Heroin seizures on the rise in Northeast

BY Jordan Vesey  May 20, 2014 at 5:58 PM EDT
Photo by Flickr user Thomas Marthinsen.

Photo by Flickr user Thomas Marthinsen.

The supply and demand for heroin along the East Coast has skyrocketed in recent years with New York City once again at the center of a sophisticated nationwide distribution network.

More than 24 kilos of heroin were seized Monday during a bust in Hartford Connecticut — the result of a six month long investigation of a multi-million dollar drug ring in New York that authorities say was a key supplier to other parts of the Northeast.

The amount of heroin collected thus far in 2014 in investigations involving New York’s special narcotics prosecutor has not only surpassed last year’s totals but is also the greatest amount collected in over two decades.

“These seizures and arrests demonstrate that NYC is Ground Zero of heroin distribution networks supplying the Northeast, as well as being the prime market Mexican drug traffickers are using to earn profit from the sale of poison,” said James J. Hunt, acting director of the DEA’s New York division.

About 20 percent of heroin seizures nationwide are collected by DEA agents in New York State, but, according to the New York Times, this year that number rose to 35 percent. Criminals are favoring transporting the drug through New York because it is a large local market where there is great demand for the product, and there is easy access to many other parts of the Northeast. Prices are also cheaper in New York because buyers are closer to the source, which in many cases is still Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.

The low street price of heroin, often selling for only six dollars a bag, has made the drug a tempting alternative for consumers already addicted to prescription opiates. Over the past few years, there has been a recent crackdown on pharmaceutical companies that create painkillers. In 2010 Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyCotin, was pressured to redesign the drug in order to make the pill turn into a gelatinous substance when crushed and thus, making it harder for a street level buyer to snort or inject it. Yet moves like this to curtail the overabundance of painkillers in America have inadvertently increased demand for heroin as a whole generation of users have already developed a taste for opiates, with pills like Percocet, OxyCotin and Vicadin being used as “gateway drugs.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, 77 percent of heroin users say they switched to the drug after first trying prescription painkillers.

But this resurging demand for heroin is not a phenomenon that is unique to cities. Some of the hardest hit places have been rural areas in Vermont and New Jersey where both states have reported an eight-fold increase in demand for opiate-addiction treatment at state run facilities, and a doubling rate of overdose deaths.