How NJ’s Route 23 Became “Heroin Highway”— and Newark the Site of the State’s Biggest Drug Bust in Years

New Jersey - Drug Bust

New Jersey’s excellent interstate highway system easily connects Philadelphia and New York, with a heavy volume of traffic flowing both ways daily. But its prime location between these two large metropolitan areas also makes it vulnerable to the flow of another kind of traffic: the drug trade. The drug journey typically starts in Mexico or Columbia. Heroin and cocaine are sent to the U.S. then via trucks those drugs travel along the U.S. highways, fanning out across the country. One stop is Northern New Jersey, particularly Paterson and Newark. New Jersey can claim international airports and seaports as well, all of which add more entry points for drugs being shipped into the state.

Heroin in particular is a major problem in Newark and Northern New Jersey, because, as reported by the New Jersey Patch, “the best, purest heroin is found there.” People from all over the tri-state area are traveling to these cities to score their next fix. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin-related deaths increased in New Jersey from 97 in 2010 to 850 in 2016.

Northern New Jersey’s Heroin Highway

Northern Jersey’s Route 23 became known as “heroin highway,” because those seeking the drug take Route 23 into Paterson, where the purest heroin reportedly can be found. There were 1,167 reported cases of heroin abuse in Paterson for 2017, based on treatment admissions for heroin abuse, according to the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Based on heroin admissions only, the next highest number for Passaic County is Clifton City at 207. Paterson can, unfortunately, claim the top spot.

Route 23 has become known as “heroin highway” for multiple reasons:

  • Distributors use it to push their product into Pennsylvania.
  • Suburban and rural demand finds urban supply in Paterson and Bergen County.
  • Heroin seekers travel Route 23 into Paterson, shoplifting along the way, and often shooting up on the return trip in parking lots of major retailers along the route.

As reported in, in 2016, Paterson’s police department started tracking the residences of people apprehended for narcotics. The final results showed that 289 of the 1,044 people arrested by the narcotics division were from out of town. This cemented what local police already knew: the heroin highway had been aptly named.

Newark’s Drug Problem

Adding to Northern Jersey’s drug problem is the city of Newark. From statistics reported by the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Newark consistently ranks number one for heroin abuse admissions in Essex County, with 1,840 in 2017. Across the top five municipalities in Essex County, Newark overwhelmingly ranked number one with a total of 4,099 overall drug admissions as compared to the second-ranked municipality of East Orange with 697. Drugs are not just being bought and used by the more stereotypical “addict.” Middle class and well-to-do drug seekers are traveling into Newark to buy drugs, contributing to the demand.

The Biggest Drug Bust in 25 Years

Accordingly, in 2019, Newark was the site of one of the biggest drug busts in the state in 25 years. When inspecting a shipping container at the Port of New York/Newark, 1.6 tons of drugs were confiscated. There were 3,200 pounds of cocaine, estimated at $77 million. The seizure was a joint effort between multiple state and federal agencies. Reported by, the U.S. Coast Guard, CBP, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations, the New York Police Department and the New York State Police partnered in the successful raid.

Confiscating the drugs is a huge victory, keeping literally tons of drugs from entering New Jersey’s drug-infested cities, including the likes of Paterson and Newark. Cutting the drug distribution channels off at the root will keep the drugs from branching out into the country as well. Seizing a large shipment of cocaine before it is distributed also keeps it from being cut with fentanyl. Fentanyl is many times more powerful than morphine and users often don’t know that the cocaine or heroin they bought is laced with it, contributing to fatal overdoses overall.

Get the Addiction Help You Need

The pull of drugs and particularly heroin is very strong, and before you know it you’re addicted. You don’t have to fight it alone. Reach out and get the help you need at FHE Health. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you. Our compassionate, non-judgemental counselors are standing by 24/7 to help you at (844) 327-2812. We look forward to guiding you on your path to recovery.

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