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NYC Area Heroin Epidemic Is Worst In Years If Not Ever, DEA Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Drug Enforcement Administration said Monday that New York City and the nearby suburbs are facing a heroin epidemic.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, law enforcement is seeing record overdoses and a sharp rise in street heroin mixed with chemicals so powerful that even a miniscule amount can be deadly.

"The heroin problem right now in New York City, and really the whole country, is in a crisis state," said New York DEA Special Agent-in-Charge James Hunt. "It's something that we haven't seen in years if ever."

Hunt is talking about a terrifying development in the war against drugs. More people in the area are turning into heroin as the drug of choice because it is cheaper and more powerful with a higher content of the drug.

"The heroin right now that users are buying could range from 30 to 40 percent; sometimes 50 percent," Hunt said. "If you take it back 30, 40 years ago, it was in the single digits."

And because the heroin is stronger, often mixed with chemicals such as fentanyl, it is much more powerful and much more dangerous that what was on the street a generation ago.

"Sometime the size of a couple grains of salt can kill you," Hunt said.

In New York, overdoses are soaring.

"Last year, we had approximately 1,200 overdoses. Now, if you look at that versus our homicide rate – it's 335. It's almost four times as much," said NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce. "So we're very concerned about it."

Drug overdoses are up in all five boroughs. Comparing the first six months of 2015 to the first six months of 2016, the Department of Health saw drug overdoses rise from 115 to 252 in the Bronx, 120 to 223 in Brooklyn, 115 to 145 in Manhattan, 104 to 144 in Queens, and 51 to 69 on Staten Island.

"It's creating a big problem as far as people using it, even those who have been addicts for some time," Boyce said.

"I think it's of increasing concern for us, and just keep in mind that we attack this on many different levels –an international level, a regional level; each and every borough has a major case team," said NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill.

Officials said Monday that the heroin comes from Mexico, and that even with Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in custody in New York, the Mexican spigot is hard to turn off.

"The border of the United States is so porous – it's thousands of miles of border," Hunt said.

Federal drug agents have seen heroin seizure soar, from 100 kilos a day five years ago to 1,000 kilos now. New York accounts for one third of all the heroin seized in the U.S.

Hunt said people are getting addicted because they start with prescription drugs and move to heroin because it is cheaper.

"Eighty percent of new heroin users started with prescription drugs – prescription opiates, specifically – Percocet, Vicodin," Hunt said.

According to Hunt, part of the problem is the economics. You can buy a bag of heroin for about $6 to $10, while a pill such as Percocet or OxyContin could cost between $25 and $50.

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