ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Four Northeastern states have agreed to collaborate in investigations of heroin trafficking that often cross state lines, authorities said Wednesday.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said their coalition, so far, also includes New Jersey and Massachusetts. Other states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions are expected to join within the next few weeks.
“The drug dealers don’t stop at the state border, and with this partnership, neither will law enforcement,” Kane said.
Schneiderman said 98 percent of the large-scale heroin trafficking cases prosecuted by his office have involved drugs moving among the four states and traffickers try to “outmaneuver” authorities by crossing jurisdictions.
Additionally, figures from 2013 show the largest number of heroin fatalities in a decade, according to New York City’s Health Department.
The New York Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force, with offices in Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany and White Plains, has arrested more than 400 people in dozens of trafficking investigations since 2007. Roundups often involved 20 to 40 defendants. While those investigators can reach across state lines to arrest people committing crimes in New York, their reach doesn’t extend to criminals trafficking in other states.
The task force members have agreed to share information, which could include identification of traffickers, stash houses and phone numbers gathered from wiretaps, informants and cooperating witnesses. The task force is intended to create the formal framework for sharing information, which investigators may now do informally.
“We are pooling our resources and setting up formal lines of communication because this is a problem no single state can solve,” Schneiderman said.
According to the attorneys general, skyrocketing demand for heroin and higher profit margins for traffickers are now driving the trade. They noted that the two largest cities on the East Coast with a combined population over 10 million people, New York City and Philadelphia, are the two primary points for heroin trafficking in the Northeast.
Kane said it costs as little as $3 to $10 per one-dose bag, and in some neighborhoods it’s easier for children to get than a pack of cigarettes.
In most cases, investigators say the source of heroin has been Mexican cartels that smuggle the large quantities to New York or Philadelphia for distribution throughout the Northeast.
Steve Salomone, whose 29-year-old son died of a heroin overdose in 2012, spoke Wednesday in support of Schneiderman and Kane’s effort.
“I think we need to think outside the box in combating this problem,” said Salomone, a co-founder of an upstate New York heroin awareness group called Drug Crisis in Our Backyard. He said families need to be diligent and also take responsibility for turning the problem around.
In New Jersey, the number of people seeking treatment for heroin abuse exceeded 25,000 in 2012, the officials said. Massachusetts declared a public health emergency in March from heroin overdoses and opioid addiction.
Also Wednesday, the nation’s drug czar was in Maine to lead a town hall discussion on opioid abuse.
Michael Botticelli, acting director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, was formally announcing in Bangor that 19 Maine communities are getting $7.5 million over the next five years to fight drug abuse.
He said in comments ahead of the event that the nationwide trend toward legalization of marijuana is making it harder for health care and law enforcement officials to fight the rampant abuse of prescription opioids.
“It’s hard to say at one level that we want to think about prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse without looking at how to prevent kids from starting to use other substances from an early age,” he said.
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