Maine and Maryland joining PA in multi-state task force to combat northeast heroin crisis

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HARRISBURG – Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane today announced that Maine and Maryland have joined the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Heroin Task Force (NEMA-HTF), a multistate heroin task force that marshals the resources of top law-enforcement officers across Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Pennsylvania and New York co-chair the effort; New Jersey and Massachusetts are also members. NEMA-HTF brings together state attorneys general in an unprecedented collaboration to combat the growing problem of heroin distribution and abuse in communities throughout the region.

“The addition of Maine and Maryland to the task force will strengthen our collective efforts and give heroin traffickers fewer places to hide,” Attorney General Kane said. “Through this unprecedented partnership, our law enforcement agencies will continue to combat one of the greatest public health and safety threats facing us today. State lines are no longer an obstacle to fighting this scourge in our communities.”

“Maine is very happy to be working with our partners in the other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to combat the flow of heroin and drug money that causes so much misery for our communities,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills of Maine. “Maine is seeing a spike in heroin related activity and we have to work together to stem the supply. Cheap, readily available heroin is killing Maine’s youth. The criminals bringing it here cannot evade justice by simply crossing state lines.”

“The flow of heroin is not confined to one state, and the fight against this scourge must not be confined to one state,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh. “Sharing information and leveraging resources will produce real results. We are facing a public health crisis that demands our best work and our most creative solutions.”

“Heroin traffickers are spreading addiction and death up and down the Eastern seaboard. We cannot allow these criminals to escape justice by crossing state borders,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “By expanding our task force to include Maine and Maryland, we are increasing our capacity to share information and resources across law enforcement agencies, which will make it easier to break up the multi-state drug rings that are poisoning our communities.”

“This crisis does not discriminate – it affects everyone from high school athletes to successful college students and mothers with young children,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this unprecedented public health epidemic. We must cross state lines and work together to share information so that we bring to justice those responsible for spreading this lethal drug throughout the east coast. We thank AG Schneiderman and AG Kane for their collaboration and welcome Attorneys General Mills and Frosh in our efforts to end heroin distribution in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.”

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.

Pennsylvania and New York are co-chairing the task force because the two primary nodes for heroin trafficking in the Northeast are Philadelphia and New York City. 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. 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.

In Maryland, heroin-related intoxication deaths have increased in each year from 2011 to 2013, and 2014 was on track for another record as of September. Heroin-related fatalities in Maryland increased from 247 in 2011 to 392 in 2012 to 464 in 2013. The death toll from 2014 was at 428 as of September. In addition, Maryland’s emergency department visits for heroin rose from 480 in 2011 to 871 in 2012 to more than 1,200 in 2013. The Maryland State Police Criminal Enforcement Division has made more than 4,000 drug arrests in the past two years. And when police investigate and break heroin rings in communities such as Baltimore and Annapolis, they frequently find connections to New Jersey, New York and other neighboring states.

Maine has seen a surge in heroin trafficking in recent years. The percentage of cases prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Drug Crimes Taskforce that involved heroin surged from 7.71% in 2012 to 20.41% in 2013, and rose again to 31.8% in 2014. In 2013, Maine experienced 176 overdose related deaths, the majority of which were opioid related. Maine is the end of the New England pipeline that originates in the other task force states. Historically, heroin was imported to Maine primarily from Massachusetts, but the state has seen an increase in trafficking rings that import heroin and prescription opioids from New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

The foremost goal of the NEMA-HTF is 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 allows for more targeted investigation and prosecution of these drug rings and pipelines. By expanding into Maine and Maryland, the task force will be able to more effectively understand and target the trafficking linkages to those states, and make a bigger dent in the region-wide problem.

The Task Force facilitates 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.