Heroin Wreaks Havoc in New York City

Edwin Rodríguez took heroin for more than 40 years (Photo by Edwin Martínez via El Diario)

Edwin Rodríguez took heroin for more than 40 years (Photo by Edwin Martínez via El Diario)

Alejandro Torres is 27 years old. Although many would say that he has a long life ahead of him, he has been on the verge of death from a heroin overdose more than once.

Torres, of Dominican descent, said that he shoots heroin two or three times per day because it is his only way to escape the memory of the abuse and mistreatment he suffered as a child and to make his fear of death go away.

“At this point in my life, I find that nothing has meaning. All I care about is having the $10 to buy my bag of ‘X-Men’ or ‘First Lady,’” said Torres, referring to some of the names given to the heroin sold on the street.

Torres’ case shows how easy it is to find drugs in New York City. Despite the campaigns and collective effort of the authorities, finding heroin in retail is no hard feat.

“It’s cheaper than a pack of cigarettes or many painkillers,” said Torres, who admitted to having panhandled, stolen and even prostituted himself to be able to buy his daily dose.

Meanwhile, as the outlook on heroin trafficking and commercialization in New York City grows more somber, the U.N. General Assembly is holding a special session on drugs (UNGASS) this week. The meeting aims to assess this global social ill and propose new measures to strengthen the fight against drugs.

Figures from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reveal that 454 people died from overdosing on heroin or other opioids in 2014 alone, a considerably higher number than the 328 homicides recorded that year. The Centers for Disease Control states that nearly 125 people die every day in the United States from drug overdoses, 78 of them from heroin and painkillers.

A heroin pantry

Special Agent James Hunt, in charge of the New York Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said that the use and trafficking of heroin in New York have skyrocketed, as dealers have turned the city into a pantry of sorts from which they manage distribution to other parts of the country.

“Cartels are turning New York into a heroin warehouse, and they are feeding northeastern cities from here. New York is the center of heroin drug traffickers of the whole northeast of the country,” said the agent. He added that his office is not cutting the criminals any slack and that combating this illegal business is a priority for anti-drug government agencies.

“Confiscations have increased, arrests have increased and investigations have increased. Heroin is a priority for the DEA,” said Hunt. The agent said that last year, 966 kilos of the drug were confiscated in New York City, 89 percent more than in 2014 and 181 percent more than in 2013. “Addiction and overdose rates have shot up, and they have taken too many lives too soon,” said the agent.

In the meantime, the NYPD said that they have arrested 10,234 people so far in 2016 for drug-related cases. Last year, the total was 37,776, showing the department’s commitment to this battle.

“The New York police are working to tackle this epidemic problem from every front. This includes working with state and federal authorities to counteract the distribution and sale of narcotics,” said the NYPD via press release.

Edwin Rodríguez, a volunteer with Vocal NY, an organization distributing clean syringes to heroin addicts to prevent the spread of disease, knows the nightmare of drug addiction firsthand. Today, all he wants is to use his 40-year experience as a drug user to help youths steer clear of that trap.

“I started taking drugs back in Puerto Rico when I was 13. My family sent me to New York, but my life was over in the wink of an eye: I ended up in jail, my addiction became worse and, when I finally quit, I had wasted too much time,” said the 59-year-old, who is suffering from liver cancer.

“The first time you try heroin is like an orgasm. You fall into that sleep and feel like nothing bothers you. You feel wonderful. You believe that you’re never coming down from that cloud, that it takes your problems away. You feel invincible, and you can’t believe that you could be that person who is going to get killed or touch rock bottom or lose his family, but you end up destroying your life,” said Rodríguez somberly.

“Heroin finished me. It wiped out my dreams, but I don’t want it to destroy anyone else’s life. That’s why I quit and that’s why I’m still alive.”

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