Exploding Heroin Supply Fuels Overdose Rise



The epidemic of opioid abuse has metastasized into every area of the United States.  Tragically, New York City has taken the lead as the most substantial market and distribution hub for heroin in the country.  A sharp rise in seizures point to a startling surge in the accessibility of heroin and the consequential rise in overdose deaths.

Since 2010, nearly 20% of the heroin seized in the U.S. was done so in New York State, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In 2014, approximately 342 kilograms of heroin was seized as a result of collaborative investigations by Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor (SNP) and its law enforcement partners.  To put that number in perspective, it was three times the amount seized in previous years.

SNP Focus: Heroin and Painkillers

In New York City, heroin and opioids in the form of prescription painkillers are fueling the current opioid abuse.  The city’s overdose deaths from heroin doubled between 2010 and 2013. According to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), in 2013, 54% of all of the city’s fatal drug poisonings involved heroin.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports a similar story in nationwide trends.

The city’s death rate involving opioid prescription drug overdose deaths shot up from 2000 to 2013 by a jaw-dropping 256%.

In 2014, prompted by the increasing numbers of heroin traffickers based in New York City and widespread distribution to markets across New York State, SNP formed the Heroin Interdiction Team (HIT). HIT collaborates with dedicated teams from the New York State Police, the DEA, the NYPD and other agencies, local prosecutors and law enforcement, sharing intelligence and resources.

New User Group Emerges

Although much of the heroin coming into New York City is destined for outside markets, it is evident by the city’s overdose death rates that plenty remains there.  The poorest neighborhoods have the highest fatal heroin overdose rates.  However, a dramatic increase in overdoses is being seen in the wealthiest neighborhoods, and studies indicate that the majority of new heroin users were initially addicted to prescription opioid pain medication.

Of the five boroughs, the Bronx leads in heroin-related deaths.  However, while neighborhoods in the South Bronx were once the hardest hit, rising overdose rates apply to all of the boroughs, particularly in Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens today.

Transport to a Hamlet Near You

The heroin that comes through New York City is very pure, most commonly originating in South America, but also in Mexico. It is transported by plane, boat, truck and parcel service and is concealed in various ways.

After local traffickers receive bulk shipments of heroin from international suppliers, it is packaged for retail distribution at locations called “mills.” Mills are typically apartments located in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan, ideal areas for traffickers because of their proximity to Interstate 95 and other major roads.

Either local street-level organizations sell the heroin in the city or it is transported to markets all over the Northeast where the sale price is higher. Trafficker groups based in New York City transported millions of dollars in heroin to these communities in 2014. “One Bronx-based group obtained heroin from Colombian suppliers and ran loads up to Hartford, Conn. by car. DEA agents seized 24 kilograms of heroin (53 lbs.), over nine kilograms of cocaine (20 lbs.), $85,000 in cash and three firearms in the Bronx and Hartford,” according to SNP.


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