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South Carolina Drug Threat Assessment
December 2001


South Carolina.

Map of South Carolina.

 Note: This map displays features mentioned in the report.

South Carolina is the twenty-sixth largest state in the nation, with a population of over 4 million. The population is not concentrated in any particular region, but is scattered across the mostly rural state. In 1999, South Carolina had a lower percentage of Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian residents than the national average, but a higher percentage of African American residents. African Americans make up nearly 30 percent of the population in South Carolina.

Fast Facts
South Carolina
Population (2000) 4 million
U.S. population ranking 26th
Median household income (1999) $36,563
Unemployment rate (1999) 4.5%
Land area 30,111 square miles
Shoreline 2,876
Capital Columbia
Other principal cities Charleston, North Charleston, Greenville/Spartanburg, Florence, Myrtle Beach
Number of counties 46
Principal industries Agriculture, textiles, chemicals, paper, and machinery

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South Carolina is a distribution center for both licit and illicit commodities in the Southeast, due mostly to its geographic location and its multi-faceted transportation infrastructure. The seaports of Charleston, Georgetown, and Port Royal are susceptible targets for international drug trafficking. The Port of Charleston is the seventh busiest seaport in the country for container traffic. More than 40 shipping lines conduct trade between Charleston and 140 countries around the world. In 1998, the Port of Charleston handled more than 12 million tons of cargo valued at $29 billion. The Port of Charleston commonly is used for trade between the United States and South America. The Ports of Georgetown and Port Royal, while not as busy as the Port of Charleston, also handle large amounts of cargo. In 1998, more than 1.5 million tons of cargo were transported through the Port of Georgetown. In 1998, Port Royal handled 274,083 tons of cargo, more than double the amount handled the year before.

The Charleston, Columbia, Greenville/Spartanburg, and Myrtle Beach airports connect South Carolina passengers and cargo with nearly every major city in the United States and with many major cities around the world. Direct flights from Columbia, South Carolina, to New York, New York, and Houston, Texas, make these drug distribution centers easily accessible. In addition to commercial and private aircraft using more than 80 airports in the state, small aircraft also use numerous grass runways along the coast.

Commercial trucks, passenger vehicles, shipping lines, package delivery services, air packages or couriers, and railways are the most common means used to transport drugs into and through South Carolina. Charleston is a transshipment point for drugs destined for the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast, as well as for South Carolina. Commercial ships are used to transport multihundred-kilogram quantities of cocaine and marijuana into South Carolina through the seaports. Because the quantities of drugs coming into the Port of Charleston far exceed what can be consumed in the state, it is likely that these shipments are destined for other East Coast cities. Rail lines traverse the state, and many routes travel through Columbia and Charleston. In 1997, the trucking industry transported 201 million tons of manufactured freight into and out of South Carolina. In more than 80 percent of South Carolina's communities, businesses are served exclusively by trucks, which carry 87 percent of all manufactured freight transported in the state.

The combined interstate and state highway system in South Carolina is an efficient network for the movement of vehicles within the state and to other parts of the country. Interstate 95, which traverses the eastern portion of the state, provides easy access to heroin and cocaine distribution centers in New York and Miami from Columbia and Charleston. Atlanta, a transshipment point for marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, is accessed via Interstate 20 from Columbia and Interstate 85 from Greenville/Spartanburg. Interstate 20 extends to Texas and provides access to the Southwest Border area, a transshipment area for cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin. Distribution groups in Charlotte, North Carolina, a city easily accessed from Columbia using Interstate 77, strongly influence availability and abuse of drugs in the northern part of South Carolina.

A variety of criminal groups and gangs are responsible for the transportation and distribution of drugs in South Carolina. Multiethnic street gangs control most street-level drug distribution, which is a main source of their income. Street gangs such as the Mafia Gangster Disciples, Insane Gangster Disciples, and Charlie Town Clique control the wholesale distribution of cocaine and marijuana and the retail distribution of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. While the gang members are predominately African American, exclusive ethnicity is not a trait of most South Carolina gangs. Members of the Mafia Gangster Disciples include African American, Hispanic, and Caucasian individuals. Members of this street gang have family members in the Hells Angels outlaw motorcycle gang (OMG). Hells Angels and other OMGs transport and distribute marijuana and methamphetamine in South Carolina.

