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This is an NDIC product. National Drug Intelligence Center 
Louisiana Drug Threat Assessment
May 2001


Heroin abuse has risen in New Orleans during the last 2 years, although its use is minimal throughout the rest of the state. Heroin distribution and use, the main factors behind recent increases in violent crime, are growing fastest in New Orleans' inner-city housing projects. Dominican wholesalers based in New York City supply New Orleans street gangs with heroin for retail distribution.


Heroin abuse is increasing in the New Orleans metropolitan area, yet the problem is minimal throughout the rest of the state. Female arrestees testing opiate-positive in New Orleans increased from 3.4 percent in 1998 to 7 percent in 1999 while the number of males testing positive increased from 12.9 percent to 13.5 percent. According to Louisiana SEWG statistics, primary heroin treatment admissions increased in Orleans Parish from 60 in 1993 to 384 in 1999. Heroin/ morphine ED mentions increased 374 percent from 1993 to 1999 (140 to 664). (See Table 4.) Both law enforcement personnel and addiction counselors assert that heroin is the drug of choice for a growing number of young people in inner-city New Orleans. Most treatment counselors assert many young people in the inner city have a perception that heroin is not as harmful as crack. A 1999 survey of New Orleans high school students showed that 3.4 percent had tried heroin at least once in their lifetime. This data coincides with a national level survey released in November 2000 by the Partnership for a Drug Free America that found that 4 percent of high school students nationwide had tried in heroin at least once in their lifetime.

 Table 4. Emergency Department Heroin/Morphine Mentions
 in New Orleans, 1993-1999

  1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
 Total Number 140 197 274 308 431 534 664
Rate per 100,000 12 17 24 26 36 44 55

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Drug Abuse Warning Network, Year End Emergency Department Data 1999.

Heroin use, however, is not only an inner-city youth problem. Police in New Orleans inner-city areas report a marked increase in the number of suburbanites from Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Bernard, and other parishes coming into the inner city to purchase heroin.

Arrestees tested as part of the ADAM program frequently have heroin in their system at the time of arrest. Table 5 shows the percentage of male and female arrestees testing positive for opiates in New Orleans from 1996 to 1999.

Table 5. Percentage of Arrestees Testing Positive for Opiates
 in New Orleans, 1996-1999

  1996 1997 1998 1999
Year Male Female Male Female Male Female Male Female
Age 15-20 9.0 6.0 15.1 5.7 21.2 4.2 16.7 5.9
Age 21-25 9.0 0.0 14.6 2.7 20.3 4.6 22.1 5.8
Age 26-30 4.0 3.0 9.9 1.1 9.4 1.4 11.6 10.0
Age 31-35 3.0 1.0 4.6 2.9 7.6 1.3 6.5 6.1
Age 36+ 10.0 4.0 8.4 5.5 6.2 5.1 10.8 7.3

Source: National Institute of Justice Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program, Summary of Findings, 1996-1999.

Treatment counselors report that injection is the preferred method of administration for young, inner-city heroin users. It is the fastest and most efficient method of administration. Although syringes can be purchased without a prescription in Louisiana, there is normally resistance on the part of the user to purchase new needles. Treatment counselors assert this is because of paraphernalia laws that allow police to test for the presence of heroin in a person's system if a needle is in his or her possession. Treatment counselors say it is customary for inner-city users to share needles and drug paraphernalia. While New Orleans treatment providers seek to break users of such habits, they note needle sharing contributes to high levels of blood-borne diseases including hepatitis C and AIDS. Counselors in New Orleans report that the supply of heroin on the streets is at or near an all-time high.

While injection continues to be the most popular method of use, intranasal use is becoming increasingly popular with Caucasian males 18 to 25 years of age in suburban areas. This is primarily due to the widespread availability of high-purity South American heroin that makes snorting a viable method of use. The Medical Examiner's Office in Jefferson Parish, a suburb southwest of New Orleans, reports an increase in the number of young people snorting heroin in conjunction with drinking alcohol, which has led to at least two overdose deaths during the last 6 months. Alcohol may lower the user's ability to regulate the amount of heroin being used, thus making overdose more likely. Heroin is also available in capsule form and users are snorting the heroin after separating the capsule.

