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New Jersey Drug Threat Assessment
May 2001


The distribution and use of heroin represent the second most significant drug threat to New Jersey. It is readily available throughout the state and purity levels are stable but high. South American heroin is the predominant type in New Jersey. Southeast and Southwest Asian as well as Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin are also available but to a much lesser extent.


Low cost, high purity heroin has attracted a new heroin user population in New Jersey since the early 1990s. High purity heroin can be smoked or inhaled, appealing to new users who would never consider injecting themselves with a needle. Heroin contributes to additional health problems and deaths, which were already high. ME data for 1999 reflected 109 heroin-related deaths in the Newark area alone--Essex, Morris, Somerset, Sussex, and Union Counties. The DEA Newark Field Office reported three heroin overdose deaths resulting from the brand names Viper, Greyhound, and Homicide (Homicide tested 98% pure) in southern New Jersey in 2000. 

Heroin was reported as the primary drug of abuse by 78 percent of all drug treatment admissions and was the most frequent ED mention per 100,000 (33%) in Newark in 1999. Newark was second only to Baltimore in the number of heroin mentions per 100,000 that same year. According to DAWN, ED mentions for heroin in Newark more than doubled between 1991 and 1998. The number of heroin and morphine ED mentions in Newark increased 16 percent, from 4,367 in 1997 to 5,080 in 1998. During this period, national ED mentions stabilized. Most heroin users admitted for treatment throughout the state, particularly in Newark, reported snorting as the primary means of administration (78%), injecting (21.5%), and smoking (0.5%) in the first half of 1998. Statewide, 60 percent of users reported snorting and 39 percent reported injecting during the same period.

Table 5. Heroin Emergency Department Mentions and Mentions Per 100,000, Newark, 1991-1999

1991* 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
Heroin Mentions 2,328 5,686 5,392 4,367 5,080 4,736
Mentions per 100,000 140 328 307 246 282 260
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Drug Abuse Warning Network, Year End Emergency Department Data, 1999.
*The year 1991 is used for historical purposes only.

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South American heroin is by far the most readily available type in New Jersey. Federal and state law enforcement officials seize South American heroin much more frequently than any other type. During 1999, 82 percent (36 of 44 samples) of all heroin obtained through the Domestic Monitor Program (DMP) in New Jersey was South American. The actual percentage might be higher, as 7 out of the 44 samples were either unknown or because of insufficient quantities. Colombia-based DTOs supply Dominican, Colombian, and other criminal groups with multikilogram amounts of heroin, which they transport directly to New Jersey; however, some of the heroin destined for New Jersey is transshipped through New York and Pennsylvania. These criminal groups use couriers who fly on commercial airlines to transport an average of 1 to 3 kilograms of heroin per trip. Flights originate in Colombia, transit the Dominican Republic, Florida, Haiti, Jamaica, New York, Panama, Pennsylvania, and Texas, among others, en route to New Jersey.

Southeast Asian heroin is available to a much lesser extent than South American heroin in New Jersey. During 1999, about 2 percent (1 of 44 samples) of the heroin obtained through the DMP in New Jersey was identified as Southeast Asian. Some Nigerian or other West African criminal organizations smuggle heroin from Europe and West Africa through Newark International Airport.

Southwest Asian heroin is also available in New Jersey, but to a much lesser extent than South American heroin. No Southwest Asian heroin was seized under the DMP in New Jersey during 1999. Lebanese, Pakistani, and Nigerian criminal groups use couriers who smuggle Southwest Asian heroin to New Jersey. Purity levels have increased since the early 1990s, but Southwest Asian heroin distributors charge high prices and hold heroin until a buyer is located. This practice limits their market share in the state and the country.

Mexican heroin is available in New Jersey, but is rarely mentioned in law enforcement reporting. During 1999, no heroin purchased through the DMP program in New Jersey was identified as Mexican. While most law enforcement agencies in the state estimate Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin to be a minimal threat, evidence garnered through recent seizures and arrests in "Operation Tar Pit" is troubling.

