How heroin moves from Mexico’s drug cartels to U.S. street corners

From the doorway of Room 8 at the Dayton Motor Hotel on North Keowee Street, the Ohio DEA officer spotted the trash can, which appeared to be covered in human feces.

He knew immediately what that meant: heroin.

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Gerardo Alfonso Vargas had traveled more than 2,000 miles to Dayton from Tijuana, Mexico, after ingesting 71 latex-covered heroin pellets worth as much as $100,000 or more. Had he been searched at the border, or any other point along the way, the heroin would have gone undetected.

But before U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force officers arrived, Vargas rid his body of all but a single pellet, bagged the drugs and hid the bag in the motel room's toilet tank. If not for the knock on the door, the next stop for this shipment would have been the streets of Dayton or Springfield or Middletown.

Welcome to the heroin pipeline.

Heroin may first enter the country through underground tunnels or make a border crossing in secret compartments hollowed out of car panels or welded into semi-trailer truck frames. At times, a dealer simply schedules a pickup with FedEx and plays the odds that a shipment will make it through.

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Sometimes it comes, as it did with Vargas, through a drug courier’s bowels.

Regardless how it's delivered, authorities say most of the heroin purchased in the Dayton region — and in America today — is trafficked by violent criminal organizations based in one country: Mexico.

"If I'm an addict I have a very small view of what heroin is or where it comes from. I know it comes from my dealer, or if I'm in a suburb I know it's not in my neighborhood, it's on some other street corner," said Montgomery County Sheriff's Capt. Mike Brem, commander of the Regional Agencies Narcotics and Gun Enforcement Task Force. "But the fact of the matter is we deal with cartel-level distribution in the Miami Valley on a daily basis."

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