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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

PA, NY AGs Announce Multi-State Task Force to
Combat Northeast Heroin Crisis

HARRISBURG - Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane and New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the creation of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Heroin Task Force (NEMA-HTF), a multi-state heroin task force that will marshal the resources of top law enforcement officers across Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

In addition to New York and Pennsylvania, which will co-chair the effort, New Jersey and Massachusetts have also joined the coalition; additional states are expected to be announced in the coming weeks. NEMA HTF will bring together state attorneys general in an unprecedented law-enforcement collaboration to combat the growing problem of heroin distribution and abuse in communities throughout the region.

In the last two years, over 98% of the large-scale heroin trafficking cases prosecuted by the New York Attorney General’s Office have involved heroin flowing between New York and either Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Massachusetts.

“For too long, drug organizations have tried to outmaneuver law-enforcement agencies by crossing state lines. This task force will ensure that our borders do not become our boundaries,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “By joining together, we can prevent defendants from using state borders as a shield from law-enforcement and allow us to shut down the pipelines and cut off the heroin supply.”

“The drug dealers don’t stop at the state border, and with this partnership, neither will law-enforcement,” said Attorney General Kathleen Kane. “By sharing intelligence and other resources, we are taking this war to them, not waiting for them to infiltrate our communities. Today we are putting them on notice – we’re here and we are working together. You can’t hide by crossing the state line.”

“We know all too well how heroin is devastating communities and families,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley. “We must find innovative ways to stop illegal drug trafficking and prevent these sophisticated networks from moving across state lines. This partnership strengthens our commitment to sharing information and resources.”

“New Jersey is in the midst of an opiate crisis affecting countless numbers of our young citizens who are falling victim to addiction. In addition to our prevention, treatment and recovery efforts, we are executing major drug busts, in which a constant theme is that the dealers we are arresting are suppliers of heroin to other dealers in New York and Philadelphia, or they are getting their heroin from those cities,” said New Jersey Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. “In New Jersey, all levels of law-enforcement already are collaborating to target those trafficking this poison. The NEMA Heroin Task Force will maximize this collaboration across state borders.”

Heroin abuse is one of the most significant drug problems facing law enforcement and public health officials in the United States. Reports of first-time heroin use have nearly doubled since 2006, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. States across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions are struggling to cope with the drastic influx of the drug into their communities. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, over half of law-enforcement agencies in these two regions reported “high heroin availability” in their jurisdictions in 2013. Skyrocketing demand for the drug and higher profit margins for traffickers are driving the flow of heroin. Using a sophisticated network of narcotics distributors, interstate drug rings are able to traffic large quantities of heroin with increased effectiveness.

The two largest cities on the East Coast with a combined population of about 10 million people, New York City and Philadelphia are the two primary nodes for heroin trafficking in the Northeast. As the head of the DEA’s New York Division recently noted, New York City is “ground zero of heroin distribution networks supplying the Northeast” and a prime market for Mexican cartels given both the large customer base and easy access to the Eastern seaboard. Similarly, Philadelphia has become a source city for pure, cheap heroin, which enters the city by land, sea and air. Heroin is then distributed from Philadelphia to the largest drug market in the world, New York, as well as New England, western Pennsylvania and down the eastern seaboard to Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and southward. Intelligence and ongoing investigations show direct links to at least three Mexican cartels responsible for trafficking heroin in Pennsylvania.

New Jersey and Massachusetts are also confronting sharp increases in heroin trafficking and addiction problems. In New Jersey, the number of people seeking treatment for heroin abuse hit a five-year high of 25,442 in 2012. In 2013, there were 559 heroin-related deaths in New Jersey. Massachusetts declared a public health emergency in March in response to heroin overdoses and opioid addiction. State police there report almost 200 deaths from suspected heroin overdoses in the last year.

The foremost goal of the NEMA HTF is the collaboration, coordination and information-sharing between state attorneys general and other law enforcement officials designed to combat narcotics enterprises whose sophistication and organization make them so much more effective at flooding our streets with heroin. Each participating agency brings unique experience, methodology, analytical techniques and technologies; joining forces will allow for more targeted investigation and prosecution of these drug rings and pipelines.

The Task Force will expand the exchange of information between various agencies. Information that can be shared might include specific subjects, phone numbers, addresses, distribution routes and stash houses used to store heroin pending street level distribution. Information shared, coupled with active enforcement collaboration within the NEMA-HTF, will lead to larger and stronger criminal cases targeting large scale distribution operations spanning multiple states, which are funneling heroin into our communities.

For example, during the course of wire investigations, an agency in one state might identify heroin suppliers and their related networks operating in other states. The NEMA Heroin Task Force will provide the framework for interstate coordination, allowing other states to pursue subjects who might otherwise remain at large. Additionally, authorities often identify informants who have information about heroin trafficking activities in other states, and the Task Force will allow for better use of that information.

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