Fentanyl-laced heroin crisis plagues the Bronx

The plague of heroin is spreading like wildfire across the country, hitting even the most affluent areas with deadly aim. But heroin addiction has been ruining lives in low-income urban communities for decades. Now they're facing an even greater challenge.

Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said drugs have been a problem in communities of color for a very long time. Clark told me the criminal drug activity as well as laws have changed.

When Clark started at the D.A.'s office in 1986, the crack epidemic in the Bronx was in its prime. She said that back then you couldn't walk the streets without seeing 10 to 20 dealers hawking their product and people lining up to buy.

I hit the streets of The Hub, a neighborhood with the most 911 drug overdose calls in the city. Former NYPD undercover narcotics officer Darrin Porcher knows it well.

"This is a very unique area. When I worked here as a cop in the '90s, I bought drugs in this neighborhood," Porcher said. "It was always at the apex of heroin."

A dime bag or deck of heroin is one of those little glassine envelopes, often stamped with a brand name. It sells for $10. Many heroin users get their start on prescription pain killers.

"Right across the street, what you have are people that are selling prescription drugs in an open-air market," Porcher said.

It doesn't take us long to find a heroin wrapper and a used syringe right around the corner from an elementary school.

"What's troublesome about this is if we look around, we have students that are getting out of school," Porcher said.

Heroin—now often laced with ultra-powerful and dangerous fentanyl—is much cheaper than pills. The price is so low that a drug crew set up shop right next to a recycling center to service substance abusers collecting bottles and cans to support their habit.

Former user Jeffrey Foster is now an outreach worker for Vocal-NY trying to save lives in the fentanyl era.

"Now it's mixed with fentanyl—fentanyl is killing everybody," he said. "You could sniff and O.D. now."

That is what happened at the drug spot near the recycling center. A man took two sniffs and then overdosed. The alleged drug dealer did call 911 and moved him around the corner. He was given Narcan and survived.

Foster is now a man on a mission trying to warn the community.

"People think it's a way of living. In the urban ghettoes it's become a way of life," he said. "It was never a choice, it's a way of living. So we have to make it a choice and educate people."

The district attorney is spearheading a task force that brings together law enforcement with the Health Department and other substance abuse experts to provide court-mandated treatment programs for low-level offenders who commit crimes to support their addiction. Clark said the expanded attention to this issue is giving her more tools to make a real difference in underserved communities.