So far in 2016, Maryland State Police have seized almost 23 pounds of heroin, including about 3 pounds in the western region, which includes Frederick County. But the county is only one offramp from a massive and twisting global network that stretches to Asia and South America.

As the demand for heroin took off in the U.S. after 2010 as the result of a sharp increase in prescription drug addiction, drug cartels in South America gradually began cultivating poppy fields to synthesize heroin. Thanks to existing partnerships with Mexican cartels, South American heroin — primarily from Colombia — now predominates east of the Mississippi River, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

So while South Asia, primarily Afghanistan and Pakistan, still produces most of the world’s heroin, the deadly drug is now firmly planted in the Western Hemisphere.

“I got here in 1997, to Baltimore, and at that time, a kilo of heroin was $100,000 to $110,000,” DEA Special Agent Todd Edwards said in an interview. “Now, 17, 18 years later, you can get it for $60,000 a kilo and in better purity because they’re growing it in South America. Instead of transporting it over a huge ocean, you can do a land transport.”

Still, getting the drug across the U.S.-Mexico border, then another 2,000-plus miles to the streets of Frederick, takes far more than a single step.

Crossing the border

The first stop heroin shipments make upon arriving in the U.S. are typically to what DEA officials refer to as a “source city,” Edwards said.

These are generally cities near to the border, and officers working in these cities are uniquely situated to observe how drugs arrive from the border and then how they are shipped out to the rest of the country.

“Typically, heroin arrives in some sort of vehicle,” said Lt. Darren Viner, commander of the Phoenix Police Department’s Street Enforcement Unit. “We’ll find kilos inside of tires or inside the axle of, say, an 18-wheeler, or in traps lining the underside of the car. Really, the sky is the limit.”

Viner compared the attitudes of drug smugglers to their counterparts in more legitimate businesses. Much like store owners who lose inventory, or restaurants that experience breakage or food spoilage, drug dealers usually factor “acceptable losses” into their profit models to account for shipments intercepted by police, Viner said.

“You have hundreds of thousands of vehicles that come across the border every day. Only a certain number of them can be checked,” Viner said. “Some are going to slip through. It’s just simple math.”

If recent statistics are any indication, the cartels and their distribution centers in the United States are happy enough with the odds to write off more and more product each year. Viner’s unit seized just 8.3 kilos of heroin in 2010. Last year, the same unit seized 80.2 kilos, he said.

A lucrative business

The business-model approach to drugs remains relevant after heroin arrives in the United States, Edwards said, citing DEA studies and firsthand accounts from dealers.

“I had a guy explain it to me, that he’d get a kilogram of 96 percent pure heroin from the Mexicans for $55,000,” Edwards said. “If you get a kilo that’s 96 percent pure for $55,000, you can, what we call, ‘step on it,’ or ‘stretch it,’ maybe three times. So, he would turn that 1 kilo into 3 or 4 kilos of 20 or 25 percent purity.”

Selling one of those kilograms at bulk price would ensure a complete return on a dealer’s investment, but heroin is often broken down into even smaller amounts, all the way down to a tenth of a gram — a single dose — to maximize profit, Edwards said.

Law enforcement agencies encounter heroin of varying levels of purity and at different stages of this sinuous process all across the country, Edwards explained.

More often than not, large amounts of heroin end up in what the DEA refers to as “secondary cities,” such as Baltimore, before it is cut many more times, Edwards said.

The Baltimore Police Department declined to be interviewed for this story.

Capt. Michael Fluharty, commander of Maryland State Police’s western region, said he believes Baltimore is just the most convenient source for addicts in Frederick County.

“We’ve seen it come straight from Mexico, we’ve seen it come from out of the harbors of Baltimore, and we’ve seen it come from the north, from Philly or New York,” Fluharty said. “It’s all directions.”

Policing the ‘Heroin Highway’

The popularity of Baltimore as a market for local heroin is not lost on local law enforcement agencies, including the state police and the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.

