Proof that Drug Cartels
Are Not Stupid

contraband seized from drug cartels

The public might hope and wish that drug cartels are just stupid criminals but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Why do we say that? You have only to look at their marketing and distribution tactics to see the proof. In each of the major drug cartels, there are individuals who look for expansion opportunities and then successfully take advantage of them.

What type of opportunities would they look for? Here are some examples.

Depressed Industrial Areas

In the 2009 book Methland The Life and Death of an American Small Town by Nick Reding, the author tells the story of the infiltration of Midwest industrial areas by Mexican drug cartel members. As meatpacking plants in Oelwein, Iowa and other Midwest towns dropped their wages, white employees who had worked there for years either began working double shifts or moved on to other towns where there were better opportunities. Hispanic workers came to the area for the low-paying jobs and cartel members found they could blend in more easily with this mixed population. The cartels began to ship Mexican methamphetamine into the area. To work double shifts, keep up with an accelerated assembly-line system and cope with on-the-job injuries, the original white workers often turned to the methamphetamine the cartel members distributed. The spreading methamphetamine business ultimately ravaged the town.

Gary, Indiana suffered a similar decline. At one time, this area was the home of prosperous steel plants. As steel manufacturing moved overseas, more than 20,000 people were laid off from their jobs. There were few job opportunities besides dealing drugs and those who had no hope for a better future were vulnerable to drug abuse. From across the U.S.-Mexico border, drugs poured into Chicago and nearby Gary. Local gang members took over the job of street-level distribution. By 1993, Gary had the highest murder rate in the U.S. The rate of addiction in the county increased far more than the rates in other Indiana counties, and stayed high thereafter.


Athletes of all ages are prone to injuries. With the increased use of painkillers for sports injuries, athletes are able to return to the field before they have completely healed which can set them up for a never-ending reliance on pain medications.

If great care is not taken by doctors, parents and the athletes themselves, that reliance on painkillers can turn into an addiction to prescription opioids like hydrocodone or street opiates like heroin. This pattern of dependence can happen to any athlete, from high school on up. A 2009 survey of high school athletes revealed that 12% of the boys and 8% of the girls surveyed had abused painkillers.

Professional athletes of all types can easily become dependent on painkillers because of the pressure to perform at their peak in every game. A 2010 survey of former NFL players found that 71% who used opioid painkillers during their career also misused them—that is, took more than prescribed or took them in a way other than recommended. For example, they might have ground the pills up and snorted them.

Jack Riley, a former Drug Enforcement Administration chief of operations, stated that cartels understand how easy it is for athletes to become dependent on painkillers. But heroin is far cheaper. So cartel members seek out athletes who might have become injured and offer them free samples of their heroin.

Population Centers with Methadone Clinics

Sam Quinones is a former Los Angeles Times reporter who documented the spread of painkiller and heroin addiction across America in the book Dreamland The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic. In the chapter “Easier than Sugarcane,” Quinones describes how drug traffickers out of Xalisco, Mexico sought out American opioid addicts who would enroll in methadone programs and entice others receiving methadone to try the heroin being distributed by these traffickers. One such individual helped this cartel set up shop in Salem, Oregon, Seattle, Denver, Colorado Springs, Oklahoma City and Omaha.

Educational Institutions

In 2008, the educational world was rocked by the news of a massive drug bust at the University of California San Diego. When the dust settled, 96 people had been arrested, 75 of them students. Six fraternities were suspended. The students were distributing cocaine, Ecstasy, marijuana, mushrooms, methamphetamine, hash oil and pills. Some of the drugs were traced to Mexican drug cartels.

There are many other examples that could be cited. But you should be able to see the pattern by now. The simple truth is that drug cartel employees include businessmen looking for expansion opportunities. Addiction is good business for someone. The job simply becomes finding vulnerable populations that might buy—and become addicted to—their products.

For more than fifty years, Narconon drug rehab centers around the world have educated their communities on these dangers to prevent individuals from falling prey to cartel members and drug dealers. When some people fall into this trap of drug use and addiction, the Narconon program helps them rebuild sober, productive lives they can truly enjoy. At Narconon Ojai, this is what we do every day, as well as offering a beautiful, private environment in which to regain one’s sobriety. When someone you care about is struggling with addiction, call us. We can help put the whole family back on the road to healing.


Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.