who deal heroin might also go to jail for the activity, but it’s incredibly difficult for law enforcement officers to trace the origin of the drugs back through the many, many paths the drugs take before they fall into the hands of abusers. Some experts believe that drug dealers use so many go-betweens because they’d like to create a layer of protection from law enforcement action.

Heroin Addiction and Treatment

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 14.1 percent of people who enter publically funded programs for addiction are addicted to heroin. Many more people are likely addicted to heroin and receive no form of treatment whatsoever for the issues they’re facing. This is truly unfortunate, as heroin is one of the most treatable forms of addiction in the medical world today.

Heroin in a powerful drug that attaches to a variety of receptors in the brain and in the body. Over time, the body becomes accustomed to having access to heroin, and when the user attempts to stop, this may trigger a series of chemical reactions that can cause extreme physical discomfort. There are some medications that experts can use to ease the pain and suffering people feel while they’re undergoing the detoxification process from heroin, but some people feel as though they can get through detox without using any medications whatsoever. There are some good reasons to believe that these people are right, as heroin detox is rarely fatal. By simply enduring the symptoms while staying in a supportive place that contains no temptations that could push the person back into using, the withdrawal may go quickly and the person can then move on to other forms of therapy that could keep that person from using in the future.

At Axis, we offer both detoxification services as well as ongoing addiction care for people who are addicted to heroin. Our surroundings are beautiful and safe, and we keep a trained and professional staff on hand that can provide real help in the fight against addiction. If you’d like to know more about this care, please contact us.