Operation Tar Pit: Coast-to-Coast Mexican Heroin Ring

A yearlong, nationwide investigation referred to as "Operation Tar Pit," involving federal, state, and local law enforcement agents, resulted in the arrest of over 200 individuals in many U.S. cities. The case involved a Mexico-based DTO that imported and distributed heroin throughout the United States. The family was based in Nayarit, Mexico.

This DTO, consisting mostly of illegal aliens, used Los Angeles as its primary distribution center. In Los Angeles, the heroin sold for $1,200 to $1,500 per ounce; the price increased as the heroin was transported eastward. The DTO kept heroin in stash houses in Los Angeles for distribution to cells throughout the United States. The heroin was transported via commercial airlines and buses--primarily by young women who carried 1 to 2 pounds of heroin per trip. This DTO used express mail services just as frequently. About 75 percent of the heroin distributed by the group was Mexican brown powder and the rest was Mexican black tar. The DTO transported an estimated 80 pounds of heroin per month and distributed small amounts of cocaine.

The DTO formed transportation and distribution groups throughout the United States, including Alabama, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, and West Virginia. Operations were based in numerous cities including San Diego, Los Angeles, and Bakersfield, California; Chicago, Illinois; Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada; Salt Lake City, Utah; Nashville, Tennessee; Corpus Christi, Texas; Detroit, Michigan; Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; Phoenix, Arizona; Honolulu and Maui, Hawaii; Portland, Oregon; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Cleveland, Columbus, and Steubenville, Ohio; Anchorage, Alaska; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Since October 1999, law enforcement officials have seized 41 pounds of heroin in connection with the investigation. The heroin ranged in purity from 60 to 75 percent, even in gram-quantities seized.

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration, Press Release, 15 June 2000.

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Of the heroin seized nationwide since 1995, one-third was seized in the New York and New Jersey area; a significant amount of that was transported through Newark International Airport. For example, the United States Customs Service (USCS) seized 1,015 kilograms of heroin nationally in FY1995--with 372 kilograms (37%) in the New York and New Jersey area. In FY1999, USCS seized 875 kilograms of heroin nationally--with 349 kilograms (40%) in the New York and New Jersey region. 

FDSS figures document the availability of heroin--331 kilograms of heroin were seized in the state from FY1995 through FY1999. (See Table 3.) The amount of heroin seized during that time frame was highest in FY1997 at 97 kilograms and gradually decreased to 57 kilograms in FY1999. Most seizures occurred at Newark International Airport on flights originating in Colombia, Jamaica, Panama, and Aruba.

Heroin quantities seized from vehicles on New Jersey roads from 1995 to 1999 remained relatively stable--ranging from 0.7 to 3.5 kilograms--and about a third was destined for distribution in New Jersey, according to the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) Operation Pipeline and Convoy seizure statistics. The number of seizures decreased from a high of 21 in 1995 to only 4 in 1999. Law enforcement officers in New Jersey made 21 heroin seizures totaling 2.6 kilograms in 1995, 18 seizures totaling 2 kilograms in 1996, 18 seizures totaling 3.6 kilograms in 1997, 6 seizures totaling 2.1 kilograms in 1998, and 4 seizures totaling 0.7 kilograms in 1999. Approximately 57 percent of the seizures took place on Interstate 95. About 28 percent of the heroin seized was destined for distribution in New Jersey, while the rest was destined for states as far north as New York and as far south as Georgia.

Heroin prices in New Jersey have generally increased and reflect two distinct markets in the state--northern and southern New Jersey. (See Table 6.) The distance between the distribution site and the source is one factor that might explain why prices are higher in southern New Jersey. Heroin prices statewide generally increased 33 percent per bag, 8 percent per ounce, and 5 percent per kilogram from August 1997 to September 1999, according to DEA and the MAGLOCLEN Regional Drug Price and Purity Report. However, gram prices decreased 9 percent during the same period.

Table 6. Heroin Prices (in Dollars), Northern and Southern New Jersey, 2000

  Northern New Jersey Southern New Jersey
South American 70,000-90,000 125,000-200,000
Southwest Asian White 115,000 NA
Southwest Asian Brown 70,000-90,000 NA
Pound 35,000-110,000 75,000-125,000
1/2 Pound 20,000-60,000 40,000-70,000
1/4 Pound NA 30,000
Other Weights
Ounce 2,500-8,500 5,000-8,000
Gram   70-250 100-240
Brick (50 bags) 350-375 500-1,000
Bundle (10 bags) 90-100 100-200
Bag or Dec (.10 gram) 10-30 10-25

  Source: Drug Enforcement Administration, Newark Field Division, Trends in the Traffic 4th Quarter FY2000.

High purity heroin often exceeded 60 percent in 1999, an increase of over 5 percent from purity levels in 1996. MAGLOCLEN reported that heroin purity in the state ranged from 10 to 90 percent at different levels of distribution. The DMP indicated that heroin purity at the street level in Newark ranged from about 50 to 90 percent in 1999. The average heroin purity at the retail level between April and June 1999 was the highest in the East Coast cities of Philadelphia (76%), New York (66%), Boston (68%), Newark (66%) and Atlanta (66%). Additionally, the DEA Atlantic City Resident Office reported that heroin purity levels in the four southeastern counties of New Jersey--Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic, and Cape May--increased substantially in 1999. Law enforcement reports indicate that purity levels ranged from 74 to 84 percent at the retail level in those counties in 2000.

Although federal prosecutors in New Jersey win more convictions for cocaine than any other drug, heroin convictions are actually higher when powdered cocaine and crack are viewed independently. In 1999, convicted drug offenders composed about 36 percent of sentencing cases in New Jersey, compared with the national average of 41 percent. Heroin offenders represented the greatest percentage (38.6%), followed by powdered cocaine (34.4%), marijuana (11.4%), crack (8.5%), and methamphetamine (4.5%) offenders.

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Heroin users who commit crimes generally commit nonviolent property crimes to support their habits; however, heroin distributors at all levels engage in violence and other criminal activities to further drug distribution operations. Drug distributors use violence to protect drug shipments or to maintain control over distribution in a given area. In response to the NDIC National Gang Survey 2000, the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office reported that gangs such as the Latin Kings and Queens, Bloods, and Ņetas, and the cultural group Five Percenters distribute heroin and often commit assaults and homicides. The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office reported that the Latin Kings and Ņetas distribute heroin and commit assaults, robberies, and homicides. The Essex County Sheriff's Office reported that an increase in the rate of personal property and violent crime in its area occurs in open-air drug markets where heroin, among other drugs, is frequently distributed.

Drug distribution in cities such as Newark often leads to violent turf wars. A large-scale turf war reportedly erupted in Newark in 1994 and lasted until 1997, when several midlevel suppliers were killed in a known heroin distribution area. In 1997, the fighting subsided and the dominant groups regained control of the lucrative drug market. In 2000, the Essex County Sheriff's Office reported that heroin-related violence was increasing. That county conducted 316 heroin-related investigations in 1999, resulting in 541 arrests. The number of both investigations and arrests in Essex County had increased since 1998. Abundant supplies of heroin in Essex County might have led to turf wars between rival drug distributors. Mexican DTOs distributing Mexican brown powdered and black tar heroin in New Jersey may have been partly responsible for the surplus of heroin and subsequent turf war.

Heroin and Weapons Seized in Paterson

In December 2000, Paterson law enforcement officials seized $125,000 worth of heroin (5,000 glassine envelopes), crack, four guns, and a 1991 Toyota Camry at a Paterson housing complex. The distributors hid the drugs in a hydraulically operated secret compartment in the Camry.