“You have addicts who are making this trip once, maybe even twice a day to Baltimore to get their drugs. It can be that much,” said Sgt. Jason Deater, supervisor of the sheriff’s office’s narcotics unit.

And with so many potential targets using the same pipeline, heroin arrests are skyrocketing, with each department using tactics best suited to its core mission, Fluharty said.

“As state police, one of our primary functions is traffic enforcement, so we use that,” Fluharty said. “During stops, if our troopers see criminal indicators and think there’s something more suspicious going on, then they’re going to follow up and find out.”

Indicators could be subtle, such as excessive nervousness or evasiveness when a driver answers an officer’s questions. Sometimes, the signs are more obvious, like when a trooper sees paraphernalia — syringes or packaging materials — in the car, Fluharty said.

From there, officers often rely on K-9 units from their own or any available agency to sniff the car. If the dog alerts on the car, police can search it, Fluharty said.

Frederick County Sheriff’s Office K-9 units helped seize 172.1 grams of heroin in 2013, Deater said. Another 186.7 grams were seized in 2014.

Cooperative enforcement

Baltimore’s and Frederick County’s heroin trades, while intimately linked, are completely different, requiring different approaches to keep in check.

While high-level dealers more closely resembling those seen in Baltimore occasionally crop up in Frederick County, most people charged with possessing heroin with the intent to distribute in Frederick County don’t fit that mold, Deater said.

“You might have a group of people who know each other who all have an addiction problem and they might all throw their money together,” Deater said. “Are they dealing drugs? Well, yes, but are they going out and distributing drugs like something you might see on TV? No.”

With the increasing recognition that heroin addiction is an illness, many police agencies are focusing their enforcement efforts on “true,” higher-level dealers and working more closely than ever with health officials to address the less threatening end users caught up in arrests.

Organizations such as the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which teams local police up with state and federal partners, make sharing information easier than ever, Fluharty said.

“We’ll make an arrest, and it might be bigger than we anticipated, and [the DEA] will be Johnny-on-the-spot ...,” Fluharty said. “They might even take the drugs that we just seized and try to deliver them; go and try to complete the delivery to figure out where they were going.”

Referring back to his comparison between the way heroin traffickers view drug busts to the way most shops factor in acceptable losses, Viner likened the role of cooperative police agencies to a determined group of shoplifters.

Viner, whose detectives in Phoenix work daily with both DEA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, summed the analogy up concisely.

“We’re all on the same team,” Viner said. “Our objective is to push past those margins of ‘acceptable losses’ so that we’re putting a dent in their productivity and their ability to thrive as a business.”

Follow Jeremy Arias on Twitter: @Jarias_Prime.

Jeremy Arias is the Frederick city and government reporter for The Frederick News-Post.

(33) comments


About those drug prices Dick, have you checked other items? All stores, grocery, drug, etc. lower prices on some items and up them on others. They all do it.


While EZ2CY and other comment being written I love the road your on but may I add a little realization to the fact of current events of today society. The teenager and sometimes younger out there are under pure pressure and strive to be felt wanted and with that being said, drugs are not going to be stopped period! and instead of not only pursuing the Nancy Regan slogan of just say no please parents, talk to your children at the age of even11 about drugs, share what knowledge ( if you as a parent experimented yourself ) or talk to a user that is in remission and pass that knowledge to them or better yet have your children hear it from the horses mouth. Give these kids knowledge that if they are compelled to experiment with a drug to ask you first before doing so. Knowledge being, take one tote of marijuana and see if you got the feeling your looking for or heard about in 15 minutes, don`t keep hitting that joint to impress someone pass it on because you have established 2 things at this point i.e. trust and being excepted. That one tote ( of todays marijuana ) will answer that curiosity you had and teach self limits on drugs and people choice as a group. Hopefully their choices as a child and the ( I`m your best friend ) knowledge as a parent will lead your child to decide if i.e. is marijuana better than alcohol or for the parent children that are curious about opium related drugs sit down with a bottle of liquor and slowly get them drunken sick and tell them as your drinking that for every good reaction is a worst reaction. I know I`m properly the worst mentor as for when it comes to children but if you ever hear someone in the crowd say: You control the drug do not let the drug control you ! are kids that grew-up with a parent that was their closes of all friends. And when I refer to grew-up I mean a person still feeling alive making good choices in life. So for the parents that used or uses drugs behind your children back don`t, keep you extreme past or present social life a secret from you kids. Let them know your drug history and the wanting to fit in when you were their age or even now because maybe the same blood flows through them as you but their thoughts and actions will take a different road with a different friend that may end nightmarish place for all unless, your child knows their best friend in life, is you from the start.


