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Pennsylvania Drug Threat Assessment
Cocaine is the primary drug threat in Pennsylvania based on its high level of abuse, ready availability, widespread distribution, and association with violence. Drug treatment data indicate that cocaine abuse in the state is gradually declining, but abuse of cocaine remains higher than any other illegal drug. Both powdered cocaine and crack cocaine are readily available throughout the state, mostly from Colombian and Dominican wholesale organizations operating in Philadelphia and New York City. Pittsburgh is a distribution center for various locations in western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, and northwestern West Virginia. Retail locations are found throughout Pennsylvania with local independent African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, and other ethnic criminal groups and street gangs involved in distribution.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health reports that cocaine is the primary drug of abuse in Pennsylvania. NHSDA data for 1999 indicate that, in Pennsylvania, 9.8 percent of individuals aged 12 or older reported lifetime use of cocaine, and 2 percent reported lifetime use of crack. Past-year use of cocaine was reported by 1.3 percent of individuals surveyed, and 0.6 percent reported past-month use. The percentages for crack cocaine use were less significant: past-year use of crack was reported by 0.4 percent of individuals surveyed, and 0.3 percent reported past-month use. According to the DEA, cocaine is the drug of choice in urban and suburban minority population centers.
Cocaine abuse is also high in Philadelphia, the largest metropolitan area in the state. The National Institute on Drug Abuse-sponsored Community Epidemiology Work Group reported in June 2000 that cocaine and crack remain the major drugs of abuse in Philadelphia. Cocaine was mentioned in 52 percent of DAWN Medical Examiner (ME) drug abuse deaths in Philadelphia in 1999. In state FY2000, the total number of drug treatment clients residing in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties citing cocaine or crack as their primary drug of abuse was 4,156, accounting for 34.5 percent of total cocaine admissions statewide. More than half (2,319) of those clients resided in Philadelphia County. Smoking cocaine is the most popular means of administration in Philadelphia, followed by intranasal use and, to a much lesser extent, injection.
Drug treatment admissions data indicate that cocaine abuse has declined in Pennsylvania, although abuse levels remain high. State treatment admissions for cocaine abuse accounted for approximately 44 percent of all treatment admissions in 1996, 42 percent in 1997, 40 percent in 1998, 38 percent in 1999, and 35 percent in 2000, excluding alcohol. Admissions for cocaine in 2000 were still higher than for heroin (31%) and marijuana (25%). According to TEDS data, admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities for cocaine abuse in Pennsylvania decreased from a high of 15,093 in 1994 to 9,834 in 1998.
Cocaine data for Philadelphia do not clearly indicate the same downward trend. Cocaine-related DAWN Emergency Department (ED) mentions in the city fell from an all-time high of 13,049 in 1998 to 12,434 in 1999, a drop of 4.7 percent, after increasing the previous 2 years (from 11,202 in 1997 and 10,384 in 1996). However, the proportion of cocaine-positive mortality cases to total drug-positive mortality cases remained stable in 1999, according to the Philadelphia Medical Examiner Office. Also, the number of cocaine mentions in DAWN ME drug abuse deaths for Philadelphia was up slightly, rising from 401 in 1998 to 427 in 1999. These numbers were both lower than the peak number of 474 in 1997, but still were higher than the 338 mentions in 1996.
Law enforcement officials report substantial levels of cocaine abuse in other parts of the state. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police reports that crack cocaine is the drug of choice for both teens and adults in Pittsburgh, the state's second largest city. However, in state FY2000, the total number of clients admitted for treatment for cocaine or crack as the primary drug of abuse residing in Allegheny County (including Pittsburgh) was 957, accounting for only 8 percent of total cocaine admissions statewide. Respondents to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey indicate that cocaine, particularly crack cocaine, remains the principal drug of abuse in Erie (in northwestern Pennsylvania), Harrisburg (south-central), and Johnstown (southwestern), as well as in Philadelphia. The Bureau of Narcotics of the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General in Erie reports that crack cocaine poses the greatest drug threat in the area. Many of those who have become addicted to cocaine have lost their jobs and rely on public assistance. This drop in the number of wage earners, as well as an overall decline in industry, has contributed to the depression of the local economy and a drop in property values, causing many families to move away.
