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The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Heroin Signature Program (HSP) analyzes several hundred
Southwest Asia (SWA), or Southeast Asia (SEA)—where the samples were manufactured. In 2015:
Heroin from Mexico accounted for 93 percent (by weight) of the heroin analyzed through the HSP.
Heroin from SA accounted for 3 percent.
Heroin under the new formal HSP classification of “Inconclusive Origin-South American” processing
origin, but is produced or refined using South American processing methods, accounted for 3 percent.
Heroin from SWA accounted for 1 percent.
ago, the HSP has proven to be a valuable indicator of changes in the supply of heroin by providing insight into
the wholesale-level of heroin trafficking to the United States.
The HSP is one essential component of the ability of DEA’s Intelligence Program to identify trends in heroin
chemical components of heroin seized at U.S. ports of entry (POEs), all non-POE heroin seizures weighing
more than 1 kilogram, randomly chosen samples, and special requests for analysis. Samples submitted to the
HSP undergo in-depth chemical analysis at the DEA Special Testing and Research Laboratory (SFL1). This
chemical analysis allows SFL1 to associate the heroin samples with a production process, or “signature,”
which is indicative of a particular geographic source area and processing method. The proportion of heroin
associated with each geographic source area is measured in terms of the net weight of heroin seized and
analyzed in the program from each source area that year.
Signature analysis conducted under the HSP is currently the only scientifically based source of information
available to determine the origin of wholesale-level quantities of heroin encountered in the U.S. drug market.
HSP chemical analysis data—combined with the retail-level Heroin Domestic Monitor Program, investigative,
and other types of reporting—allow for the identification of possible changes in the geographic source
and purity of heroin in the United States, as well as changes in trafficking routes and methods. The HSP
continually undergoes quality assurance by analyzing authentic samples obtained from the primary heroin
In 2015, heroin from Mexico accounted for 93 percent (by weight) of the heroin analyzed by the HSP. SA
and INC-SA heroin both accounted for 3 percent; and SWA heroin accounted for 1 percent. No SEA heroin
samples were submitted to the program in 2015. Over 905 HSP samples, representing approximately 1,951
kilograms of heroin, were analyzed in 2015 by SFL1. Of those 905 samples, 872 (representing approximately
1,907 kilograms) were classified through the HSP (see Figure 1)
reported through the HSP should not be characterized as market share. Fluctuations from year to year in source area
proportions may reflect shifting law enforcement priorities, changes in trafficking patterns, or exceptionally large seizures that
could boost the HSP representation of a particular source area. To achieve a comprehensive assessment of heroin smuggled
into and trafficked in the United States, HSP data must be used in conjunction with investigative reporting, drug production
estimates, and seizure statistics.
(U) Figure 1: HSP Geographic Source Area Summary.
In 2015, approximately 3 percent of the heroin samples submitted for analysis through the HSP were classified
as “unknown” (UNK), which represents a decrease of 5 percentage points from 2014 when 8 percent of HSP
heroin samples were classified UNK. According to SFL1, heroin samples are classified as UNK when the
signature profiles of the samples are not consistent with the signature profiles of authentic heroin samples
collected from any of the four geographic source regions. Since heroin is manufactured through a series of
chemical processing steps, signature analysis is expected to result in a certain number of samples whose
signature is UNK or undetermined. Generally, a range of 4 to 7 percent of heroin samples classified as UNK
is considered to be normal. The decrease
in the number of 2015 HSP heroin samples
classified as UNK is due in large part to new
forensic protocols introduced by SFL1 in
May 2015. These protocols allow chemists
to better differentiate and isolate the origin of
heroin samples previously classified as UNK
to either Mexico or South America. Heroin
samples classified as UNK are not included in
the HSP Geographic Source Area Summary.
Heroin classified as MEX-SA (new formal
signature for Mexican white powder heroin,
indicating Mexican-origin with South
American processing methods) had the
highest purity average in 2015 at 70 percent,
followed by SA heroin at 63 percent
(see Figure 2).
