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Reaction to 'Heroin Road': From thanks to outrage

February 23, 2010 | 10:00 am

Tar300 The Heroin Road stories about how sugar-cane farm workers, illegal immigrants from Xalisco, Mexico, have spread black-tar heroin to some 14 states across the U.S. sparked many comments from readers.

Some of the comments were long and in great detail.

Some were upset with the series; others amazed at the untold tale. Still others had personal tales to tell.

Several readers wondered if The Times had editors to proof stories because the proper spelling is Jalisco. We do. The town in question is Xalisco in the state of Nayarit, which I thought the story made clear, but perhaps insufficiently so. Xalisco is not to be confused with the neighboring (and very large) state of Jalisco, though both are pronounced Ha-LEES-Koh.

Anyway, here are a few of the comments received. Feel free to add your own as you read the stories and comments below.

--Sam Quinones

I can't believe the story you wrote.  If these people want to sell black-tar heroin in this country then they aren't the POOR people that you portray.  People always have a choice.  Why do you portray these people as the victims? They aren't the victims we are.  They bring their poison and sell it to our children and adults.  They are disgusting.

I would like to commend you for the great written article. I am impressed by your research and knowledge of the subject.  I am thankful that my life has not been addicted to such a powerful drug.  I also pray that my children stay away.  At the same time, there is a certain kind of allure that should be acknowledged about poor people supplying customers with the demand of their native product.  Got coke?
In the early 1970s when I was a Chicago prosecutor, "black tar" heroin was available in Chicago.  Then, the strongest heroin here was 2% pure.  Now, after 40 years of  "save-the-kids" drug war, kids are buying 90% pure heroin on Chicago's West Side. The answer is to end the drug war -- legalize, control and regulate substances that are too dangerous to leave unregulated or, more accurately, substances whose control and regulation has been effectively delegated to drug gangs, cartels and the "Xalisco boys."


This is amazing reporting. [For my work] I've read a lot these past few years about drug markets. This series is one of the best I've read, both in terms of sources and importance.


I have a problem with these articles. ... What is the objective? Are we showing Mexicans and Americans alike how easy it is to get rich or are we showing the Americans how easy and exciting it is to get their hands on this dope.

If we can send thousands of our troops into Afghanistan to take care of the opium production, which happens to be on the other side of the world, why can't we work with the Mexican government and take care of this problem with a couple of hundred Marines and stop this drug trafficking from our own backyard.

And I still have a problem with your coverage of this subject on today's and yesterday's front page. It may send a wrong message to our young.


In the Marxist worldview of THE LA TIMES, the masses always are helpless, innocent victims of some venomous exploiters somewhere.  These dealers have not "created demand where there was none."  They have created SUPPLY where there was none.  Incipient-demand, obviously, was already there.  No one is forcing these customers to buy the stuff . . . except in the minds of LA TIMES reporters.


I ... found one thing missing from all your descriptions, why do people take it? The pictures of shooting up looked so gruesome and painful why do it? What is it these folks feel while under the drug that is somehow missing from ordinary life?


I applaud your honesty in painting this devastating story of how Mexicans are literally killing young white Americans. The fact that you bluntly write that the tar salesmen target young whites is fuel for anti-Mexican hatred, which is already smoldering in many white people.

I am sure you know that, and I am sure you gave some thought to what reaction this would provoke, both among white Americans and also Latinos. So, honesty is appreciated.

Also, I am surprised that the Times gives this front page treatment, and multi-part story. Most of the time, your paper acts almost as an arm of the Mexican government, with many columnists writing frequent sympathetic stories on the plight of illegal aliens, and others writing feel-good stories about Latino immigrant success stories. (of which there are many, I am aware. My own wife was born in Guanajuato)

Drugs are a nightmare, and nobody knows what to do about them. Legalize them? Immediately execute drugs users and pushers, like Iran and China? Who knows? My own brother died in prison, serving time for robberies committed due to his lifelong drug use. I know from painful personal experience what a horrible situation this is.


I wanted to tell you how much your story meant to me. We are from Columbus, Ohio.  My beautiful 18-year-old daughter is in her third or fourth rehab due to heroin.  I knew it was bad here and readily available, but not to extent that you explained in your story.  I knew lots of money was involved, it has to be, but again, not to the extent.  The marketing, the delivery, the whole system makes me sick.

I will not blame my daughter’s addiction on these Mexicans. They did not tie her down and stick a needle in her arm.  However, they make it too easy for our wonderful young people to get addicted, stay addicted and loose all their self worth.

To me, it brings a whole new meaning to the War on Drugs.  As my daughter explained to me recently, it's bigger than her.  This is bigger than we are in small town USA.  We can't fight this with the same methods we used before.

I have been through hell and back due to heroin and my daughter's addiction.  I can’t even begin to explain the magnitude it's had on our entire family, immediate and extended.  I have gone to the police, I have gone to the schools, I have gone to the parents… to no avail.  The police tell me, they stake out the known parking lot, bust the Mexican and the next day there is another one, ready to sell to our kids.

I sincerely hope your story reaches the people that it needs to reach.  Something has to be done on a big scale.  It's very isolating and individual families are being destroyed. 

Despite Xalisco’s present, yet likely temporary, upward mobility resulting from peddling black tar, this reality is one of the most self-destructive turns in Mexico’s long history.

The unrepentant Avila will serve many years in prison contemplating what is ”on the other side of the river”  and, perhaps one day,  realize the wrongheadedness of his quick and short rise in life.

He acquired many material trappings during the assault on the lives of others and their families, yet preposterously still places blame elsewhere for his poor choices.  Had he made himself aware of the ancient village of Anenecuilco that spawned the naming of his birthplace, he might have learned the value of honorable struggle for a better and more just life.

As it stands, the gullible little boy with “gumption” in a man’s body has nothing in common with Miliano or the other honorable gente of his country past or present.

In fact, he and his compañeros have disgraced the culture on an unimaginable level. 


I work down here in El Centro on the Mexico border with Mexicali. I have been a parole agent for many years. I have witnessed firsthand the destruction of families and communities all due to black tar.

You cannot go anywhere down here in this valley without meeting someone whose life has been affected by heroin addiction. The manner in which you brought this to light, and how it now plagues communities far away from the border is very interesting. I would be interested in how law enforcement, and the drug treatment community is battling the black tar epidemic in some of these smaller non-border cities.

Photo: Using a belt as a tourniquet, Elaine injects black tar. Click here for a narrated slide show about Elaine and her husband, Jason. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

More links to the series:

Part 1: A lethal business model targets Middle America

Part 2: Black tar moves in, and death follows

Part 3: The good life in Xalisco can mean death in the United States