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New York City Dealers Blending Into Upscale Neighborhoods

As the nation's so-called heroin capital, New York is seeing dealers moving to more high-class digs in order to cater to an upper-class clientele.

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By John Lavitt

03/10/14

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A week before Philip Seymour Hoffman's death propelled heroin into the spotlight of the national media, police in New York City busted a sophisticated heroin packaging and distribution mini-factory in an apartment in the Bronx. In this mini-factory, employees with coffee grinders, scoops, and scales labored 24/7 to break down bricks of heroin into thousands of hit-size baggies. Bearing such stamped brands as "Government Shutdown" and “iPhone,” over $8 million worth of heroin was seized in the raid.

The rise of these mini-factories of heroin processing and distribution is taking place behind the doors of well-to-do New York apartments. Such heroin mini-factories are a sign of an intricate distribution network focused on catering to mainstream, middle- and upper-class customers. As NYC Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan explained, heroin dealers want to find wealthy customers, "who are going to be with them until they die.”

Accounting for about 20 percent of the heroin the federal Drug Enforcement Administration seizes every year, New York is known as the nation's heroin capital. Heroin seizures have grown by 67 percent over the last five years while drug overdoses are now the number one accidental killer of Americans 25 to 64 years old, surpassing even traffic deaths.

The business model for heroin mills emphasizes discipline and quality control with a surprising absence of violence. Residential settings in safe neighborhoods are favored as a means of cover. In a raid by the DEA last year, a mini-factory for heroin processing was found in a newly renovated apartment in midtown Manhattan that rented for $3,800 a month.

Making up to $5,000 a week, workers have gone out of their way not to disturb neighbors, who otherwise might report them to police. James J. Hunt, the acting head of the DEA's New York office, explained that the "Drug dealers are very wary… They wouldn't want word to get out on the street about a mill. They want anonymity."

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