Analysis of 2015 HSP data identified Mexico as the primary source of origin for heroin transported to the
United States for the third consecutive year. Mexico was identified as the geographic origin of 93 percent (by
weight) of samples classified under the HSP during 2015. Of these samples, 60 percent were classified as
Mexican-South American (MEX-SA); 38 percent as Mexican-Black Tar (MEX/T); and 2 percent as Mexican-
Brown Powder (MEX/BP). Less than 1 percent was classified as MEX, which is the classification assigned to
refined or crudely manufactured heroin from Mexico. This classification is assigned when MEX/T, MEX/BP, or
MEX-SA are not applicable. In 2015, the percentage (by weight) of Mexican-origin heroin analyzed through the
HSP increased 14 percentage points, from 79 percent in 2014 to 93 percent in 2015. The weight of Mexican-
origin heroin samples submitted to the HSP also increased, from approximately 1,332 kilograms (508 samples)
in 2014, to 1,771 kilograms (747 samples) in 2015.
The average overall purity of Mexican-origin heroin analyzed through the HSP in 2015 increased 12
percentage points, from 44 percent in 2014 to 56 percent in 2015. Within Mexican signatures, MEX-SA
heroin had the highest purity level at 70 percent in 2015, followed by MEX/BP at 43 percent, and MEX/T at 41
percent. In 2015, 26 percent of MEX-SA heroin was adulterated, with caffeine being the primary adulterant
(U) Figure 2: HSP Average Heroin Purity.
followed by quinine.
Four MEX-SA samples were found to contain fentanyl hydrochloride (HCl). In 2015,
continue, in that the heroin becomes heavily adulterated with additional caffeine and other adulterants once
the heroin crosses the U.S. Southwest Border (SWB). MEX-SA heroin is also further diluted inside the United
States with the same previously detected diluents—mannitol, inositol, and lactose. The majority of MEX/T and
MEX/BP samples analyzed under the HSP in 2015 were unadulterated; however, of the adulterated samples,
lidocaine was the most detected adulterant with mannitol as the most common diluent, followed by lactose,
sucrose, dextrose, and inositol.
The number of Mexican-origin heroin samples seized at Arizona POEs and submitted to the HSP for analysis
increased from 32 in 2014 to 50 in 2015, while Mexican-origin heroin seizures at POEs in Texas decreased
from 19 in 2014 to 13 in 2015. Heroin seizures at POEs in California rose from 147 in 2014 to 211 in 2015
(see Figure 3). A significant number of the POE seizures in California were made at the San Ysidro
POE (107 samples).
The number of Mexican-origin heroin samples seized at U.S. POEs has increased steadily since 2001, and
clearly demonstrates the increased smuggling of Mexico-produced heroin through Mexico toward the SWB.
Figure 4 summarizes the number and purity of Mexican-origin heroin samples seized at U.S. POEs and
analyzed through the HSP from 2001 to 2015.
Although the availability of Mexican-origin heroin, especially MEX/T and MEX/BP, remains strong in markets
west of the Mississippi River, 2015 HSP data indicates that increasing amounts of Mexican-origin heroin
Adulterants are pharmacologically active substances that are added to heroin to enhance or mimic the effect of heroin.
current heroin adulterants do not meet this criteria, as they may have an adverse effect, or possibly no effect, to the heroin.
Adulterants can be added to heroin shipments immediately after production, in transit, or prior to distribution. Although
dextromethorphan for Southwest Asian heroin and diltiazem for South American heroin are examples of adulterants that are
added immediately after production, xylazine for Puerto Rico and quinine for Washington, DC-Baltimore are examples of city-
specific adulteration prior to distribution.
Diluents are inert ingredients (pharmacologically inactive compounds) used to increase the bulk of a finished product. Typical
have moved into Eastern and Midwestern
U.S. markets. In 2015, for example, the
HSP received a total of 165 Mexican-origin
heroin samples obtained from the following
areas that are predominately SA white
heroin markets: Connecticut (6 samples),
Florida (6 samples), Illinois (30 samples - 28
classified as MEX-SA), Michigan (13 samples
- 10 classified as MEX-SA), New York (74
samples - 72 classified as MEX-SA), North
Carolina (6 samples), Ohio (13 samples - 6
classified as MEX-SA), Pennsylvania (8
samples – all classified as MEX-SA), Rhode
Island (1 sample), and Virginia (4 samples).