Source: The Bergen County Record, "Anti-drug Partnership: Agencies Cite Teamwork in Long Paterson Probe," 5 December 2000.



Opium poppies are not cultivated nor is heroin refined in New Jersey. Heroin is smuggled to New Jersey from Southwest Asia, primarily Afghanistan; Southeast Asia, primarily Burma, Laos, and Thailand; South America, primarily Colombia; and Mexico, the four major source regions. In 1999, Afghanistan surpassed Burma as the world's leading heroin producer. Colombian DTOs supply most heroin distributed in, or transshipped through, New Jersey.

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Air and land conveyances, both personal and commercial, are the primary means used to smuggle heroin to the state. Approximately 36 percent of the heroin seized in the United States is smuggled on commercial aircraft to distribution sites such as New York and New Jersey.

Most of the heroin transported to New Jersey from South America is smuggled by couriers flying on commercial airlines. Colombia has been the primary source country for heroin seized in New Jersey since 1995. Airline couriers account for over 90 percent of the South American heroin seized by USCS in FY1996. The couriers fly directly from Colombia, Venezuela, and Peru or transit Ecuador, Panama, Puerto Rico, or Aruba before arriving at Newark International Airport. New Jersey was one of the top five states in the nation in the quantity of heroin seized on commercial airlines between 1995 and 1999. Law enforcement officers seized 269 kilograms of heroin transported on commercial airlines in New Jersey during the period 1995 to 1999. Couriers typically conceal heroin on their bodies, in clothes, or in luggage, or swallow heroin-filled balloons or condoms that are dipped in wax and weigh approximately 10 grams. Seizures at Newark International Airport indicate that the average swallower can ingest between 80 and 125 pellets per trip.

Mother Uses 5-Year-Old Daughter to Smuggle Heroin

A woman attempted to smuggle 2 kilograms of heroin, valued on the street at $2 million, to Newark International Airport, half on her person and half in her 5-year-old daughter's sneakers. They arrived at Newark International Airport aboard a flight from Panama on February 28, 2000. Another passenger aboard the same flight was apprehended for smuggling drugs and informed USCS agents that the woman and her daughter were also smuggling drugs.

Source: The Star-Ledger, 1 March 2000.

Newark International Airport is the primary entry point for heroin shipped directly to New Jersey from overseas. Several factors enhance Newark International Airport's role as a primary entry point in New Jersey. Thirty-two airlines serve international destinations from Newark International Airport. More than 15 direct flights arrive from Colombia every week, 7 direct flights arrive from both Panama and Peru, and less frequent flights arrive from Aruba and Brazil. Many distributors prefer using airline passengers to smuggle heroin to Newark International Airport.

12-Year-Old Boy Attempts to Smuggle Heroin

Some criminal groups now use juveniles to transport kilogram quantities of heroin. Law enforcement officers arrested a 12-year-old boy in Bogota, Colombia, as he was attempting to smuggle 4.4 kilograms of heroin, hidden in two bags, into Newark International Airport on a flight from Ecuador via Panama in April 2000. The boy said he was offered $18,000 to smuggle the heroin.

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration, 1998 U.S. Attorney Strategy Reports, Newark Division Overview.

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Nigerian and other West African criminal groups smuggle Southeast and Southwest Asian heroin from the source countries through Newark International Airport using couriers who typically bodycarry the heroin. Southwest Asian heroin is usually sewn into clothing or concealed in bottles or tobacco products. Couriers are paid between $10,000 and $20,000 per kilogram transported. Most Southeast Asian heroin in New Jersey is smuggled from Bangkok, Thailand, where there is a large Nigerian population.

