Long Island battles growing heroin problem

February 11, 2010 3:43:35 PM PST
Heroin is now the main focus of law enforcement in many of our areas, where arrests and overdoses are skyrocketing. Eyewitness News continues its week-long series looking at what is being done to stem the tide at the source and here at home. A lot of people don't know that there's a direct line from the poppy fields in Colombia, South America to the streets of our neighborhoods. The product is seemingly unstoppable because the demand is insatiable.

Eyewitness News reporter Sarah Wallace took a ride with undercover detectives from Nassau County's Heroin Task Force. They can make buys and busts 24/7. It's a simple cell phone call and then a quick deal in the back of a car or behind a school. It happens before you know it, and cops say deals are done in every neighborhood.

"They can happen on a side street, a fast food restaurant, in the parking lot of a shopping mall," Nassau police Lieutenant Andy Fal said. "If you don't die from it, you become a slave to it."

Fal and other Long Island cops recently traveled to Colombia, South America, to get a sense of the supply route that leads directly to their communities. Eyewitness News made a similar trip two weeks ago. The Colombian National police are on the front lines of the war against heroin traffickers.

The biggest danger, they say, is booby traps in the poppy fields. Last year, nearly 200 anti-narcotics officers were killed in combat. That's roughly one every three days. Drug kingpins in Colombia are doing whatever they can to counter an intense Government crackdown that includes constant raids on heroin rings, extradition of accused traffickers to the U.S. and the destruction of poppy fields.

The stakes are so high because of the profit from the poppies, which provide a simple syrupy substance that is processed into high-grade heroin. Just to give you a sense of the profit, within a couple of hours recently at the airport in Colombia's capital, Eyewitness News watched as police, on a tip, arrested three accused heroin mules, or couriers. Each of them had swallowed a kilo of heroin hidden in dozens of capsules. Those three kilos translate to a street value of nearly $1 million. And all that money is going back to Colombia, where money laundering is big business.

Eyewitness News watched as DEA agents set up a sting in a hotel suite involving an informant and a contact who wanted to launder $20 million at a time.

Sean McDonough, DEA Agent : "I'll have the power source right here. We're the source of the product. The money comes back here."
Eyewitness News Reporter Sarah Wallace: "What are we talking about?"
McDonough: "Billions. Billions."

And the Colombians have perfected the heroin-making process. The heroin is is now 60 percent pure, 15 times what it was in the 1970s. And it's dirt cheap.

"It's a horrific storm," DEA Special Agent in Charge John Gilbride said. "Low-cost heroin, high purity that a teenager can afford to buy. Five dollars a bag. Seven Dollars a bag."

Nassau County DA Investigator Theresa Corrigan knows all about the marketing.

Corrigan: "For the young men, they might do something that could be considered cool. They'll have a skeleton and a flaming skull. They don't want to leave the girls out, so they'll have something labeled Prada. Because what young girl doesn't want something from Prada?"
Wallace: "What do you say to critics who claim that law enforcement is focusing on this because it is in the white suburbs?"
Corrigan: "Is not a white problem, it is a suburban, Long Island problem. We are going to those communities where intelligence tells us there is a problem."

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