In state drug treatment programs in 2000, males accounted for 58 percent of all cocaine treatment admissions and females accounted for 42 percent. Of the males being treated for cocaine abuse, 48 percent were black, 43 percent were white, and 7 percent were Hispanic. Of the females being treated for cocaine abuse, 48 percent were black, 45 percent were white, and 4 percent were Hispanic.
ADAM Program data for 1999 indicate that 59.8 percent of female arrestees who were tested for drug use in Philadelphia tested positive for cocaine, more than for any other drug. Of female black arrestees tested for drugs, 65.7 percent tested positive for cocaine, as did 62.5 percent of female Hispanic arrestees, and 44.9 percent of female white arrestees. By comparison, 47.3 percent of male Hispanic arrestees and 40.9 percent of male white arrestees who were tested for drugs tested positive for cocaine, more than for any other drug.
In 2000, 11 percent of cocaine treatment admissions were under the age of 25, with 21 being the average age of first cocaine use. According to the 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Study, 4.3 percent of Philadelphia high school students reported using cocaine during their lifetimes, and 2.1 percent reported using cocaine on one of the 30 days preceding the survey, lower than the national averages (9.5% and 4% respectively).
Powdered and crack cocaine are readily available throughout Pennsylvania. According to DEA, the availability of cocaine is high in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania, and local law enforcement indicates crack is easily obtained in Altoona, Erie, Johnstown, and New Castle. Crack cocaine is also readily available in the south-central cities of Carlisle, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, and York, especially within inner-city neighborhoods.
Despite substantial cocaine seizures, Pennsylvania's cocaine prices have remained low and purity high over the last 5 years, indicating abundant availability. In 1999, federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities in Pennsylvania seized 2,745 kilograms of cocaine according to Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS) data. The Pennsylvania State Police alone seized 1,812 kilograms of cocaine, the distribution of which would have yielded an estimated street value of $45.3 million. A kilogram of cocaine with a purity of 80 to 95 percent costs $24,000 to $35,000 in Philadelphia. (See Table 1.) In nearby King of Prussia, an ounce of cocaine retails for $900 to $1,000 with a purityof 75 percent. The price for a bag of cocaine in the city of Reading (eastern Pennsylvania) has fallen 50 percent in the past year from $20 to $10. Crack rocks can be purchased in Reading and Pittsburgh for as low as $10 and in Altoona for $50. In Pittsburgh, a rock of crack is 80 percent pure on average. (See Tables 1 and 2.)
The distribution and use of cocaine, especially crack cocaine, are associated with much violent crime in the commonwealth. Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies indicate that violent crime associated with the abuse and distribution of cocaine has had a devastating effect on the citizens of Pennsylvania. The number of drug-related shootings in southwestern and western Philadelphia increased drastically in 2000, according to the Philadelphia Police Department. For example, what police are calling the worst mass murder in Philadelphia's history occurred on December 28, 2000, at a western Philadelphia crack house where rival drug dealers, at odds over drug prices, committed the execution-style murders of six men and a woman. Also in January 2001, a Pittsburgh man was shot and killed over a crack cocaine debt, according to Pittsburgh homicide detectives.
Crack cocaine abuse and distribution often are associated with street violence and other crimes committed by drug abusers in need of money to buy drugs, including thefts, robberies, burglaries, shoplifting, and prostitution. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police reports that an increase in drug-related burglaries and robberies is a major concern for law enforcement. The Coatesville Police Department reports that crack cocaine is the major cause of violence. Cocaine abuse and distribution also have contributed to changing demographics in some cities. Many middle-class families have fled Philadelphia in recent years, citing crime and drugs as primary causes. In Chester in southeastern Pennsylvania, homes that 7 years ago sold for $36,000 now sell for $4,000, in large part because of the rise in the cocaine trade in that area. In Harrisburg and Johnstown, crack cocaine abuse has led to declining conditions in some neighborhoods.