These samples represent a 65 percent
increase in the total number of Mexican-
origin heroin samples obtained in these same
markets in 2014. Of particular importance is
that the majority of Mexican-origin HSP heroin
samples obtained from Illinois, Michigan,
New York, and Pennsylvania in 2015 were
classified as MEX-SA. This is an indication
that Mexican drug trafficking organizations are
producing white heroin for distribution in the
eastern United States and continue to expand
their operations in order to gain a larger share
of these lucrative, historically white heroin
South America (SA) was identified as the
geographic source area of 3 percent (by
weight) of heroin samples classified under
the HSP during 2015. This represents a
significant decrease from 2014, when SA
heroin accounted for 17 percent (by weight)
of the heroin analyzed through the HSP. The
weight of SA heroin samples submitted to
the HSP also decreased dramatically, from
288 kilograms in 2014 to only 58 kilograms in 2015. From 1995 to 2013, South America (primarily Colombia)
accounted for the majority of the heroin analyzed through the HSP; however, HSP results since 2013 indicate
that South America is now the second most common source of the heroin available in the United States.
The average purity of SA heroin increased from 61 percent in 2014 to 63 percent in 2015. According to SFL
1 forensic analysis, approximately 66 percent of SA heroin samples were found to be adulterated. Caffeine
continued to be the most common adulterant for SA heroin, followed by diltiazem. Adulterants such as quinine,
lidocaine, benzocaine, and diltiazem were also detected in many samples. In addition, controlled substances
were also identified in SA heroin samples analyzed by the HSP, including cocaine (6 samples) and fentanyl
(1 sample). Lactose, mannitol, and inositol were the most commonly used diluents for SA heroin.
(U) Figure 4: Characteristics of Mexican Heroin Seized at
U.S. Ports of Entry and Analyzed through the DEA
Heroin Signature Program.
Calendar Year Number of Exhibits
Although SA heroin continues to be smuggled into the United States by couriers on commercial flights and over
land from Mexico, 2015 HSP data continues to show a significant decline in the number of SA heroin samples
seized at U.S. POEs in comparison to 2014.
In 2015, only 17 SA heroin samples obtained from seizures at U.S. POEs (both air and land) were analyzed
under the HSP (compared to 32 samples in 2014). Of the 17 SA heroin samples obtained in 2015, 9 were
airport seizures with the major airports in New York and Florida continuing as the primary arrival points for SA
heroin couriers. SFL1 forensic analysis further indicated that SA heroin shipments transported into the United
States via air couriers contained the adulterants diltiazem and caffeine.
The number of SA heroin samples seized at U.S. POEs and analyzed through the HSP since 2001 has steadily
decreased, while the purity has remained relatively stable during the same timeframe. The decline in the
amount of SA heroin seized at U.S. POEs is consistent with reports of significant decreases in Colombian
poppy cultivation in recent years. The reduction in SA heroin production, coupled with increasing levels of
heroin production in Mexico and transportation activities across the SWB, has had a noticeable impact on SA
heroin availability in the United States. Figure 5 summarizes the number and purity of SA heroin samples
seized and analyzed through the HSP at U.S. POEs from 2001 through 2015.
SWA heroin has a unique chemical
signature that displays no similarities
to the chemical signatures of the
heroin types produced in either
South America or Mexico. Due to the
distinct signature differences, it is not
possible to misclassify SWA heroin
as either South American or Mexican
SWA heroin production and finds its
signatures remaining consistent since
the inception of the HSP.
Over the last 40 years, SFL1 has
used thousands of authentic samples
to establish the signature profiles of
heroin produced in various regions
of the world. Currently, about
7,000 authentics are employed to
classify a heroin sample at a 95
percent confidence level with four
independent signature methods.
The new HSP signature classification of INC-SA is assigned to heroin where either Mexico or South America
could be the origin, but is produced or refined using South American processing methods. Due to the heavy
presence of adulterants or other issues, signature analysis conducted under the HSP is unable to confirm the
geographic origin of the heroin.