[thumbup] pappyjoe!


Just for clarification "toke"--[beam]


While we are looking at drugs, let me ask a question. Why do drugs at drug stores vary so much in price? I use a skin cream for eczema, which costs the most at CVS, four times more than the cheapest store, the prices can be found on ONERX.


Your on to something here reader but taxation is the resolve and our the top of our totem pole (politicians) are making more lucrative self income off of prohibition.


Still nothing about the TRIPLE shooting in Urbana last night FNP?


Almost positive that I saw that story in the print edition this morning


And where is the problem here? Drug + consumer = dealer and illegal immigrant + consumer = employer. Is it 1. The dealer/ employer 2. The drug/ illegal immigrant 3. Consumer. The dealer/ employer supplies the consumer. Unfortunatly for them, the US is surrounded by water and only one bordering country, Mexico.


From the knowledgeable one, Canada is considered to be on our border to the north. You are welcome. DickD


Commom sense tells me, you DD really can't see the forest because of the trees. An illegal Canadian immigrant smuggling Canadian heroin into the country? If you say so.


From the knowledgeable one. You said; "Unfortunately for them, the US is surrounded by water and only one bordering country, Mexico." Nothing about Mexico being the only smuggler, but for your information, Canada has always had some smuggling into the U.S., especially during prohibition. And they do today too.
And you seem to think only illegals are guilty of drug smuggling. Hate to disabuse your knowledge base, but you are wrong.


Did I say Canadian heroin? What makes you think what comes through Canada was originated in Canada?


Each year, according to the U.S. Customs Service, 60 million people enter the United States on more than 675,000 commercial and private flights. Another 6 million come by sea and 370 million by land. In addition, 116 million vehicles cross the land borders with Canada and Mexico. More than 90,000 merchant and passenger ships dock at U.S. ports. These ships carry more than 9 million shipping containers and 400 million tons of cargo. Another 157,000 smaller vessels visit our many coastal towns. Amid this voluminous trade, drug traffickers conceal cocaine, heroin, marijuana, MDMA, and methamphetamine shipments for distribution in U.S. neighborhoods.


The question is how do we stop it. There is no way we can legalize heroin. Yes, we can make sure those addicted get treatment and they are weaned off from drugs. Of course not putting addicts into prison would be another option. But we cannot stop the criminals from being arrested and taken to court. With all the police know, they should be able to do more. Until the 2014 elections, it was not even recognized that Frederick County had a problem, but Karl Bickel brought that out for all to see. Thank you, Karl.


"The question is how do we stop it." Do we really want to?
Job security is a the catch 22 of government intervention.


There is plenty of job security just doing your job. In fact, the better you do your job, the more likely you are to be re-elected, which is important, if you are the Sheriff.


Lucrative. Right there is the key word. Our prohibition drug laws don't work and cannot work.
We continue our already failed attempt at controlling what people use for self medication and we keep having the same problems. We keep doing the same things expecting a different result. What is so tragic is that most people don't even realize how crazy that is.
Time to try new approaches. We need to toss out the failed mess of prohibition and instead shift to what has been tried and has worked, legalization, with some of the savings and resources freed up used to do what is feasible, protecting children in the cases where their parents don't take care of them and treatment for those who want it.


