The '90s are back, but one element of their return is even more nefarious than patent leather platform shoes: Heroin is now more prevalent in New York City than any year in the last two decades.
The increased appetite for heroin has spurred a larger New York-based market, which feeds not only local demand, but acts as a hub for a more expansive operation thanks to its centralized locale. “We’re kind of the head of the Hydra,” Bridget Brennan, the city's the special narcotics prosecutor, told the Times. “This is highly organized, high volume, and it’s being moved much more efficiently and effectively to reach out to a broader user base.”
Brennan's office has already recorded more than 288 pounds of the drug seized since January, and New York state has been the source of around 35 percent of all heroin busts by the DEA around the country since October.
The most recent bust in the city—and largest this year—occurred on Friday, when two alleged members of a Bronx heroin ring were arrested as they allegedly attempted to sell the drug in Hartford, Connecticut, where its street value is nearly double that of New York City. A joint effort by various agencies led to the confiscation of 53 pounds of heroin, 20 pounds of cocaine, two assault rifles, and $85,000 cash from two different apartments and a storage unit in the Bronx.
In most cases, the drugs are shipped from Mexico, home of some the world's most powerful drug cartels, including Sinaloa, whose leader, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, was arrested in February after successfully evading both U.S. and Mexican authorities for years. But according to a recent article in the New Yorker, Loera, known as El Chapo, is known to hold far-reaching influence over several high-ranking Mexican officials, to the extent that it could be possible for him to manage his expansive operation even from within Altiplano, the country's highest security prison. (He escaped from Puente Grande in 2001 after paying off an accomplice who wheeled him out in a laundry cart, though sources told the magazine that he could just as easily have walked out the front door.) Sinaloa has continued to operate successfully despite El Chapo's arrest, thanks to either its efficient management structure or the possibility that his hand remains in its interests from afar.
Back in New York, both alleged dealers from Friday's bust are charged with first degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and conspiracy. Brennan, the special narcotics prosecutor, said in a release that the arrests "cut a pipeline moving huge amounts of heroin from New York City to the Northeast," though DEA acting special agent James Hunt wasn't quite so optimistic.
“These seizures and arrests demonstrate that NYC is Ground Zero of heroin distribution networks supplying the Northeast, as well as being the prime market Mexican drug traffickers are using to earn profit from the sale of poison," he said.