An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story.

Cheap heroin has flooded Long Island's drug markets, leading to a spike in arrests involving the drug as opioid addicts and dealers increasingly turn to it in place of expensive pain pills, authorities say.

Heroin-related arrests in Nassau and Suffolk have risen to a total of 798 through June 1 compared with 736 during the same period last year -- fueled by an almost 38 percent increase in such arrests in areas patrolled by Nassau County police, records show. Such arrests rose from 186 to 256 in the department's jurisdiction.

Suffolk County police made 542 arrests through June 1 -- about the same number made during that period in 2012, when more heroin began to reach Long Island, authorities said.

The "professionalization" of heroin mills -- which are being run with the discipline and stringent managerial oversight of regular businesses -- has helped dealers meet increased demand and sell the drug at discounted rates in some neighborhoods, authorities say.

"It's kind of frightening," Capt. Kevin Smith, head of the Nassau County Police vice and narcotics unit, said of the rise in heroin use and arrests. "A lot of young people are getting it here. It's a despicable thing being done by dealers."

Shift to cheaper high

advertisement | advertise on newsday

In Nassau County, almost 60 percent of those arrested on charges involving heroin this year are between 21 and 30 years old, Smith said. Police are seeing increased heroin sales in communities such as Massapequa, Baldwin and East Meadow.

In Suffolk County, the demographics of heroin users are similar, police say, but the problem is spread across the entire county rather than concentrated in a few communities.

"It's the drug of choice these days," said Suffolk Police Deputy Chief of Detectives Mark Griffiths.

Authorities say they began to see a significant turn away from pain pills and toward heroin in 2012, partly because of stepped-up enforcement and restrictions after the Medford pharmacy murders of four people in June 2011.

Another incident that led to limiting access of pain pills was the accidental fatal shooting of federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent John Capano on Dec. 31, 2011. Capano was struggling with a suspect who had robbed a Seaford pharmacy of painkillers. He was mistakenly shot by a retired Nassau County police officer.

Opioid pain pills such as oxycodone and hydrocodone are part of the same chemical family as heroin, and produce a similar high, but at much lower prices.

As pain pills became harder to find last year, their prices rose to an average of $1 per milligram. That means a single 80 milligram pill now sells for about $80, authorities say.

By contrast, the price of a small bag of Colombian heroin has been driven down to as little as $4 in some Long Island communities because of a glut of it on the market, authorities say. A bag containing one gram generally sells for as little as $10 on the Island but can sometimes be found at lower prices, authorities say, depending on the individual seller or market.

Beginning last year, local police say they encountered more dealers and users on Long Island. The number of heroin-related arrests by Nassau County police surged to 427 last year from 228 in 2011, county records show. In Suffolk the number of heroin-related arrests rose to 1,266 last year from 1,051 in 2011.

More deaths confirmed

advertisement | advertise on newsday

As arrests and heroin supplies have increased, so has the number of overdoses. The number of people confirmed to have died from heroin-related overdoses across Long Island rose to 110 last year from 96 in 2011.

New York is one of the country's main hubs for heroin distribution -- accounting for 17 percent of all heroin seized nationwide -- in part because of the demand from customers on Long Island, authorities say.

And the heroin mills federal agents shut down now are usually sophisticated, well-disciplined operations -- a far cry from the run-down drug factories that once attracted lines of waiting junkies, turf wars and gunplay.

One of those operations, run by a group known as the Perez Organization, was decimated in March 2012 when federal authorities and local police arrested 20 of its alleged members.

The organization's leadership was centralized in Woodhaven, Queens, with distribution networks in Nassau and Suffolk counties and a storage facility in Brooklyn. Its members were allegedly responsible for distributing more than 20 kilograms of heroin, with a street value of at least $2.75 million, to drug dealers in Long Island and Queens in the nine months preceding their arrests.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The investigation was initiated partly in response to the increased heroin use on Long Island, police said.

"There's more sophistication in these operations now," said Erin Mulvey, spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in New York. "Things have changed."

Heroin stigma fading

The heroin flowing into Long Island -- most of which is smuggled from South America and packaged in New York City -- is also purer than in years past, authorities say. It's being used more by middle- and upper-class professionals, who have mostly abandoned syringe use in favor of snorting.

"For this generation of users, heroin has lost its stigma," Griffiths said. "The image of a user cooking heroin and shooting it is fading. Now it's white powder they're snorting."

For parents of drug addicts, the trend toward more heroin use on Long Island has been disturbing.

"My daughter became addicted to pills and then moved to heroin because it's so cheap now . . . anyone can afford it if they borrow a few dollars from someone," said Gia Carmonica, 43, of Levittown, whose 22-year-old daughter narrowly survived a heroin overdose in February. "These kids are snorting it like it's candy. It's everywhere."

Drug treatment experts say the problem seems to be worsening, as access to pain pills continues to lessen and heroin becomes a more attractive product to dealers.

"The heroin problem seems to be getting worse," said Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. "That demand from pill users has to go somewhere, and right now it's to the heroin dealers."

Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016.

The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book.

We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.

In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote.

Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures.

The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources. In this story, Newsday could not locate: Gia Carmonica. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.

Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:

Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records, social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and Ancestry.com and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review.

Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names.

On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.

Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes.

Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local.

Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.”

“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.”

During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes.

Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.

Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday.

Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission. If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories.