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NDIC seal linked to Home page. National Drug Intelligence Center
Rhode Island Drug Threat Assessment
July 2003


Heroin is a significant drug threat to Rhode Island. South American heroin is readily available throughout the state. Southeast Asian heroin also is available, although to a lesser extent. Heroin abuse levels are high, and the availability of low cost, high purity South American heroin continues to attract a new, younger abuser population that snorts or smokes the drug, rather than injects it. Dominican criminal groups are the primary transporters of heroin into Rhode Island. They transport the drug from New York City using private vehicles, often equipped with false compartments, as well as rental vehicles. Dominican criminal groups also are the primary wholesale and retail distributors of heroin in Rhode Island. Colombian criminal groups, among others, distribute wholesale quantities of heroin as well. Other retail distributors include African American and Hispanic criminal groups and gangs and various local independent dealers. Heroin primarily is distributed in parking lots from private vehicles, although it also is frequently distributed from residences, at local housing projects, at local malls and shopping plazas, and on street corners.



Treatment data indicate that heroin commonly is abused in Rhode Island. The number of heroin-related treatment admissions in Rhode Island surpassed admissions for any other illicit drug from 1997 through 2001. According to TEDS, the number of heroin-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities increased from 3,745 in 1997 to 5,040 in 2001. (See Table 2 in Overview section.) The rate of heroin-related treatment admissions per 100,000 population in Rhode Island (568) was significantly higher than the rate nationwide (108) in 2000, the most recent year for which these data are available.

The percentage of young people reporting heroin abuse in Rhode Island is comparable to the national percentage. According to the 2001 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 4.0 percent of Rhode Island high school students surveyed reported having abused heroin at least once in their lifetime; this percentage is statistically comparable to the percentage nationwide (3.1%).

State data indicate that heroin abuse frequently is cited in drug deaths in Rhode Island. According to the Rhode Island Chief Medical Examiner's office, 45 of the 92 drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island in FY2001 (49%) were classified as opiate overdoses and likely involved heroin. According to DAWN mortality data, 44 of the 52 drug-induced (overdose) deaths in Providence in 2001 involved narcotic analgesics. Many of those deaths likely were due to heroin overdoes.

Injection is the primary method of heroin administration in Rhode Island, although many novice abusers snort or smoke the drug. A growing number of novice users--generally teenagers and young adults--choose to snort or smoke heroin because they wish to avoid contracting needle-borne diseases such as AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) and hepatitis, according to the Rhode Island Department of Mental Health, Retardation, and Hospitals. Many of these abusers mistakenly believe that these methods of administration will not lead to addiction. However, treatment officials report that most novice abusers become addicted to heroin within 6 months of initial use, and as tolerance levels increase, these abusers begin injecting heroin to achieve a more intense high.

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Heroin, primarily South American heroin, is readily available in Rhode Island. Federal and state law enforcement officials report that Southeast Asian heroin also is available. Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin and Southwest Asian heroin are rarely available in the state. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey 2002, law enforcement officials in Charleston, Cranston, Newport, Pawtucket, Providence, East Providence, North Providence, Warwick, Westerly, and Woonsocket report that the level of heroin availability is high in their jurisdictions.

NDIC National Drug Threat Survey

The National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2002 was administered by NDIC to a representative sample of state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States to assess the availability, abuse, and overall threat posed by all major drugs. NDIC received 2,386 survey responses from law enforcement agencies, an overall response rate of 80 percent. Survey respondents were asked to rank the greatest drug threats in their areas and to indicate the level of availability for each major drug type. They also were asked to provide information on specific groups involved in the transportation and distribution of illicit drugs. Responding agencies also provided narrative assessments of various aspects of the overall drug situation and the threat posed by specific drugs in their areas. Survey responses are used by NDIC to substantiate and augment drug threat information obtained from other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. 

High purity heroin is available at relatively low prices throughout the state. In the first quarter of FY2002, the DEA Providence Resident Office reported that purity levels at the wholesale and retail levels ranged from 45 to 90 percent. Statewide heroin prices for the first quarter of FY2003 as reported by the DEA Providence Resident Office are listed in Table 3.

Table 3. Heroin Prices, Rhode Island, First Quarter FY2003
Kilogram $70,000-$90,000
Ounce $2,000-$3,000
Gram $70-$300
Bundle (approximately 10 bags) $70-$80
Bag $6-$10

Source: DEA.

The amount of heroin seized by federal law enforcement officials in Rhode Island remained relatively stable from 1998 through 2002. According to Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS) data, federal law enforcement officials in Rhode Island seized 0.6 kilograms of heroin in 1998, 0.2 kilograms in 1999, 0.1 kilograms in 2000, 0.8 kilograms in 2001, and 0.5 kilograms in 2002.

The percentage of drug-related federal sentences that were heroin-related in Rhode Island was more than double the national percentage in FY2001. (See Table 1 in Overview section.) According to USSC data, 15.0 percent of drug-related federal sentences in Rhode Island in FY2001 were heroin-related, compared with 7.2 percent nationwide.

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Heroin distributors sometimes commit violent crimes such as assault, drive-by shooting, and homicide to further drug distribution activities and to protect their turf. However, law enforcement officials report that much of this violence is caused by polydrug distributors and may not be solely attributed to heroin distribution.