The quantity of heroin seized by USCS at Newark International Airport more than tripled from 1995 to 1997, from 28.2 kilograms in FY1995 to 104.3 kilograms in FY1997, indicating that DTOs may feel more comfortable using this airport to smuggle heroin than they have previously. Although John F. Kennedy International Airport remains the primary entry point for the number of international air passengers arriving in the New York and New Jersey region, the volume of commercial airline passengers arriving at Newark International Airport is increasing at a more rapid rate.

Southeast Asian DTOs use containerized cargo on maritime vessels and railcars to transport heroin from the U.S. West Coast to New Jersey. About half of the containerized cargo shipped from Asia to New Jersey is transshipped through West Coast seaports (Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, and Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland, California), to Elizabeth overland in railcars, according to the USCS. The large volume of cargo transiting the Newark area provides an opportunity to conceal substantial heroin shipments from Asia. For example, in January 2001, DEA charged four individuals with smuggling 126 pounds of Southeast Asian heroin with a street value of $21 million to Elizabeth in containerized cargo on a vessel. The heroin was concealed in 12 bales of cotton towels. The four individuals were arrested in Thailand and are awaiting extradition.

South American heroin is also shipped on maritime vessels, but the number of seizures remains low. Heroin is likely transported to New Jersey by the same Colombian and Dominican groups who prefer to smuggle bulk quantities of cocaine in maritime vessels. Colombian and Dominican criminal groups sometimes use Puerto Rican criminal groups to smuggle cocaine through Puerto Rico to New Jersey. The Port of Newark and the Elizabeth Port Authority Marine Terminal together constitute one of the largest containerized port complexes in North America and thus pose an enormous threat. Puerto Rico-based Dominican transporters conceal heroin as well as cocaine and marijuana in maritime containers, which are shipped on containerized cargo vessels to New Jersey. According to the USCS, over 47 percent of all South American goods are inspected in Newark and Puerto Rico shipments generally pass without inspection. About 54 percent of all other shipments are inspected at this facility.

Some heroin destined for New Jersey is transported from the Southwest Border area in private vehicles by Mexican and Dominican criminal groups based in New York or Philadelphia. Once this heroin is shipped to Washington Heights and Queens, New York, it is then transported to Atlantic City, Camden, and northern New Jersey. These criminal groups also transport heroin from the Southwest Border in private vehicles to northwest Philadelphia, some of which is smuggled to Camden and southern New Jersey.

The Essex County Sheriff's Office and DEA Atlantic City Resident Office report that some of the heroin in their counties is shipped directly to New Jersey, while the rest is transshipped through New York or Philadelphia. New York is a source for heroin in northern New Jersey, while sources in New York and Philadelphia supply some heroin to southern New Jersey. Reports indicate that "runners" travel by train to New York to obtain heroin and return to New Jersey by bus, in an effort to avoid law enforcement detection.

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South American heroin is distributed far more frequently than any other type of heroin in New Jersey. Colombian DTOs are the primary South American heroin suppliers for New Jersey-based criminal groups. Colombian DTOs and Dominican criminal groups control most of the wholesale distribution of South American heroin in New Jersey, depending on the area. Colombian DTOs tend to focus on supplying heroin and laundering money to minimize their exposure to law enforcement officers, while Dominican criminal groups are involved in all wholesale and retail distribution. However, Colombian criminal groups living in northern New Jersey, especially Hudson and Passaic Counties, and Queens, New York, do control some distribution networks offering kilogram quantities of heroin.

IOC groups are also involved in the wholesale distribution of heroin and cocaine in New Jersey, and they often use pizzerias as fronts for illicit activity. For example, law enforcement officers in New Jersey arrested over a dozen traditional organized crime members and their associates for distributing high quality heroin and cocaine out of pizzerias and wholesale restaurant supply businesses in April 1997. The drugs originated in South America, transited New York, and were allegedly delivered by Dominican nationals to pizza parlors in New Jersey. Nigerian or other West African criminal organizations are the dominant wholesale distributors of Southeast Asian heroin. Lebanese, Pakistani,

Nigerian, and other criminal groups distribute Southwest Asian heroin in New Jersey. Nigerian and other West African criminal groups, among others, distribute Southeast Asian and Southwest Asian heroin in Camden and Newark. These criminal groups are most active in U.S. locations with established Nigerian populations such as Newark. Most Nigerian criminal groups return drug monies to Nigeria where the U.S. dollar and other currency is much stronger than the Nigeria naira.

