INSIGHT CRIME — Sam Quiñones’ recent book blends separate but overlapping stories of business triumph: pharmaceutical giants’ US promotion of powerful narcotics like OxyContin as the painkiller of choice in the 1990s, and the exploitation of that medical revolution by a small, mostly anonymous heroin trafficking organization from a backwater of Mexico’s criminal landscape.
The best of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” is its indelible and highly-detailed portrayal of how this unique Mexican organization took over municipal heroin markets across the United States. Exploiting the new legions of opioid addicts stemming from doctors’ more aggressive approach to treating pain, during the 1990s and 2000s the so-called Xalisco Boys came to run the heroin trade in cities ranging from Charlotte and Myrtle Beach on the East Coast to Portland and Boise in the west.
Even Honolulu came under the sway of this mostly unheard-of gang.
While there have been other books on the opioid craze, Dreamland becomes a genuinely singular work in its detailed description of the Xalisco Boys. As described by Quiñones, the organization had two major distinguishing characteristics: First, they controlled every element of their supply chain, from the cultivation and processing of poppy into black tar heroin in the small town of Xalisco, Nayarit, to the heroin’s retail sale in the US, to the repatriation of profits using female couriers making twice-monthly trips home.
This meant that their entire organization could run using only members of a handful of extended families from Xalisco, making it far less vulnerable to adversaries.
Second, their organization operated unlike any large criminal organization in Mexico: conflict-averse, low-profile, horizontally-structured, and faithful to the precepts of modern marketing.
• MEXICO PUBLISHES POPPY CULTIVATION DATA FOR FIRST TIME — INSIGHT CRIME