In the late 90s and early 2000s, however, the drug market was poised to change in a big way.
The cartels, with vast illicit trade networks already established as a result of the cocaine boom, had sensed a decrease in the demand for cocaine, he said, and strengthened the drug through the introduction of crack in the early 1990s.
"When they sensed there was a little bit of a reduction in the demand for cocaine, they developed crack, and that really lit things up," he said.
The new, cheaper form of cocaine hitting the streets was able to be smoked, resulting in a brief but intense high that was also more addictive.
While the destruction caused by the crack epidemic would be well documented, especially in poorer communities, throughout much of the decade to come, the cartels also saw an under-the-radar opportunity to get into the heroin business. While Asian heroin in the 80s and 90s cost about $100,000 per kilogram or $25 per dose — the new Colombian heroin was half the price, and much stronger.
The Colombian product cost just $10 per bag, and upped the potency, to a relatively staggering 10 to 15 percent.
Not only does the increased purity lend itself to addiction, more importantly, it means the drug can be snorted instead of injected, a fact Kasprzyk said eliminates the stigma associated with heroin for many first-time users.
"Now you've got a lot of middle-income suburban kids who don't want to inject it and so they snort it," he said.
With prescription opioids more prevalent and cheaper, and with stronger heroin on the streets, Kasprzak said a perfect storm was brewing for opiate addiction throughout the United States beginning around 2000.
Identifying the rising trens, the Buffalo DEA office also recently formed what's called the tactical diversion squad to investigate prescription drug cases. It includes DEA agents in conjunction with police from Amherst, Lancaster, Buffalo, Depew and the Erie County Sheriff's office.