ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Source: Federal Court Records and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports
The opium poppies flower twice a year in the Mexican Sierra Madre from southern Chihuahua south to the state of Guerrero, where more poppies are grown than anywhere else in Mexico.
That means the farmers harvest the crop twice a year after the flower petals fall off, when the farmers score the bulbs of the plants and collect opium paste.
The farmers are paid about $900 a kilogram for the opium paste, which is transported to so-called labs that resemble outdoor kitchens where the opium paste becomes morphine base and then is turned into heroin.
The chemicals used in the transformation are common to households and many industries – among them, calcium oxide (lime), ammonium chloride, acetic anhydride and baking soda.
The labs are usually in isolated areas because the concentrated vinegar odor the process produces is easily identified as a sign that heroin is being made. That smell can attract police, competitors or robbers.
The total cost of production is about $5,000 a kilogram, and the sale price on the Mexican side of the border ranges from $8,000 to $10,000 a kilogram.