Heroin classified as INC-SA accounted for 3 percent (by weight) of the heroin analyzed through the HSP in
both 2014 and 2015. The weight of INC-SA heroin samples analyzed through the HSP increased from 47
kilograms (55 samples) in 2014 to 63 kilograms (54 samples) in 2015. The average purity of INC-SA heroin
increased significantly, from 39 percent in 2014 to 51 percent in 2015. HSP data revealed that these INC-
SA heroin samples were obtained from 19 states, the majority of which were in the Eastern United States,
primarily New York (12 samples), Maryland (5 samples), and Pennsylvania (4 samples). In addition, one INC-
SA heroin sample submitted to the HSP in 2015 was obtained at the seaport POE in San Juan, Puerto Rico,
and was transported into Puerto Rico via ferry from the Dominican Republic.
Southwest Asian (SWA) heroin accounted for 1 percent of the heroin analyzed (by weight) under the HSP
in 2015. The primary adulterants identified in SWA heroin samples analyzed under the HSP in 2015 were
acetaminophen, caffeine, and dextromethorphan; diluents included sucrose, mannitol, and lactose.
SWA heroin continues to be smuggled into the United States primarily via couriers on international flights and
through international mail delivery services. Air couriers generally arrive at John F. Kennedy International
Airport in New York on flights originating in Western Europe or West Africa. SWA heroin seized at U.S. airports
from couriers and analyzed through the HSP in 2015 ranged in weight from approximately 23.8 grams to 6.5
The HSP continues to document the presence of SWA heroin in the United States even though the quantities
for this heroin type are limited. Record levels of opium and heroin production in Afghanistan have not led to
a corresponding rise in SWA heroin availability in the United States. Based on DEA reporting and seizure
data, SWA heroin is not shipped to the United States in the bulk (wholesale) quantities needed to sufficiently
challenge or supplant well-entrenched Mexican heroin distribution networks. As noted in Figure 1, the total
weight of SWA heroin samples submitted to the HSP in 2015 increased slightly, from 9 kilograms (16 samples)
in 2014 to 15 kilograms (25 samples) in 2015, though the percentage by weight remained constant at 1 percent
for both years. Until SWA trafficking networks can ensure a consistent flow of high-purity, competitively priced
heroin while simultaneously expanding their U.S. distribution networks, it is unlikely that SWA heroin will
significantly increase its presence in the United States in the near term.
For the seventh consecutive year, no Southeast Asian (SEA) heroin samples were analyzed in 2015 through
decline, this increased level of opium production has not resulted in a concurrent rise in SEA heroin availability
in the United States. The majority of SEA opium remains in Asia to meet the demand for opiates in local and
Mexico was the primary geographic source of heroin samples submitted to the HSP in 2015, and will likely
of Mexican-origin heroin seizures increased, and is a strong indicator that Mexican traffickers are aggressively
expanding and taking greater control of the U.S. heroin market. They are now producing their own white
powder heroin and becoming more active in Eastern white powder heroin markets historically supplied by
Colombian traffickers since the mid-1990s. Seizures of Mexican-origin heroin at the SWB continue to grow
and are an indication that Mexican traffickers are increasing their level of heroin production and transportation
to meet rising demand in the United States.
Although SA heroin remains available in the United States, HSP results for both 2014 and 2015 clearly
illustrate that South America has become a secondary source of heroin for the U.S. market. Diminished
levels of SA heroin in the United States are likely the result of decreased levels of opium poppy production
in Colombia and steadily increasing levels of heroin production in Mexico and subsequent transportation
Despite record estimates of opium and heroin production in Afghanistan, and increasing levels of opium
production in Southeast Asia, HSP statistics indicate that heroin from both of these geographic source regions
continue to have minimal impact on the U.S. heroin market.
* Percentage based on samples for which a signature was identified. From 1977 through 1991, percentages were
based on the number of samples tested. Since 1992, percentages have been based on the net weight of the heroin
seized and analyzed.
** The signature for heroin from South America was developed in July 1993; therefore, this figure represents only
partial-year data. (DEA reporting indicates that heroin from South America first was noted in the US in 1991 and that its
availability increased during the latter half of 1992 as well as in early 1993.)
(U) APPENDIX B: 1977-2015 HEROIN SIGNATURE PROGRAM RESULTS
Geographic Source Area Distribution (in percent*)
Based on Net Weight of Heroin Seized and Analyzed, continued.