During the month of May, Myrtle Beach hosts Bike Week. Thousands of motorcycle riders, including OMG members, congregate in the well-known vacation spot. During Bike Week 2000, authorities identified approximately 650 OMG members from 38 clubs, including members from at least three foreign countries. This gathering is a prime opportunity for OMG members to arrange drug transactions, although major drug distribution is not likely to occur because of increased law enforcement presence.

Source: Myrtle Beach Police Department.  

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South Carolina street gangs generally have very loose ties to national gangs. Law enforcement reports indicate that many Hispanic and Asian gangs first surfaced in South Carolina when military families transferred to the area. Gang members in South Carolina may call themselves "Folks," but are not affiliated with the Chicago-based Folk Nation. South Carolina-based Bloods and Crips are affiliated loosely with the actual Los Angeles-based gangs. The Myrtle Beach Police Department reports that most members of the local Crips are Caucasian males from  middle-class families who do not maintain connections with gangs in other jurisdictions.

Gang activity and its associated violence are concentrated in several areas of South Carolina. As more local gangs form ties to national gangs and outside gangs attempt to gain a foothold in the state, gang-related activity and violence are increasing. The Charleston, Columbia, and Greenville areas have the largest number of gangs in the state, and most are involved in drug distribution. According to the North Charleston Police Department, 25 percent of all crime in its area is gang-related. The U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina reports that increased gang activity is resulting in more home invasions, robberies, and thefts. In Greenville County, gangs from Florida as well as the cities of Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York have moved into the area. According to the Greenville County Sheriff's Office, local turf wars between African American gangs culminate in drive-by shootings, contributing to the violence in the area. Even though it has few metropolitan centers, South Carolina has high rates of violent crime and criminal activity. In 1999, South Carolina ranked second in the nation in violent crime (847 per 100,000 residents) and sixth in the nation in prison incarceration (543 per 100,000 residents).

The nature of the drug problem in South Carolina varies by region. The availability, distribution, and abuse of crack cocaine are the primary drug problems across the state, particularly in the Midlands area, which is in the center of the state and the location of Columbia, the state capital. (See map.) Marijuana is a threat throughout the state. Methamphetamine production and abuse are expanding in the neighboring states of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia as well as in the western part of South Carolina known as the Upstate. This area, also known as Piedmont, is a predominately rural area at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains where the Greenville-Spartanburg metropolitan area is located. Heroin availability, distribution, and abuse are concentrated in Charleston (Low Country), in Greenville (Upstate), and in Columbia (Midlands). Club drugs are an emerging threat in the Upstate and the northeastern Pee Dee area, home to the popular tourist destination of Myrtle Beach. Many young tourists frequenting the beaches in the northeast region during the summer bring drugs, particularly MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), for personal use. Greenville, located in the Upstate approximately halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte on Interstate 85, has been the location of several raves, attracting not only local youth but also young people from these nearby cities.

Arrest and treatment data indicate the availability of drugs in South Carolina is increasing. Drug arrests in South Carolina, one measure of both the availability and abuse of drugs, increased from 1995 to 1999. (See Table 1.) Drug-related violations constituted the highest arrest category for the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) in 1999. The number of drug arrests in 1999 was more than 33 percent higher than the number recorded in 1995. More than 6 percent of those arrested in South Carolina for drug possession or distribution in 1999 were juveniles under the age of 17, compared with just under 8 percent nationwide.

Table 1. Drug-Related Arrests in South Carolina, 1995-1999

Arrest Category 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
Adults 17 and Older 19,744 21,237 23,386 25,190 26,341
Juveniles 16 and Younger 1,655 1,775 1,776 1,771 1,730
Total 21,399 23,012 25,162 26,961 28,071

Source: South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

The increase in drug abuse is confirmed in health care statistics. Statewide, publicly funded treatment center admissions for all drugs increased more than 11 percent, from 10,164 in fiscal year (FY) 1997 to 11,286 in FY2000, according to the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS). During this same time, the population of the state increased only 6 percent.

South Carolina high school students are abusing drugs at an increasing rate. From 1991 to 1998, the number of adolescents entering publicly funded drug treatment facilities increased by 324 percent, from 526 admissions to 2,233 admissions. In 1999, 10.9 percent of youth aged 12 to 17 (an estimated 35,000) in South Carolina reported using any illicit drug during the past month, and 2.9 percent (9,000) of the same age group reported past year dependence on any illicit drug.

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