The Heroin Epidemic of New York City


New York City is the financial, cultural and media capital of the United States. But the Big Apple is also the largest drug hub in the U.S. Heroin, a highly addictive opiate, has especially become a problem in the region.

It is estimated that 25 percent of all heroin busts in the U.S. are made in New York City. Imported from the cartels in Columbia, heroin reaches the Tri-State area, where 18 million potential customers await.

New York is a prime destination for the drug trade due to the magnitude of transportation throughout the city. Cargo ships carry heroin into many of the docks on the city’s waterfront. Plane passengers carry heroin and enter the city through JFK and LaGuardia airports. Cars also deliver the drug via many bridges and tunnels going in and out of town.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has closely monitored airports and docks for incoming substances. But drug smugglers have devised schemes for bypassing law enforcement and getting their product into the city.

Criminals use food containers, clothing packages and even pet carriers to transport heroin past airport customs. Smugglers even swallow baggies of drugs, and later retrieve their goods by relieving themselves in the toilet. From here, heroin is distributed to the street dealers, and the drug becomes even harder for law enforcement to track down.


Racial diversity is usually good, but not when it is of great assistance to the heroin trade. Because New York is so diverse, many foreign criminal organizations have connections in the city. Drug lords from overseas use their friends in New York to set up global heroin operations. Organized gangs of Russian, Italian, Israeli, Chinese and Colombian decent are all power players in New York’s drug ring. The DEA has paid close attention to flights coming from these various countries, but foreign criminals continue to sneak the drug into the U.S.

Once heroin reaches the street dealers, there are many methods used to ensure discrete deliveries. Bicycles have become a favorite transportation method among dealers. Bikes can easily weave in and out of New York City traffic, which is often at a stand-still. Bicycles are also preferred to riding the subway, because law officials closely monitor subway platforms. And due to the large amounts of bikers on the streets of Manhattan, it becomes impossible for police to identify who is dealing.


Dealers in Manhattan have also used skyscraper apartments to their advantage. These monstrous buildings allow dealers to set up hundreds of feet above street level, far from cops patrolling below. And with thousands of residents coming in and out of these high rises, it is near impossible to determine who is carrying narcotics. It is very likely that drug labs are set up just blocks away from Times Square, the busiest intersection on the planet.

Although there are thousands of homeless junkies around New York, these aren’t the only customer base in the heroin market. Rich, powerful Wall Street workers are also known to party hard, spending large amounts of money on addictive drugs. The Wall Street crowd is particularly fond of prescription heroin, made in pill form and usually more pure than street products.

Though doctors prescribe this type of heroin as a pain killer, these drugs often land in the streets for user consumption. There are over 2 million pill prescriptions given by New York City doctors every year, which only adds to the drug problem.


Northern New Jersey and Long Island provide additional markets for the heroin trade. These wealthy, upscale suburbs have become heroin gold mines over the past decade. Many teenagers here get addicted to the prescription form of heroin, and will do anything to get their hands on these pills.

There have been thousands of cases of prescription fraud, where users bring fake prescriptions into pharmacies, hoping to walk out with drugs. Many pharmacies in New Jersey and Long Island have also been robbed for the drugs inside. Since 2006, the number of pharmacy thefts have increased over 600 percent. Tri-State pharmacies have been forced to take extreme security measures, including cameras, security guards, and bullet-proof cabinets.


The heroin epidemic in the New York area is not going away any time soon. New Jersey alone had over 4,000 drug overdoses in the past four years. It is not uncommon for these heroin deaths to include young high school students with promising futures. And with the New York City area growing by the millions, heroin addiction will only become a growing concern.

Written by: Dan Schwalb

Works Cited: “Drugs, Inc.: Drug Kings of New York”.  National Geographic Channel.  Documentary 2010.


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