While authorities are focusing on arresting prescription pill pushers, New Yorkers' appetites are expanding to heroin, which is easier to find and cheaper to buy as kingpins flood the streets with the drug.
"Oxycodone is becoming more difficult to get," James Hunt, acting special agent for New York City's office of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration told the New York Post.
"It's becoming easier to buy heroin."
And while actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's overdose death with a needle in his arm shocked many, it also underscored that the drug is not only showing up in dark alleys and drug dens, but among users of all income and social levels.
"Heroin shows no prejudice," Hunt said. "It cuts across all [socioeconomic] lines."
New data released by the DEA shows that heroin use is not slowing down as heroin dealers replace the decreasing supply of prescription painkillers that the agency has removed from the streets.
The heroin that's being sold now is not only cheaper, but much more potent than what was being sold 10 or 20 years ago. Authorities say much of the supply is now coming over the Mexican border, where smugglers hide the drug inside shipments of legal goods.
"The Mexicans are flooding the market," Hunt said. "They are clever businessmen whose product is poison."
The surge isn't only because of decreasing amounts of prescription pills, The Washington Post
reports. Mexican farmers are planting opium poppies and turning away from marijuana as the wholesale price of marijuana is falling in the United States, in part by states where the drug has been decriminalized.
The wholesale price of marijuana had dropped from $100 per kilogram a few years ago to less than $25 a kilo now, and farmers say they are no longer planting the crop.
"It's not worth it anymore," longtime cannabis farmer Rodrigo Silla, 50, told The Post, noting that he couldn't remember any other time his family and others quit growing marijuana. "I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization."
As a result, heroin is showing up not only in places like New York City or Chicago, where it has been available for years, but is "moving all over the country and popping up in areas you didn't see before," said Carl Pike, a senior official in the Special Operations Division of the DEA.
And now, rural areas of Appalachia, the Midwest, and New England are being hit hard as $4 "hits" of the drug are readily available.
The heroin being found in New York now runs between $50,000 to $60,000 per kilogram, much cheaper rates than 20 years ago, when the same quantity would have cost more than $200,000.
In addition, the drug is now averaging more than 60 percent in purity, when 20 years ago, the purity level was just a fraction of that, Hunt said.
The DEA is seizing increased quantities of the drug, recovering 2,091 kilograms in 2012, compared to 558.8 kilograms in 2008. In addition, the agency has been shutting down more "heroin mills," where dealers store large amounts of the drug before distributing it.
The Post reports that 13 of the mills were raided across the state of New York in 2013, most of which were in the New York City limits. Only four such locations were raided in 2009.
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