- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

A heroin epidemic rampant in Baltimore is threatening to spread into the District and suburban and rural Maryland communities, fueled by an influx of a high-grade version of the drug being smuggled into the United States by Colombian traffickers, according to a drug task force.
Thomas H. Carr, director of a Washington/Baltimore drug task force, is expected to tell the House Government Reform Committee today that the Colombian heroin is "readily available" in urban areas of Maryland, including Baltimore, which has 60,000 known addicts. The drug's purity, at nearly 96 percent, has led to an increase in the number of heroin-overdose deaths.
The 263 heroin deaths in 2001 in Baltimore exceeded by four the number of homicides in that city that year. According to committee sources, heroin-related deaths are quickly overtaking homicide totals in several other cities in the Northeast and along the East Coast.
Law-enforcement authorities say that Colombian drug traffickers, proficient in cocaine smuggling for more than a decade, now account for about 65 percent of the heroin smuggled each year into the United States much of it headed to buyers in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.
The 96 percent purity rate of the Colombian drug is more than twice that of Mexican brown heroin and 25 percent greater than the heroin being smuggled from Asia.
The availability of Colombian heroin has increased dramatically in the United States since 1993, when the market was controlled by Asian traffickers. The Colombian heroin is widely distributed throughout the Northeast and along the East Coast, and its cost ranges from $50,000 to $200,000 a kilogram.
The purity of the Colombian heroin allows dealers to "cut" it several times, meaning that adulterants such as aspirin and Dramamine are added to increase the profit.
Mr. Carr is expected to tell the House committee that the availability of the Colombian heroin has led to an increase in the number of fatal heroin overdoses in Maryland, particularly among inexperienced and younger users, ages 20 to 30.
Committee sources said the inexperienced users, particularly in rural and suburban areas of Maryland, have been targeted by Colombian smugglers in a marketing campaign aimed at showing potential buyers that the drug because of its purity can be snorted or smoked, eliminating the need for needles and injections.
The inexperienced users, the sources said, are being told that by snorting or smoking the Colombian heroin they eliminate the possibility of contracting and spreading needle-borne illnesses such as HIV and hepatitis, and that they will not become addicted.
Mr. Carr also is expected to tell the committee that Dominican and Colombian criminal gangs based in New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore, along with independent dealers throughout Maryland and the District, dominate the wholesale distribution of heroin in Maryland.
The committee sources also said:
Dominican gang members have established part-time residency in cities in Maryland where they aim to distribute Colombian heroin. The buyers often travel to Baltimore or the District to purchase the drug, sometimes obtaining "bulk discounts" and then selling part of the load to other distributors and users.
The Colombian heroin is brought into Maryland in private and rented cars, and in buses and trains. The drug also is shipped into the state on commercial aircraft and ships, particularly cargo vessels that call at the port of Baltimore.
Heroin dealers in Baltimore commit violent crimes, including killings, to protect their turf, expand their drug distribution operations and maintain dominance over independent distributors. Heroin users, to support their addiction, frequently are involved in random theft, credit card fraud and burglary.
Home to 12 percent of Maryland's population, Baltimore accounted for 55 percent of the state's drug-overdose deaths last year. About 86 percent of them were directly attributed to heroin. Nine percent of the city's population of 651,154 has been identified as heroin addicts.


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