[thumbup] reader


Legalize Heroin? Prohibition does not work, well the same can be said for murder and rape, should we legalize these crimes because clearly the prohibition of them has not worked? We can then focus on treatment for women who have been raped with behavior mod and then we can pour resources into treatment for PTSD and
also for the men who through no fault of their own have impulses! How about instead we look at the origin of the increase in usage, "Doctors overprescribe opiates." In England when they realized that Doctors were over prescribing Benzos the government passed a law stating Doc's that prescribed Benzos for more than a week the patient could sue if they became addicted...guess what...benzo prescriptions declined! If congress passed a law that paved the way for patients to sue for damages related to opiate addiction, heroin addiction would decline! However, big pharma has its boot on the throat of government therefore, we will not see any reform until the public has enough of the trickle down effects of opioid overprescription i.e., increase crime, homelessness, overdose, death, medical costs...To suggest to legalize heroin is absurd! Look at Colorado the increase in driving while drugged,an increase in teens using pot! I love turning on the television and watch as liberal want to legalize heroin and criminalize large soda!


Heroin use or any drug use can be self destructive. The victim is the user, which is self induced. Compare it to coitus interruptus and suicide not rape and murder.


Heroin does not just impact the user. Heroin impacts the family as well as the community! I drug addict will do anything to get a fix include sell their body rob a bank or physically hurt another! Read the paper and connect the dots, homelessness is up, crime is up in Frederick (according to the FBI stats not Chuck) Anyone that doesn't realize the negative impact of drug abuse is short sided!


Drug addiction is a medical problem exacerbated by it being a crime and therefore purchasing it from violent criminals! DWI is always a problem,but Alcohol is much more debilitating then Weed! When I was in Nam the Drunks got in fights while the Heads talked and listened to music!


That's the way it is in the Netherlands where they have made weed legal and use treatment for those addicted to hard drugs and jail for the trafficers. I tell you, I am never afraid to walk around anywhere in Amsterdam at night, but I can't say the same for Frederick - such as Hillcrest or Heather Ridge.


Interesting thought that supposes if drugs can be obtained by anyone, they will be used less.

Go to these sites for ways to prevent drug usage:

The Mayo Clinic site:

Office of National Drug Control

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

There are more, but these are most likely the best.


That`s right Vicdavy you saw the light along time ago too. But you have to treat a disease with a disease. For example, Frederick County Law Enforcement has to back off a little on the cars coming from Baltimore and start looking at the rail coming from there. Specifically the non-citizen one. They read the comments to vicdavy and I have always tried to treat the disease. So speak up because the true blue may not have a home grown strategist among them. Read me


Woody/Tex/Christmas, is that you?


Spelling and punctuation suggests not.


They definitely need a manager, which Sheriff Jenkins is not.


Kinda disappointed in this story.

A lot of writing and the story doesn't really tells us anything most don't already know.


This was a well written article and keeping heroin prominent in the local conversation is important. Sometimes newspapers publish article topics multiple times so the readers absorb the content more completely in case they missed it last week. Sometimes some of the not-so-good readers have children who have been using steadily for 5 years and they lie to themselves and think the kid has an eating disorder and gambling problem. Sometimes people reading this currently are users and it gives them hope to realize part of the cause, is the out-of-control environment they are surrounded by.
It's not just the person denying they have a problem, a family denying they see their child-sibling-parent is a suffering, a local law community denying the trend is real, or a local government denying the community is suffering to save face and reputation.
Local news up and down the east coast needs to be screaming from every street corner because it's their duty, even if the message is just a repeat.
I for one did not know local law enforcement nabbed 10 times as much weight compared to 2010. They're crushing it, but they still can turn the dial to 11.


There are much better solutions to this problem,but no one can handle the Truth!


Would those better solutions br/include legalization?

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