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New Jersey Drug Threat Assessment Update
April 2004


The illicit distribution and abuse of cocaine, both powdered and crack, pose the primary drug threat to New Jersey. The number of cocaine-related treatment admissions is decreasing but remains high. According to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, there were 6,009 primary treatment admissions for powdered and crack cocaine abuse in New Jersey in 2000, 5,629 in 2001, and 5,592 in 2002. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), the number of cocaine emergency department (ED) mentions in the Newark metropolitan area increased from 2,631 in 2001 to 3,242 in 2002. The number of cocaine ED mentions was higher than for any other illicit drug except heroin in 2001 and 2002. (See Table 1.) Cocaine also is a factor in a significant number of deaths in the Newark metropolitan area (Essex, Morris, and Union Counties). According to DAWN mortality data, there were 148 cocaine-related deaths in these three counties in 2001, and Essex County alone accounted for 106 of those deaths.

Table 1. Drug-Related Emergency Department Mentions, Newark, 2001-2002
  2001 2002
Cocaine 2,631 3,242
Heroin 3,718 3,731
Marijuana 647 944
MDMA 49 47
GHB 0 0
Ketamine 12 0
LSD 10 0
PCP 35 124
Methamphetamine 0 1

Source: Drug Abuse Warning Network.

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Cocaine is readily available throughout New Jersey. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2003, 80.1 percent of law enforcement agency respondents in New Jersey reported that powdered cocaine was readily available (availability described as either high or moderate), while 73.0 percent reported that crack cocaine was readily available. Moreover, 29.2 percent of law enforcement officials throughout New Jersey identified cocaine, either powdered (12.1%) or crack (17.1%), as their greatest drug threat. More cocaine is seized in the state than any other illicit drug except marijuana and, according to Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS) data, federal law enforcement officials in New Jersey seized 480 kilograms of cocaine in 2002. Data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) indicate that the percentage of drug-related federal sentences in New Jersey that were related to cocaine in fiscal year (FY) 2001 (45.1%) surpassed the percentage nationwide (42.5%) for the first time in the previous 5 years.

National Drug Threat Survey 2003

NDTS 2003 was administered by NDIC to a representative sample of state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States to assess the availability and overall threat posed by the trafficking and abuse of all major drug types. NDIC received 3,354 survey responses from law enforcement agencies, an overall response rate of 96.2 percent. Survey respondents were asked to indicate the drug that posed the greatest threat to their areas and to indicate the level of availability for each major drug type. Respondents also were asked to indicate the drug type that most contributes to property crimes and violent crimes within their jurisdictions. Responding agencies also were asked to indicate the level of street gang and outlaw motorcycle gang involvement in drug distribution 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.

Cocaine prices vary somewhat depending on the location and quantity sold; however, low, stable prices overall indicate that there is an abundant supply of cocaine in New Jersey. For example, price ranges found in northern counties (above and including Monmouth) and southern counties (below Monmouth) are similar. In northern New Jersey powdered cocaine sold for $19,000 to $34,000 per kilogram, $500 to $1,800 per ounce, and $30 to $100 per gram in the third quarter of FY2003, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Newark Division, while in southern New Jersey prices were $21,000 to $35,000 per kilogram, $500 to $1,600 per ounce, and $32 to $100 per gram. Crack sold for $600 to $2,000 per ounce in northern New Jersey and for $850 to $1,600 per ounce in southern New Jersey in the third quarter of FY2003. A rock of crack sold for $5 to $20 throughout the state during the same period. Purity levels vary noticeably between northern and southern New Jersey, however. According to DEA, cocaine purity at various distribution levels in the third quarter of FY2003 ranged from 87 to 94 percent in the northern part of New Jersey and 61 to 84 percent in the southern part.

Federal-Wide Drug Seizure System

FDSS data comprise seizures made in the United States by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). Only seizures that exceed certain threshold weights are included in these statistics: 500 grams of cocaine, 100 grams of heroin, 25 kilograms of marijuana, and 250 grams of methamphetamine.

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Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Mexican criminal groups are the dominant transporters of powdered cocaine into New Jersey. These criminal groups, primarily Dominican groups, transport powdered cocaine to New Jersey from the Washington Heights section of Upper Manhattan via the George Washington Bridge and Interstate 95 in commercial and private vehicles. However, some transport of the drug flows from New Jersey, where stash houses are increasingly located, to distribution sites in Washington Heights. (See text box.) Puerto Rican criminal groups frequently transport kilogram-size cocaine bricks into New Jersey from San Juan, Puerto Rico, via commercial airlines. The cocaine typically is wrapped in clear plastic and duct tape, then is wrapped again in clear plastic and concealed in large pieces of luggage. According to the DEA Newark Division, Mexican criminal groups sometimes transport cocaine into New Jersey in tractor-trailers hauling commercial goods such as produce and other perishable items that are difficult to inspect. A variety of other criminal groups and independent dealers also transport cocaine into New Jersey. Most of the powdered cocaine transported into the state is converted into crack locally.

Manhattan Cocaine Distributors Use New Jersey Stash House

On February 8, 2003, officials from the Morris County (NJ) Police Department and the New York Police Department arrested five individuals and seized 675 kilograms of cocaine and $10,000 in cash. Most of the cocaine (575 kg) was seized in the basement and garage of a residence in Madison, New Jersey; the remainder was seized as a result of a traffic stop in the Washington Heights section of Upper Manhattan. The residence in Madison had been used as a stash location for cocaine destined for distribution in Washington Heights. The cocaine had been concealed in white plastic tubs of fruit preserves in Mexico and smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border to a warehouse in California. Then it was transported to the New Jersey residence, where it was extracted from the tubs. In Madison officers arrested three individuals, one from Mexico and two from California. In Washington Heights officers arrested two individuals, both from New York City.

Source: Morris County Prosecutor's Office; Morris County Police Department; New York Police Department.

Colombian drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and criminal groups and Dominican criminal groups are the primary wholesale-level distributors of cocaine in New Jersey. African American and Dominican criminal groups are the primary distributors of cocaine at the retail level. Colombian, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Mexican, Cuban, and other criminal groups also distribute retail quantities of cocaine in the state, although to a lesser extent. Most retail-level distributors control "cut houses" (where drugs are diluted, or cut), storefronts, and open-air drug markets in Camden, Elizabeth, Irvington, Jersey City, Newark, and Trenton as well as in other areas of the state. Powdered and crack cocaine typically are packaged in small plastic bags or plastic vials and sold at open-air drug markets. Some dealers, particularly in Newark, sell powdered and crack cocaine in bottles with different colored caps indicative of a specific street corner or area. Crack also is sold loose, as rocks.

Cocaine, particularly crack, is the drug most often associated with violent crime in New Jersey. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials in the state report that dealers frequently carry firearms and commit drive-by shootings, assaults, and murders. Further, according to the NDTS 2003, 49.5 percent of New Jersey law enforcement agencies identified cocaine, either powdered (15%) or crack (34.5%), as the drug that most contributes to violent crime. The Camden and Essex County Narcotics Task Forces report major increases in the number of cocaine-related homicides in their areas in 2003. As of June 5, 2003, there were 27 drug-related homicides in Camden County and 60 in Essex County; most were attributed to powdered or crack cocaine distribution.

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