NEW YORK — Detectives found dozens of small plastic packages in the West Village apartment where actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died Sunday. Most were branded, some with purple letters spelling out Ace of Spades, others bearing the mark of an ace of hearts. At least five were empty and in the trash.
Each of the packages, which sell for as little as $6 on the street, had names and logos reflecting a fevered underground marketing effort in a city that is awash in cheap heroin.
Heroin seizures in New York state are up 67 percent over the last four years, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said. One recent raid, in the Bronx last week, netted 33 pounds of heroin and hundreds of thousands of branded bags, some stamped NFL, a timely nod to the Super Bowl.
Bags bearing different stamps turn up in raids of large-scale heroin mills around the city.
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They are named for popular celebrities or luxury products, or the very thoroughfares along which the drugs travel: Lady Gaga. Gucci. I-95. They reflect an increasingly young and middle-class clientele, who often move from prescription pills to needles: Twilight. MySpace.
Almost as long as there has been heroin in the U.S., New York City has been its hub. Certainly much has changed since the 1970s, when addicts flooded “shooting galleries” and flashy drug traffickers like Nicky Barnes, known as Mr. Untouchable, became household names. The drug is still smuggled into the country from faraway poppy fields, still cut from kilo-size quantities in hothouse operations secreted around the city, still diluted in coffee grinders and still sold to needy consumers.
The DEA said it had seen Ace of Spades branding in a 2009 drug case on Long Island. It has been seen in photographs of heroin packages at least as far back as 2005.
The trade has become more organized, officials said, from the top to the bottom. Delivery services abound for those who can afford a dealer who arrives at the door with a grab-bag of drugs. Highly organized mills have been found in middle-class city areas like Riverdale, in the Bronx, in Fort Lee, N.J. or, in one case, a midtown Manhattan apartment near the Lincoln Tunnel. Such locations draw less scrutiny from potential robbers, and often provide ready access to major highways for deliveries up and down the Eastern corridor.