Illicit drugs made from plants (e.g., cocaine, heroin) are being replaced in some national drug markets by those that are synthesized (e.g., methamphetamine, fentanyl). The U.S. has had a parallel experience in the past decade with the rise of illicit consumption of synthetic opioids and cannabinoids. If illicit drug markets continue to separate from an agricultural base, it would upend traditional understandings of drug markets and drug policy.
The face of heroin use in America has changed utterly. Forty or fifty years ago heroin addicts were overwhelmingly male, disproportionately black, and very young. Most came from poor inner-city neighbourhoods. These days, the average user looks different. More than half are women, and 90% are white. The drug has crept into the suburbs and the middle classes. And although users are still mainly young, the age of initiation has risen: most first-timers are in their mid-20s. The spread of heroin to a new market of relatively affluent, suburban whites has allowed the drug to make a comeback, after decades of decline.