ARCHIVED To Contents To Previous Page To Next Page To Publications Page To Home Page
National Drug Intelligence Center
New Mexico Drug Threat Assessment
Heroin commonly is abused in New Mexico, as evidenced by the number of heroin-related deaths and treatment admissions. New Mexico leads the nation in per capita heroin-related deaths. Mexican black tar heroin is the most readily available type; however, Mexican brown powdered heroin also is available. Albuquerque is a transshipment point for Mexican black tar and Mexican brown powdered heroin destined for the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest.
Heroin has been a factor in a number of deaths in New Mexico. According to the State of New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, the number of drug-related deaths has increased every year from 1997 through 1999. In 1997 there were 224 drug-related deaths; that number increased to 237 in 1998. In 1999 there were 259 drug-related deaths in New Mexico, of which 67 percent (174) were heroin-related. According to the New Mexico Department of Health, New Mexico leads the nation in heroin-related deaths per capita. Rio Arriba County, located in northern New Mexico, has the highest heroin-related death rate in the state and one of the highest in the country. In 2000 Rio Arriba County had 19 reported heroin-related overdose deaths.
Heroin treatment admissions, though declining, indicate that heroin continues to be commonly abused in New Mexico. According to TEDS, heroin treatment admissions increased from 339 in 1993, to a peak of 514 in 1996, then decreased to 278 in 1998. However, a disparity in data reporting for 1998 admissions to substance abuse treatment programs occurred and resulted in underreporting. In some areas of the state, significant demand for heroin-related inpatient treatment exists. In Espanola the demand for heroin abuse treatment is so great that one treatment facility is offering only outpatient services and referring addicts to other local or out-of-state providers where beds are available.
Heroin abuse, particularly among adolescents, continues to be a concern throughout the state. According to the 1999 YRBS, 5.1 percent of high school student respondents reported lifetime use of heroin. The mean age of first heroin use reported by Albuquerque resident respondents was 17 years, according to the Substance Use Among Albuquerque's Adult Population survey.
Heroin abuse is noted among adult male arrestees in Albuquerque. According to 2000 ADAM data, 11.7 percent of adult male arrestees in Albuquerque tested positive for heroin. Among male arrestees, 16.6 percent of Hispanic, 6.8 percent of African American, and 5.8 percent of Caucasian arrestees tested positive for the drug. (See Table 3 in Overview section.)
Heroin is readily available throughout the state. Mexican black tar heroin is the most common type available; however, Mexican brown powdered heroin also is available. Since the value of heroin per ounce is higher than that of other drugs, the drug typically is smuggled into New Mexico from Mexico in small quantities to reduce the risk of significant, large-scale seizures at POEs. The USCS reported that the total amount of heroin seized at New Mexico POEs increased from approximately 1 pound in FY1999 to 17 pounds in FY2000. (See Table 5 in Cocaine section.)
Prices and purity levels of heroin have remained relatively stable throughout New Mexico since 1999, indicating that the availability of the drug has remained essentially unchanged. The DEA Albuquerque District Office reports that prices for Mexican black tar and Mexican brown powdered heroin are $40,000 per kilogram and range from $1,200 to $2,900 per ounce and $120 to $180 per gram. Heroin typically is less expensive in areas near the border. The DEA Las Cruces Resident Office reports that prices for Mexican black tar and Mexican brown powdered heroin have remained unchanged at $1,500 to $2,000 per ounce. Albuquerque law enforcement personnel report that retail-level purity for both Mexican black tar and Mexican brown powdered heroin generally exceeds 70 percent. Heroin purity levels in Las Cruces range from 39 to 87 percent.
There are few reported occurrences of violence associated with heroin distribution and abuse in New Mexico. However, many prison and street gangs, who are known to commit violent acts, are involved in the retail distribution of heroin in Albuquerque and Las Cruces. These gangs often are involved in drive-by shootings, homicides, carjackings, and home invasions, although most of these crimes are not reported as drug-related. Heroin abusers generally are non-violent; however, some abusers commit burglary or robbery to support their addiction.
Opium is not cultivated nor is heroin produced in New Mexico. Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin are processed from opium poppies grown along the spine of the Sierra Madre in western Mexico from the tristate area of Chihuahua, Durango, and Sinaloa to the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca in southern Mexico. Although only approximately 2 percent of the world's illicit opium is grown in Mexico, nearly all of it is processed into heroin and transported to the United States. Estimates place Mexican heroin production in 2000 at 2.5 metric tons.
Mexican DTOs and Mexican criminal groups control the transportation of Mexican black tar and Mexican brown powdered heroin to New Mexico. Since the value of heroin per ounce is higher than that of other drugs, the drug typically is smuggled into the state from Mexico in small quantities to reduce the risk of significant, large-scale seizures. According to the New Mexico HIDTA, most Mexican heroin transported to New Mexico is smuggled overland across the New Mexico-Mexico border by couriers employed by Mexican DTOs and Mexican criminal groups. These transporters generally enter New Mexico in vehicles or as pedestrians through POEs or at open, barren, remote areas between POEs. Mexican DTOs and Mexican criminal groups also use mail and parcel delivery services to transport heroin into New Mexico.
Albuquerque is a transshipment point for Mexican black tar and Mexican brown powdered heroin destined for the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest. Private and commercial vehicles equipped with hidden compartments frequently are used to transport heroin along I-10, I-25, and I-40. Interstates 10 and 40 are used to transport heroin to locations throughout the southern half of the United States. Interstate 25 provides a transportation route for drugs from Las Cruces--approximately 30 miles north of the Texas-New Mexico border--to Denver, Colorado, and points north. Because of Albuquerque's proximity to I-25 and I-40, transporters often use locations throughout the city to store heroin for future transit and distribution.
Mexican DTOs control the supply of heroin to New Mexico, and Mexican criminal groups often serve as wholesale distributors of the drug. Some of these groups work on behalf of Mexican DTOs through established networks and supply heroin to retail distributors located in areas throughout the state.
Retail heroin distribution is conducted by a number of criminal entities. Supplied primarily by Mexican criminal groups, retail heroin distributors vary in different areas of New Mexico. Prison and street gangs are the primary retail distributors of the drug in urban areas of the state. In the Albuquerque area, New Mexico Syndicate often works through street gangs, such as the San Jose and Los Padillas gangs, to control heroin distribution at the retail level. The prison gang often promises street gang members protection in prison in exchange for drug distribution outside the prison. Las Cruces law enforcement officials report Barrio Azteca--a rival prison gang of New Mexico Syndicate--operates in a similar manner to conduct heroin distribution. Local independent dealers also are involved in heroin distribution. These local independent dealers typically obtain heroin from retail distributors located in the urban areas of the state and then resell the drug in rural areas.
End of page.