FRESNO, Calif. -- Mexico's heroin industry has had a bullish few years thanks, in part, to the drug's emergence as a popular choice of teenagers.
Mexican traffickers have expanded from hubs in California and Texas into the Midwest and the Atlantic Seaboard, narcotics experts say.
And more heroin is coming into California from Mexico this year, say law enforcement officials, who already have confiscated more of the drug in six months than they did in all of 2010.
One traffic stop in Fresno County alone yielded 24 pounds of black tar heroin, the single-largest heroin bust in the Valley in years.
Mexican traffickers have revamped heroin's image from the inner-city drug of yore, with its junkies and needles, into a narcotic that can be snorted or smoked, appealing to high school youths.
A coincidental factor has given the drug gangs a tail wind: The epidemic abuse of painkillers has ebbed in the United States, and youth now hunger for a cheaper high.
"We've heard around the country of changes away from prescription drugs, because they are either more expensive or more difficult to obtain, and a movement toward heroin, which is less costly," said Gil Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief who is the White House drug czar.
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