Heroin abusers in Rhode Island normally are not associated with violent crime. However, many addicts engage in prostitution, drug distribution, theft, burglary, and robbery to support their drug habits.



Opium is not cultivated nor is heroin refined in Rhode Island; however, heroin often is "milled"--cut, or diluted, and repackaged for retail sale--within the state. Heroin is produced primarily in four source regions: South America, Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, and Mexico. Most of the heroin available in Rhode Island is produced in South America.

Heroin Milling

Heroin usually is "milled" before it is sold at the retail level. Milling is a process by which heroin is cut with diluents such as lactose and mannitol or adulterants such as caffeine in order to increase its bulk. The heroin is then packaged in single dose quantities, often in glassine bags. Many distributors stamp their bags with a brand name or logo. Often, multiple glassine bags are bundled together for distribution; a group of 10 glassine bags is known as a bundle, and a group of 5 bundles is known as a brick. One kilogram of uncut heroin equals approximately 30,000 glassine bags. Heroin milling substantially increases this yield, but results in lower purity.

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Dominican criminal groups are the primary transporters of heroin into Rhode Island. To a lesser extent, African American criminal groups and gangs, Colombian and other Hispanic criminal groups, as well as various local independent dealers also transport heroin into Rhode Island. Most of the heroin transported into the state is purchased in New York City from Dominican criminal groups in the Washington Heights section of northern Manhattan and from Colombian criminal groups in the Jackson Heights section of Queens. The drug typically is transported into Rhode Island via I-95 in private vehicles--often equipped with false compartments--or in rental cars. Heroin also is transported into Rhode Island via private vehicles traveling from Massachusetts and, occasionally, from Florida and Texas.

Heroin also is transported into Rhode Island from New York City and Florida by couriers aboard buses. Couriers generally transport heroin concealed among articles of clothing in luggage or in hidden compartments built into the luggage, among other methods. In May 2001 a Florida man was arrested at a bus station in Providence for transporting heroin. The heroin was formed in the shape of his feet and concealed in the soles of his sneakers.

Providence is a transshipment point for heroin destined for other areas of New England. Dominican criminal groups based in Providence transport heroin throughout the state as well as to eastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod for distribution in those areas. Further, heroin distribution groups from Hartford, Connecticut; Portland, Maine; and Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Lowell, Lawrence, and New Bedford, Massachusetts, often purchase heroin from Providence-based Dominican criminal groups because the commute to and from New York City is perceived to involve a greater risk of law enforcement detection, according to the DEA Providence Resident Office. In addition, local law enforcement officials indicate that heroin increasingly is transported by crew members aboard commercial fishing vessels to New England. Vessels, typically from Maine, arrive at Providence, Quonset Point/Davisville, or Newport where crew members purchase small quantities of heroin.

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Various criminal groups, local independent dealers, and street gangs distribute heroin in Rhode Island. Dominican criminal groups are the primary wholesale-level distributors of heroin in the state; however, Colombian criminal groups, among others, distribute wholesale quantities of heroin as well. Dominican criminal groups also are the principal retail distributors of heroin in the state; however, African American and Hispanic criminal groups and gangs and various local independent dealers also distribute significant quantities of heroin at the retail level.

Most of the heroin available in Rhode Island is milled locally. It typically is packaged in glassine or heat-sealed bags for retail distribution. The Providence Police Department reports that retail-level heroin distributors often conceal the drug by placing heroin-filled glassine bags in their mouths. Typically, distributors place 5 glassine bags in the cutoff corner of a plastic bag and then insert this into their mouths. The drug is packaged and concealed in this way to allow for easy swallowing if the distributors are confronted by law enforcement officials. Logos that commonly appear on heroin packaging seized in Rhode Island are Murder Rock, Killer, and Angelica. DEA and the Providence Police Department report that heroin distributors in Rhode Island are not using logos as frequently as in the past because heroin is selling too quickly to fold and stamp individual glassine bags.

Dominican criminal groups increasingly are cutting heroin and packaging it in "bullets" or "fingers." Bullets or fingers usually contain 7 to 10 grams of heroin pressed into a solid cylinder approximately 2 inches long and one-half inch wide, according to DEA. Retail distributors then break off approximately 1 gram of the pressed heroin at the time of sale. The purpose of this practice is to make buyers believe the heroin is extremely pure because heroin often is smuggled into the United States in pressed form.

Heroin primarily is distributed at the retail level in Rhode Island from private vehicles at prearranged places such as fast food restaurants. Abusers and distributors typically arrange meetings using cellular phones and two-way radios. Heroin also is distributed from residences, at local housing projects, at local malls and shopping plazas, and on street corners.

Drug Distribution Guide Seized

In June 2001 law enforcement officials seized detailed instructions provided by a Lower Providence heroin distributor to his girlfriend describing how to distribute heroin in his absence. The instructions detailed how to answer the phone and apartment door, questions to ask the customer, and where the heroin was stored. Among the tips offered were the following: "Don't open the back door for nothing. Keep the floor clean; don't leave any door or window open; please do it right. Talk less, always look out the front window; and always call mom and tell her you are OK."

Source: Providence Journal-Bulletin, 13 June 2001.


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