No coca cultivation or cocaine production has been reported in Pennsylvania, but many retailers convert powdered cocaine into crack in the state. Under current federal laws, a person convicted of distributing 5 grams of crack cocaine faces a mandatory 5-year prison sentence, equivalent to distributing 500 grams of powdered cocaine. Because crack cocaine penalties are greater than those for powdered cocaine, retailers often convert powdered cocaine to crack in the distribution areas. In 2000, law enforcement arrested two individuals in Philadelphia who were members of a group that converted powdered cocaine into crack for distribution in Germantown and western sections of Philadelphia. Authorities seized more than 700 glass vials of crack cocaine.
Most cocaine in Pennsylvania is transported into the state by Colombian and Dominican DTOs. Colombian DTOs smuggle wholesale amounts of cocaine into Philadelphia from foreign sources and sell it to Dominican and other wholesale and midlevel distributors. Dominican DTOs smuggle lesser amounts of cocaine to Philadelphia. Both Colombian and Dominican DTOs also coordinate transportation into the state, primarily from New York City and Miami, and also from other domestic locations in California, New Jersey, Texas, and Puerto Rico. Cocaine is also transported into the state by local and statewide independent transporters, some members of street gangs, and to a lesser extent, Mexican and Jamaican criminal groups and OMGs. These groups obtain cocaine from the same states as Colombian and Dominican DTOs and, to a lesser extent, from Michigan and Ohio.
Most cocaine is transported into Pennsylvania in private or rented vehicles along major highways, via public transportation (buses, trains, and commercial air carriers), and by way of express mail. In March 2001, 440 pounds of cocaine destined for Philadelphia being transported from the Southwest Border was seized in Kansas. The cocaine was hidden in a utility trailer wrapped in plastic wrap and covered in grease. Authorities believe that the transporters had used similar methods at least 20 times over the past several years to transport cocaine to Philadelphia and other major cities along the East Coast.
Cocaine is smuggled into Pennsylvania by air conveyances as well. For example, during the first quarter 2001, four individuals were arrested at the Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba attempting to smuggle approximately 5 kilograms of cocaine, taped to their bodies, from Aruba to New Castle, Pennsylvania, via the Pittsburgh International Airport. Law enforcement reports that similar trips from Aruba to New Castle had previously been made. Also, in March 2001, cocaine paste was smuggled from Jamaica to Pittsburgh via the Pittsburgh International Airport. The paste, worth at least $60,000, was concealed in a laptop computer in an inch-thick bag.
Philadelphia and New York City are the primary distribution centers for wholesale quantities of cocaine in Pennsylvania. In eastern Pennsylvania, Philadelphia-based Colombian DTOs operate at the highest level and are the primary wholesale cocaine distributors. Dominican DTOs operate at the wholesale and midlevel, and sometimes act as midlevel street sales managers, controlling street corners, stash houses, and employing and supplying the street-level workers who sell directly to the customers. Mexican and Israeli criminal groups operating in eastern and western Pennsylvania, respectively, also supply wholesale quantities of cocaine. Loosely formed retail distribution groups and some members of street gangs dominate the retail drug trade in the state's urban areas.Local independent African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, and other ethnic criminal groups, who obtain much of their drug supply from urban areas, dominate the retail market in most midsize cities and smaller towns.
Wholesale and Midlevel
Philadelphia and New York City are the primary distribution centers for cocaine distributed at the wholesale level in Pennsylvania. In eastern Pennsylvania, Philadelphia-based Colombian DTOs operate at the highest level and are the primary wholesale cocaine distributors. Dominican DTOs operate at the wholesale and midlevel, and sometimes act as midlevel street sales managers, controlling street corners, stash houses, and employing and supplying the street-level workers who sell directly to the customers. Mexican criminal groups reportedly are attempting to increase their share of the wholesale cocaine market in eastern Pennsylvania and elsewhere on the East Coast, according to the Philadelphia/Camden High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).
