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Young Hands in Mexico Feed Growing U.S. Demand for Heroin

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A woman with a child worked in a poppy field in Guerrero State in Mexico. As American heroin use has risen sharply, so has opium production south of the border. Credit Rodrigo Cruz for The New York Times

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EL CALVARIO, Mexico — With her nimble hands, tiny feet and low center of gravity, Angelica Guerrero Ortega makes an excellent opium harvester.

Deployed along the Sierra Madre del Sur, where a record poppy crop covers the mountainsides in strokes of green, pink and purple, she navigates the inclines with the deftness of a ballerina.

Though shy, she perks up when describing her craft: the delicate slits to the bulb, the patient scraping of the gum, earning in one day more than her parents do in a week.

That she is only 15 is not so important for the people of her tiny mountain hamlet. If she and her classmates miss school for the harvest, so be it. In a landscape of fallow opportunities, income outweighs education.

“It is the best option for us,” Angelica said, leaning against a wood-plank house in her village, where nearly all of the children work the fields. “Back down in the city, there is nothing for us, no opportunities.”

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