Heroin on Long Island is as easy to order as pizza, authorities say, with "on demand" drug couriers delivering the opiate straight to customers' doors.
The illegal delivery services are thriving as drug users accustomed to ordering food and new clothes on their smartphones increasingly expect the same level of convenience when it comes to buying narcotics, according to law enforcement investigators, treatment experts and recovering addicts.
"It's a highly evolved network that allows users to buy heroin without leaving the comfort of their homes," Steven Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said of Long Island's heroin-delivery services.PhotosHeroin on the rise on LI
"You're dealing with a generation that's conditioned to instant gratification, and the dealers are taking advantage of that," he said. "They have dispatchers throughout Long Island."
Law enforcement officials said the same technological advances that allow drug dealers, dispatchers, drivers and customers to communicate in real time are being used by authorities to probe those illicit operations.
"In the age of smartphones, nearly anything -- including drugs -- is available for home delivery, but dealers should be warned that law enforcement is online, too, and the next home delivery may include a long detour to prison," acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said.
Nassau Police Deputy Insp. Gary Shapiro said the department and its narcotics and vice squad "are no strangers as to the innovative ways that illicit drug sellers and users connect."
Dealing out of the shadows
"Internet marketplaces, merchandise delivery services and door-to-door services are means to sell product," he added. "Technology has made it easier for people to communicate and connect without going into the shadows."
Suffolk officials said home-delivery heroin sales also are occurring in their county.
"We've made a number of arrests of dealers who are going to addicts' homes to sell to them," said William Madigan, chief of detectives for the Suffolk County Police Department. "The issue that arises then is that the buyers use the drugs at their house. Then we see overdoses there."
Treatment experts and former addicts in both counties said heroin home deliveries are happening just as frequently as street deals.
"For every drug deal that's happening in a parking lot or on a side street, there's a door-knock delivery happening somewhere else," said Richard Leiter, 36, of Rockville Centre, a recovering heroin addict.
Leiter said most of the heroin he used was delivered to his home by drug "delivery men."
'A one-minute call away'
"At this moment, wherever you live on the Island, heroin's a one-minute call away," he said.
The precise number of people arrested for suspected involvement in door-to-door heroin delivery services in the region is unknown, because law enforcement agencies do not specifically track that data.
However, a Newsday review of hundreds of court records for drug cases in Nassau and Suffolk counties and in New York City show more than 70 people have been arrested for alleged involvement in such operations since January 2014.
Among them were Juan Smith, 25, of Valley Stream, and Elvis Castro, 28, of Amityville, who were arrested in July 2014 on charges of conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine.
Suffolk County prosecutors identified the men as two of the primary suppliers of the heroin ring, which allegedly provided door-to-door delivery service to some customers. Officials also charged 19 other people for their alleged involvement in the operation.
The ring sold 5 kilos, roughly 11 pounds, of heroin -- each worth between $50,000 and $60,000 wholesale -- every two weeks in Suffolk, officials said.
Smith and Castro, who pleaded not guilty, remain jailed on $5 million bail each while awaiting trial. Their attorneys could not be reached for comment.
"They knew the dangers of the poison they were selling," Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said after the accused dealers' arrests.
Drug-dealing organizations providing home delivery of heroin have been broken up in Nassau County as well, officials said.
Authorities there announced the arrests of nine people in December 2014 for their alleged involvement in a multimillion-dollar drug ring that brought heroin from Mexico to Long Island and the five boroughs, including some that got delivered in person to users' homes. The suspects in that case still are awaiting trial.
Customers get phone numbers for heroin delivery services from dealers and fellow addicts, and on social media, officials said.
Typically, their calls are routed to someone who works as a dispatcher for the service, officials said. That person takes the customers' order and dispatches a delivery driver to their address.
Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, an addiction expert and president and CEO of the Mineola-based Family and Children's Association, which provides addiction treatment, said most heroin deals on Long Island are "prearranged via text, instant messages or cell calls, sometimes on burner phones" that are disposable prepaid cellphones that are difficult for law enforcement to trace.
"The more comfortable a user gets -- or rather the more desperate they become -- the more likely they are to have product driven right up to their doorstep," Reynolds added."Because their daily volume has steadily increased over time, the dealer is willing to go further to satisfy the whims of a customer."
The delivery services owe some of their success to geography, Reynolds said.
"Keep in mind, if you are heavily addicted to heroin, every cent is diverted to that, so owning and maintaining a car gets difficult and getting around on Long Island without one is virtually impossible," Reynolds said. "Nobody wants to sit on the NICE bus in full-blown withdrawal."