Treatment counselors report that "speedballing," the practice of using a combination of heroin and powdered cocaine, is becoming increasingly popular. This assertion is strengthened by law enforcement officials who report many street-level dealers in New Orleans sell both heroin and cocaine. Users claim this method provides them with an extremely intense high.

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The DEA New Orleans Field Division reports that the wholesale cost of heroin in New Orleans has dropped while the retail price has remained relatively stable, normally an indication of an increase in wholesale supply. While the average price per dosage unit has increased from $23 in 1996 to $26 in 1999, the average wholesale price has decreased substantially from a range of $190,000-$220,000 per kilogram to $160,000-$170,000 per kilogram. Law enforcement officials familiar with the price of heroin in New Orleans inner-city housing projects report that during the first 2 months of 2000 a "bundle" (a package of 20 individual dosage units) could be purchased from street-level dealers for roughly $300.

Most heroin being distributed in the New Orleans metropolitan area is of South American origin, although Mexican black tar, Southwest Asian, and Southeast Asian heroin are also present. The influx of inexpensive, high-purity South American and Mexican black tar heroin contributed to the rapid growth in heroin abuse in New Orleans. According to the DEA Domestic Monitor Program (DMP), between FY1996 and the second half of FY2000, 72 percent of the exhibits purchased with sufficient amounts of heroin to determine the geographic signature were classified as South American, 5 percent were Mexican, 5 percent were Southeast Asian, and 4 percent were Southwest Asian. A source of origin could not be determined for 14 percent of the samples in which there was a sufficient quantity to analyze.

Analysis of the New Orleans Field Division's DMP exhibits indicates that heroin purity at the retail level has gradually increased since FY1996 but is lower than the national average. Purity has increased from an average of 26 percent in FY1996 to just over 30 percent in FY1999 with an overall average purity of almost 29 percent for the 4-year period. The national DMP average retail purity for this period is 39 percent. The DMP exhibits classified as South American heroin are typically higher in purity than those originating from other geographic source areas. Nationwide purity levels encountered from bulk seizures and wholesale purchases ranged between 80 and 90 percent.

Police department arrest statistics reflect the recent increase in heroin distribution activity in New Orleans. NOPD reports a 23 percent increase in arrests for heroin possession with intent and heroin distribution between 1998 and 1999 (192 to 236). The number of cases referred to the NOPD Crime Laboratory also increased 58 percent from 1997 to 1999 (219 to 346). Based on arrest statistics, the First, Second, Fifth, and Sixth Districts, located in the southwest corner of the city, appear to be the most active retail distribution outlets. (See Figure 1.)

Many treatment counselors claim they can gauge the supply of heroin available at street level based on the number of chronic users seeking treatment. They assert that most chronic users are reluctant to seek treatment as long as a reliable supply exists, and most counselors feel that supply in New Orleans is at or near an all-time high.

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The most pervasive crime problem in sections of New Orleans is the distribution and abuse of heroin. Heroin, while not normally perceived as a drug associated with violence, is responsible for a growing amount of violence in New Orleans. Both police and treatment providers report that many inner-city criminals, already predisposed to criminal activity and violence, are increasingly abusing heroin. These criminals, unlike stereotypical "docile" heroin abusers, engage in violent acts to obtain money to purchase heroin. Police in these areas report an increase in armed robberies, home invasion robberies, and burglaries committed by heroin abusers in search of money to buy the drug.

Authorities in New Orleans report the large profits associated with the distribution of heroin have contributed to increases in violent crime. Street gangs have recognized the substantial profit potential associated with heroin distribution, according to law enforcement reporting. Street gangs in New Orleans are known to have "enforcers" tasked to intimidate and target rival groups or individuals. Common disputes that lead to violence and often murder include dealers encroaching on a rival's territory, stealing their drugs or money, or believing that a rival dealer identified them to the police. Some of the violence associated with the distribution of heroin stems from disputes over perceived problems with heroin purity or quality. Heroin users are known to have attacked and killed dealers they believe consistently supplied them with a poor quality product.

Two Heroin Sellers Nabbed

Two people were arrested during the breakup of a heroin packaging operation in an abandoned apartment in a public housing project.

Police discovered two people with several 25-package bundles of heroin and arrested them for possession with intent to distribute heroin. Police also found a loaded AK-47 and shotgun in the apartment.

Source: The New Orleans Times-Picayune, November 2000.