Colombian and Dominican DTOs based in Philadelphia and New York City are the primary suppliers of wholesale cocaine to midlevel distributors in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania. On July 24, 2000, federal and state law enforcement agents dismantled a cocaine distribution ring operating out of an auto repair garage in Rankin, a southeastern suburb of Pittsburgh. Two Dominican nationals from New York City supplied the cocaine. New York-based Israeli DTOs also supply wholesale quantities of cocaine to Israeli criminal groups in Pittsburgh, according to DEA Pittsburgh. The Altoona Police Department reports that cocaine is transported from Philadelphia, and the Erie Bureau of Police reports that New York City-based Dominican DTOs supply most cocaine for the local distributors in Erie.
Dominican criminal groups, loosely formed retail distribution groups, and some members of street gangs dominate the retail drug trade in most urban areas of Pennsylvania, while local independent dealers who obtain much of their drug supply from urban areas arethe prevalent retailers in most midsize cities and smaller towns. Some street gang members are also involved in retail distribution. The Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Drug Law Enforcement, reports that 12 national-level street gangs are active in Pennsylvania, spread throughout the state. Additionally, at least 600 local gangs are active with memberships ranging from 3 to more than 50 people.
In Philadelphia, cocaine sales take place in vast open-air drug markets dominated by street- level workers, often composed of friends and relatives who may live in the area. They are typically paid a small commission. Street gang members sometimes act as street-level workers.
The Philadelphia Police Department estimates that approximately 18
gangs with 1,325 members are active in the Philadelphia area. The gangs
are organized along various ethnic lines. Several have a dress code and
wear tattoos. The Latin Kings, Bloods, and Ņeta (see text
box) are the most significant street gangs involved in drug
distribution in Philadelphia, and other active gangs include the Dog
Pound, Five Percenters, South Side Crips, and Tiny Rascal Gang. These
gangs routinely use high-tech equipment, including cellular telephones,
pagers, walkie-talkies, digital cameras, and computers, and they often
wear body armor and carry automatic weapons. Philadelphia-based Dominican
criminal groups, loosely formed retail distribution groups, and some
members of street gangs are the predominant cocaine retailers in eastern
and central Pennsylvania as well, including the cities of Allentown,
Harrisburg, Reading, Scranton, and Williamsport and in Lancaster County.
In Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania, local independent African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, and other ethnic criminal groups and local unaffiliated street gangs distribute cocaine in gram, ounce, and multiounce quantities. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police estimates that 92 gangs with approximately 1,500 members operate in Pittsburgh, including the Aiken Avenue Bloods, Brushton Hilltop Crips, Dark Side, DownBottom Gangstas, Fulton Block Boyz, Greenfield Crips, Original Gangsters, Tre Eight, and Wiggers. Pittsburgh street gangs also sell cocaine to local independent dealers who provide it directly to users in Johnstown. In Erie, local independent drug distributors and street gangs, with links to Dominican DTOs in New York City and African American street gangs in Detroit, sell cocaine directly to users. The Erie Bureau of Police estimates that 27 gangs with approximately 400 members are active in the city. The gangs include the 7th Street Ward, Dog Pound, Folk Nation, and Latin Pride Crips.
Cocaine distributors from New York City and Philadelphia are moving to midsize cities and smaller towns in Pennsylvania to expand their market area and reap greater profits. The York Police Department reports that an influx of out-of-town drug dealers engaging in crack cocaine distribution pose a significant threat to the city. According to DEA, a Jamaican criminal group has relocated from New York City to Carlisle to distribute crack cocaine and is now earning $5,000 per week. This distribution group reportedly became acquainted with local cocaine addicts and then intimidated them into stashing and selling crack from their own residences.
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