Columbus,Ohio is key distribution center for cartel's heroin.

MEXICO CITY,Mexico -- Powerful and well-organized Mexican drug-trafficking groups have seized control of drug distribution throughout Ohio, flooded local markets with increasingly cheap heroin and are using Columbus,Ohio and Dayton,Ohio as distribution hubs for southwestern Ohio and parts of Indiana, local and federal U.S. drug-enforcement officials say.

The situation in Ohio reflects a larger national trend: U.S. officials say Mexican cartels operate in at least 195 U.S. cities and dominate the drug trade in every region of the country except for isolated pockets such as the Northeast and southern Florida. The report predicts that heroin abuse will increase among white, suburban users.

According to a May report from the U.S. Department of Justice's National Drug Intelligence Center, groups connected with the Federation cartel, one of Mexico's two dominant cartels, control distribution in and around Columbus,Ohio and Dayton,Ohio.

Columbus,Ohio has emerged as a regional distribution center for Mexican heroin supplied to markets throughout Ohio, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.

Distributors from other markets often travel to Columbus,Ohio to purchase Mexican heroin to sell in their home areas, the report said.

Distributors in Fairfield County,Ohio drive to Columbus,Ohio twice a day to purchase approximately 75 balloons of heroin each trip. Each balloon contains about 0.2 gram of heroin.

The Juarez Cartel, once Mexico's most-powerful cartel but significantly weakened in recent years, operates in Hamilton County,Ohio according to the report.

"They are very well-trained, very well-schooled," said John Postlethwaite, coordinator of the Ohio High-Intensity Drug-Trafficking Area, a joint federal, state and local task force, of the Mexican trafficking groups. "It's become a lot harder than it used to be."

Drug-enforcement officials blame the Mexican traffickers for an alarming spike in the availability of heroin, saying prices have fallen precipitously recently, from about $5,000 an ounce a few years ago to about $1,000 an ounce.

Officials say heroin use has increased, a trend they expect will continue.

"The number of heroin abusers will very likely grow as more abusers of prescription opioids switch to heroin in the face of increasing Mexican heroin availability throughout the region," the report reads.

It goes on to say that in Dayton,Ohio Mexican traffickers have replaced African-American gangs as the primary wholesale distributors of cocaine, marijuana and heroin.

Ohio officials say Mexican groups are increasingly bypassing traditional distribution hubs such as Chicago,Illinois and Detroit,Michigan and moving drugs directly from the border to Ohio cities.

Todd Spradling, the resident agent in charge of the Dayton,Ohio DEA office, said that smaller cities such as Dayton,Ohio and Columbus,Ohio have become more attractive to traffickers. "A lot of the organizations have shifted from larger cities to smaller cities to avoid detection," he said.

In the past decade, Mexican cartels have surpassed Colombian traffickers as the ascendant force in the hemisphere: As they have moved into the United States, they also have taken control of Central American trafficking routes and now dominate the market in South American countries such as Peru, according to law-enforcement officials.

"Their idea is to control the whole economic process of production and distribution," said Georgina Sanchez, an independent security consultant in Mexico and executive director of a public-safety policy institute.

In Dayton,Ohio officials say Mexican traffickers are connected to the Federation, a loose group of trafficking organizations based in Sinaloa state. The Federation has fought a brutal, three-year war with its primary rival, the Gulf Cartel, for control of smuggling routes to the United States.

Its leader is Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, Mexico's most notorious drug capo, who attained an almost mythical stature after escaping from a federal prison in 2001. In recent months, the Federation, which officials say controls Pacific smuggling routes from Central America, has been torn apart by an internal feud that officials say is responsible for a spike in violence in Sinaloa.

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon directed the Mexican military to confront the cartels in 2006, nearly 7,000 people, including hundreds of Mexican police and officials, have been killed in the drug violence.
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