Alarms are being sounded in Latin America about the growth of heroin production; there’s no evidence yet of the trade in Ecuador

Jul 14, 2015

The prison break of notorious Mexican drug kingpen Joaquín Guzmán, better known as “El Chapo,” is putting a spotlight on a growing Latin American drug threat: heroin.

Mexican drug lord, El Chapo.

Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán, or “El Chapo,” is on the loose again.

The escape is notable due to growing evidence that the Sinaloa Cartel, which Guzmán controls, is at the center of a rapid increase in heroin production, both in the cultivation of poppies and the production of the drug. The U.S. CIA claims it has discovered evidence of cooperation between opium producers in Afghanistan and India with Sinaloa, and says that the Islamic miliatry organization, ISIS, may be involved as well.

The World Health Organization reports that the amount of the world’s heroin produced in Latin America has risen from 2% to 4% since 2009. It says the center of the heroin trade remains Mexico but says it is spreading to other countries, particularly Colombia, Peru and Brazil.

A Taliban soldier guards a poppy field in western Afghanistan.

A Taliban soldier guards a poppy field in western Afghanistan.

“We have particular concerns about heroin operations in Colombia,” WHO says. “There is strong evidence that drug activity and violence is increasing there.”

The report says there is no evidence of heroin trade in Ecuador.

Law enforcement agencies in several Latin American countries say they have increased their vigilance of the heroin threat.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said last week that there’s been a significant jump in U.S. heroin deaths and addiction. In 2013 there were 517,000 people addicted to heroin. Overdose deaths quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. Much of the black tar and brown power heroin flowing into the U.S. travels through Latin America.

Heroin, like opium and morphine, is made from the resin of poppy plants. Milky, sap-like opium is first removed from the pod of the poppy flower. This opium is refined to make morphine, then further refined into different forms of heroin.