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Heroin in the Northeast: A Regional Drug Threat Assessment
August 2003


Heroin is readily available in the Northeast. According to Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS) data, the amount of heroin seized by federal law enforcement officials in the Northeast increased from 542.3 kilograms in 2000 to 1,321 kilograms in 2002. Further, 496 of the 678 law enforcement respondents (73.2%) to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2002 in the Northeast reported the availability of heroin as medium or high. In fact, more than 36 percent New England, 26.3 percent Mid-Atlantic, and 19.1 percent New York/New Jersey respondents identified heroin as the greatest drug threat.

NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2002

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 2,906 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.


The price of heroin in the Northeast varies depending on a number of factors including the buyer's familiarity with the seller, the location of the sale, and the quantity sold. In general, the closer an area is to a primary distribution center, the cheaper the heroin. For example, in New York City--the primary market area for heroin in the Northeast--South American heroin sold for $60,000 to $75,000 per kilogram in the fourth quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2002, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) New York Division. In contrast, South American heroin sold for $120,000 per kilogram in Boston, Massachusetts; for $75,000 to $100,000 in Providence, Rhode Island; and for $90,000 to $100,000 in Hartford, Connecticut, during that period. In general, heroin prices for smaller quantities also were lower in New York City than in other areas of the Northeast.

Heroin purity levels in the Northeast, particularly in Boston, New York City, Newark, and Philadelphia are the highest in the nation. For example, DEA reported that the purity of wholesale quantities of South American heroin averaged 95 percent in Boston and ranged from 85 to 96 percent pure in New York City in the fourth quarter of FY2002. Purity levels for wholesale quantities of Southeast Asian and Southwest Asian heroin in New York City have been as high as 90 percent. DEA also reported purities for retail quantities of heroin as high as 90 percent in Bridgeport, Connecticut (65 to 90%); New Bedford, Massachusetts (30 to 90%); and Portland, Maine (50 to 90%). According to the DEA Newark Division, all of the heroin purchased in Newark under the auspices of the Domestic Monitor Program--a retail-level heroin purchase program that monitors source of origin, price, and purity--was identified as South American heroin and had an average purity of 78.6 percent in the first half of FY2002. This is the first time that law enforcement officials reported higher purity levels in Newark than Philadelphia, which previously had the highest purity levels in the country.

In most of the northeastern states, the percentage of drug-related federal sentences that were heroin-related in FY2001--the most recent year for which data are available--was higher than the percentage nationwide. New Jersey, New York, and Maryland had the highest percentages of heroin-related sentences during that period. According to U.S. Sentencing Commission data, 31.5 percent of all drug-related federal sentences in New Jersey, 26.3 percent in New York, and 24.7 in Maryland in FY2001 were heroin-related, compared with 7.2 percent nationwide. In contrast, there were no heroin-related federal sentences in Delaware or New Hampshire that year.

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