Note: Heroin has been in the spotlight across the nation this year. The drug appears to be making a comeback after years of declining use, a trend that’s been happening since at least 2007, according to the National Institutes of Health. But what’s the situation in Yuma County? 

LOS ALGODONES, Baja Calif. – Heroin use has seen a slight rise here and other communities south of the border, but drug treatments specialists discount the likelihood of it superseding methamphetamine as the narcotic of choice among addicts.

“We’ve seen a small increase in the use of heroin,” said Maria de Jesus Cuen, who heads the Center of Rehabilitation and Recovery from Drug Addiction and Alcoholism, a nonprofit treatment center in Los Algodones.

“Here the drug ice (or methamphetamine) has displaced it” as the most commonly used drug, “but some people use both drugs.”

A psychologist by profession, Cuen heads up a treatment center that serves about 40 drug users. About two of every 10 patients admitted to the center are heroin users, and similar statistics have been recorded in nearby San Luis Rio Colorado, Son., where heroin addicts make up about 15 percent of about 2,000 drug abusers treated by 21 centers.

“We’re not so much worried about a rebound in heroin use over the last two years – it has been very light – but what does concern us is that methamphetamines are so damaging,” said Laura Martinez, president of the Sonora state Association of Rehabilitation Centers. “Of every 10 people who use them, at least three are going to need psychiatric treatment.”

Martinez, who has more than 15 years of experience treating addicts, said methamphetamine use exceeds heroin use not only in San Luis Rio Colorado but throughout northwest Mexico.

“In different ways, but drugs are enormously destructive,” she said. “Heroin enslaves people, it takes away their will, and its high addictive. With methamphetamine what happens is a destructive process in the neurological system that can occur even if they’re consumed only one time.”

A recent rise in heroin use notwithstanding, Martinez said methamphetamine became the narcotic of choice among hard drug users owing to the ease of accessibility of ingredients to make it.

Cuen agrees. “It may be that methamphetamines are being produced in any place at this very moment. A few years ago there were these bad odors in the community. We thought it was sewage, until one day they discovered a (meth) lab in a house nearby.”

Apart from a small increase in heroin use, Cuen and other drug treatment specialists are noticing what they call a new and disturbing trend among youth who take up drugs.

“Now they are skipping directly to use of the hard drugs, there’s no longer that step that they used to take where they started with the softer drugs like marijuana,” said Cuen. “Another case we see more and more is that those who use methamphetamine also use heroin or some other drug.”

As one example of a rising incidence of hard drug use among youth, Cuen cited the case of an 18-year-old heroin addict who was recently admitted to the Algodones treatment center.

“It’s something I hadn’t seen in many years,” she said. “We’ve treated heroin addicts, but ones who are much older, not a woman so young as that. It’s sad to see that. She was vomiting and she couldn’t sleep. The withdrawal from heroin is so hard.”

In another case, a heroin user who had recently undergone treatment in Algodones died in a fall from a second-story died in San Luis Rio Colorado after jumping out of the window in what Cuen says now was a suicide.

Even though heroin use has seen an increase, Cuen believes methamphetamine will remain the most heavily used hard drug for the foreseeable future.

“Here in Algodones, Ice is the drug that is used most often. It’s cheaper. (Addicts) steal electrical wiring or car batteries and sell them to buy it. We have seen that because of drug addiction there are a lot of thefts.”

Economic factors are complicating the drug problem in Los Algodones, Cuen added.

“Here a lot of attention is placed on the (commercial area of Los Algodones) because of the tourism, but you see addicts in the other areas. It’s worse in the summer, when there’s almost no work. I ask myself, if we were to go house by house to do a survey, what would be the result? It would be that in two of every home, there would be someone with an addiction.”

Even if they successfully complete treatment, former heroin users risk relapse, said Cuen, since limited opportunities are afforded them in Mexico to be reintegrated into society.

Martinez said it is difficult to predict what will be the future trends in illegal drug use in Mexico, but she foresees methamphetamine continuing to be heavily used for many years to come.

“Starting about 10 years ago we began treating more and more people who had abandoned heroin for methamphetamine,” she said. “The reasons they had for doing that were that (methamphetamine) was cheaper and easier to obtain. And they liked the high they got a little more.

“Changes in drug use happen over the long term. Methamphetamine are here to stay.”








  1. KC says:

    I was once told by a former speed abuser who had been sober for 18 years at the time that once this meth wave rips through the country that heroin rates will skyrocket as a natural extension of meth use itself because as a person’s nervous system gets burned out from stimulant use they will need the heroin to alleviate aches and pains (because they’ve dried up natural endorphin channels and have more inflammation once drugs don’t work on them so much anymore as tolerance builds) and keep their mental cool after suffering lots of brain damage that makes them slow and stupid and more emotional. Good times!