Drug car­tel spawned the opi­oid epi­demic

When con­fronted with a deadly force that could threaten your ex­is­tence, it’s cru­cial to know as much as you can about the force be­fore you re­spond. You can’t out­run a bear, for ex­am­ple, but shout­ing and pep­per spray are likely to scare it away. Run­ning fr

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE -

The opi­oid epi­demic be­gan as a busi­ness de­ci­sion by a Mex­i­can drug car­tel an­tic­i­pat­ing a loss of prof­its.

Maybe the same could be said about heroin and opi­oids. More knowl­edge about this scourge might help shape a more ef­fec­tive re­sponse to erad­i­cate it.

The opi­oid epi­demic, which con­trib­uted to a record 47,500 over­dose deaths in the United States in 2014, be­gan as a busi­ness de­ci­sion by a Mex­i­can drug car­tel an­tic­i­pat­ing a huge loss of prof­its from de­clin­ing mar­i­juana sales.

That’s the con­clu­sion of best-sell­ing au­thor Don Winslow in a fea­ture ar­ti­cle he wrote for the Aug. 9 edi­tion of Esquire.

Winslow, who has fol­lowed the Mex­i­can drug trade for nearly 30 years, points to the grad­ual ac­cep­tance of mar­i­juana in the United States.

“We wanted le­gal weed, and for the most part, we got it,” Winslow writes. “Four states have le­gal­ized it out­right, oth­ers have de­crim­i­nal­ized it, and in many ju­ris­dic­tions po­lice refuse to en­force the laws that are on the books, cre­at­ing a de facto street le­gal­iza­tion.”

Sud­denly the Dom­i­nant Si­naloa Car­tel, headed by Joaquín Guzmán Lo­era — el Chapo — found it­self in com­pe­ti­tion with Amer­i­can mar­i­juana of su­pe­rior qual­ity and lower price, and with­out the lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges of an il­le­gal bor­der cross­ing.

In other words, there was no longer any way for the Si­naloa Car­tel to make money sell­ing pot in Amer­ica. So Guzmán came up with a bril­liant busi­ness plan: re­plac­ing Mex­ico’s mar­i­juana fields with opium pop­pies; hir­ing Colom­bian tech­ni­cians to pu­rify the opium into heroin; flood­ing the mar­ket with it; and dra­mat­i­cally low­er­ing the price — just as Amer­i­cans were awak­en­ing to a grow­ing prob­lem with the ad­dic­tive painkiller Oxy-Con­tin.

There were two other key el­e­ment in Guzmán’s strat­egy.

The first was elim­i­nat­ing com­pe­ti­tion. Winslow’s ac­count in­cludes de­tails of ruth­less killings and gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion, both in­tended to si­lence op­po­si­tion.

Guzmán has been cap­tured and thrown in prison twice, but both times he has man­aged to es­cape high-se­cu­rity pris­ons — al­lowed to es­cape, Winslow con­tends, be­cause he is the only one who can keep the peace be­tween ri­val car­tels be­neath the Si­naloas. His re­lease im­plies the power he holds while con­trol­ling an es­ti­mated 8 per­cent of Mex­ico’s to­tal econ­omy.

The sec­ond el­e­ment was fen­tanyl. The Si­naloa Car­tel now rou­tinely man­u­fac­tures the syn­thetic opi­oid, which is 50 to 100 times more pow­er­ful than opium, and then adds the fen­tanyl to its heroin to make a much stronger drug. It’s also more ad­dict­ing and more deadly.

Do we still want to run away from this bear? Maybe, maybe not.

Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump rec­om­mends build­ing a wall at the bor­der, and let­ting Mex­ico pay for it.

“At one point,” Winslow writes, Guzmán “threat­ened to have Don­ald Trump whacked. Oddly enough, Trump didn’t re­spond with a dis­mis­sive nick­name, maybe be­cause, of all the Mex­i­cans who would scratch a check for the wall, Guzmán would have jumped at the chance, as it would in­crease his prof­its.”

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