Mexican, other Hispanic, ethnic Chinese, Indian, and other criminal groups, as well as traditional organized crime groups also distribute heroin in New Jersey, but to a lesser extent. Typically, these groups purchase kilogram quantities of heroin which they subsequently sell to street-level distribution networks.

Colombian and Dominican criminal groups recently started to distribute heroin directly from the wholesale to the retail level in New Jersey. These criminal groups sell heroin at the wholesale level to street-level distributors at prices previously charged to midlevel dealers. This method enables street-level distributors to increase profits.

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African American criminal groups, particularly in southern New Jersey, and Dominican criminal groups throughout the state are the dominant retail distributors. Nigerian and other West African criminal groups distribute Southeast Asian heroin, while Lebanese, Pakistani, Nigerian, and other criminal groups distribute Southwest Asian heroin at the retail level in New Jersey. Chinese, Colombian, Puerto Rican, other Caribbean criminal groups, local independent distributors, Jamaican "posses," and numerous street gangs also sell heroin at the retail level in the state. Some posses work for IOC families, according to the Newark Police Department. Many independents distribute heroin in New Jersey, some of which they purchase in New York City. DEA Atlantic City reports that Dominican, Colombian, Chinese, and Nigerian criminal groups are the principal street-level distributors in that area. While local independent distributors sell both South American and Southeast Asian heroin, Nigerian groups tend to distribute Southeast Asian heroin.

At least nine street gangs distribute heroin locally and within the state from Jersey City, Irvington, Camden, Atlantic City, Asbury Park, Trenton and Middlesex, according to responses to the NDIC National Street Gang Survey 2000. The Latin Kings, Ņetas, and Bloods gangs and the Five Percenters cultural group are the most prominent heroin distributors in New Jersey. They all distribute heroin in Jersey City. The Latin Kings and Ņetas distribute heroin in Camden, and the Bloods distribute heroin in Irvington.

Distributors at the retail level use various packaging and brand names on heroin, each of which is cut with various diluents and adulterants, when marketing their products to attract a greater cross-section of customers. Heroin is usually packaged in glassine packets or heat-sealed small plastic bags known as dime bags, which cost $10. Heroin is sometimes cut with diluents like cornstarch, wheat starch, and mannitol or adulterants such as benzocaine. New Jersey-based distributors sell heroin with the brand names Golden Needle, Super High, Enemy, Hurricane, Ruff Ryder, Devil's Choice, No Limits, Dragon, Dog Food, Surprise, Attack, Methodone, Amadeus, Therapy, Dope Head, Mejor Control, Most Hated, Knock Out, and Face To Face.

Law enforcement sources in Newark report that heroin dealers use beepers to facilitate many heroin sales. Some law enforcement officers believe that the use of beepers coincides with a decrease in open-air or public street sales in favor of indoor sales or home deliveries. Historically, large quantities of heroin were distributed through face-to-face deliveries that were coordinated using beepers, while small amounts were sold on the street or through acquaintances. Criminal groups in 2001 coordinate heroin sales with beepers even when selling small quantities.

Teenagers and young adults who distribute and use heroin, particularly in suburbs and schools in New Jersey, are a growing concern. Law enforcement sources in Trenton and Newark indicate that older students and recent high school graduates who use heroin also supply the drug. These young suppliers are known to their peers and establish a market with relative ease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse-sponsored 1999 Monitoring the Future Report revealed that 73.7 percent of all tenth graders have considered trying heroin, indicating how susceptible this population is to sales from peers.


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