Opium is neither cultivated nor processed into heroin in Louisiana. Heroin is produced primarily in four source regions: South America, Mexico, Southeast Asia, and Southwest Asia. The DEA New Orleans Field Division indicated that most heroin encountered in New Orleans in the third quarter of FY2000 originated in South America.



New Orleans is a major destination for heroin and a transshipment point for heroin destined for other areas in the southern and northeastern United States. The DEA indicates bulk heroin is transported to the New Orleans area from New York, Texas, California, and Miami. Most heroin available for sale on the streets of New Orleans originates in New York City, although recent trends indicate Miami is the source of an increasing share of the Louisiana heroin supply. Heroin is transported using mail parcel services, passenger vehicles, trains, buses, and by couriers using commercial airlines.

International smuggling groups are increasingly using New Orleans International Airport to transport heroin into the United States. New Orleans International Airport is the only airport in the Gulf Coast region that receives international flights from Central America. Smuggling organizations use two flights in particular, one from San Salvador, El Salvador, and one from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, to transport drugs. Colombian DTOs recruit citizens not only from Colombia, but also from various Central and South American countries such as Guatemala, Panama, and Venezuela. The most common method used by smugglers is to swallow condoms filled with heroin. Customs officials at New Orleans International Airport report this practice is becoming more common.

New Orleans Airport Heroin Seizure

On September 6, 2000, U.S. Customs officers seized 3.6 kilograms of heroin from two male Colombian nationals, both residents of New York, New York. The suspects were traveling on one-way cash tickets from New Orleans, Louisiana, to New York City. During consensual interviews and searches, the heroin was found concealed on the suspects' persons. The heroin was glued inside their shoes and concealed inside girdles worn underneath their clothes.

Source: Operation Jetway, National Brief, 3 October 2000.

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Louisiana has some of the most severe anti-heroin distribution laws in the country. Louisiana law mandates a life sentence without the benefit of probation or suspension of sentence for persons convicted of heroin distribution.

Many law enforcement authorities fear New Orleans is emerging as a regional heroin distribution city. According to the New Orleans Field Office of the DEA, New Orleans is the only major city on the Gulf Coast where heroin is readily available. Individuals come from as far as Pensacola, Florida, to obtain heroin, which is then distributed in a public housing development in Pensacola.

During 2000, law enforcement officials identified Dominican and Colombian criminal groups as those predominantly responsible for wholesale heroin distribution in New Orleans. Intelligence indicates they transport South American heroin through the Dominican Republic to New York City and Miami. Street gang members and couriers then transport the heroin to New Orleans via passenger train, private vehicle, or via parcel mail services. The heroin is distributed in 1-ounce quantities to midlevel distributors and street gangs in inner-city public housing projects.

Mexican black tar heroin supplied by Mexican upper-level wholesale groups is also available in New Orleans. In a recent federal investigation, approximately one-half kilogram of black tar heroin was seized from an African American distribution organization. The heroin was being transported from Oakland, California, to New Orleans aboard a commercial airliner. The recipient of the heroin stated that black tar heroin was easier to obtain and less expensive than white powdered heroin, but that it required further processing to convert it into a powdered form which was marketable on the street.

African American street gangs operating out of public housing projects, most notably four housing projects located in the Sixth District, dominate retail distribution of heroin in New Orleans. The Sixth District accounted for 68 percent (19 of 28) of heroin arrests in New Orleans through the first 4 months of 2000. Local distribution is predominantly controlled by the Dillon Gang, the Got it Boys, and, in Jefferson Parish, the Latin Kings. Gang members cut, package, and distribute heroin. Police report street gangs package individual use doses in "foils" or "papers." Foils are formed by taking a 4-inch by 4-inch sheet of aluminum, placing the heroin in the center, and then folding it over and over to form a small rectangle. For sale in bulk quantities, foils are packaged in a plastic sandwich bag that is then known on the streets as a "bundle." Although the number of foils can be either 20 or 25, the bundle must contain 1 gram.

The housing projects of New Orleans are the focal point for heroin distribution not only in the city itself, but throughout the greater metropolitan area as well. Police departments in the communities surrounding New Orleans report that most heroin in the area originates in the projects of New Orleans. Heroin distributors in the communities surrounding New Orleans range from Caucasian suburban teens to housewives.


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