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National Drug Intelligence Center
District of Columbia Drug Threat Assessment
Heroin, primarily South American, represents a growing threat to D.C. because the number of abusers is high and continues to increase. Long-term heroin abusers who inject the drug continue to purchase low-purity heroin. However, high-purity heroin is purchased, particularly in Northwest D.C., by a predominantly younger and more suburban abuser population from Virginia and Maryland that snorts the drug. Heroin is often abused in combination with other drugs. Colombian drug trafficking organizations are the dominant wholesale suppliers of South American heroin to D.C.-based criminal groups, typically Colombian and Dominican. Nigerian and other West African criminal groups typically supply wholesale quantities of Southeast Asian heroin to other Nigerian and West African criminal groups based in the District. Pakistani, Nigerian, and other criminal groups usually supply Southwest Asian heroin to other Pakistani and Nigerian criminal groups in D.C. Mexican heroin is only sporadically available. Mexican criminal groups are the primary black tar and brown powdered heroin distributors at the wholesale and retail levels. African American and Hispanic crews are the dominant retail heroin distributors of South American, Southeast Asian, and Southwest Asian heroin.
Heroin abuse represents a growing threat to D.C. The District has approximately 14,000 to 17,000 heroin abusers, according to the Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). Although the number of heroin abusers who use the traditional method of injection has decreased, the number of those who snort the drug has increased. New abusers include a younger population averse to using needles. Many heroin abusers, particularly suburban youths, abuse MDMA and other substances in combination with heroin.
Treatment data indicate that heroin abuse has increased dramatically in the District. The number of drug treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities for heroin abuse in D.C. increased from 257 in 1996 to 1,744 in 1999, more than 575 percent, but remained lower than the number of admissions for cocaine abuse, according to TEDS data. (See Table 1 in Cocaine section.) The number of ED mentions in D.C. has increased from 1,307 in 1995 to 1,967 in 2000. D.C. ranked eleventh in the number of ED mentions out of the 21 metropolitan areas reporting to DAWN in 2000.
Heroin was frequently cited in drug-related deaths in the District. An increasing number of drug-related deaths in D.C. were related to heroin from 1996 through 1998, but that number declined somewhat in 1999. D.C. had 93 deaths in which heroin was mentioned in 1996, 107 in 1997, 117 in 1998, and 103 in 1999, according to DAWN ME data. Heroin was mentioned in approximately 43 percent of drug-related deaths in D.C. in 1999, second only to the percentage of cocaine-related deaths (44%), according to DAWN ME data.
The number of arrestees who tested positive for heroin abuse in D.C. in 1999 indicates that heroin is abused less frequently than cocaine or marijuana. Approximately 16 percent of adult male arrestees tested for drug abuse in 1999 tested positive for heroin abuse, according to ADAM data. Male arrestees over the age of 36 were more likely to test positive for heroin abuse than males in any other age group. Approximately 22 percent of Caucasian arrestees and 15 percent of African American arrestees who were tested for drug abuse had tested positive for heroin abuse that year.
South American heroin is by far the type most readily available in the District. Approximately 80 to 90 percent of all heroin in D.C. originates in Colombia, according to the NDIC 1999 Heroin Conference Report. Federal and metropolitan law enforcement officials seize South American heroin much more frequently than any other type of heroin. In D.C. 80 percent (20 of 25 samples) of all retail-level heroin samples in which a signature could be determined through DEA's Domestic Monitor Program (DMP) in 1999 were of South American origin. The average purity of these retail-level samples was 24.5 percent.
Southeast Asian heroin is available in D.C. but to a much lesser extent than South American heroin. During 1999 approximately 16 percent (4 of 25) of the heroin samples purchased through the DMP in which a signature could be determined were identified as Southeast Asian. Those purchased samples averaged 20.1 percent pure.
Southwest Asian heroin is also available and seized in D.C. but to a much lesser extent than South American or Southeast Asian heroin. Only 4 percent (1 of 25) of the heroin samples purchased through the DMP in D.C. in which a signature could be determined were Southwest Asian. The purity of this sample was approximately 13 percent.
Mexican heroin is only sporadically available in D.C. and is rarely mentioned in law enforcement reporting. None of the heroin purchased under the DMP in D.C. in which a signature could be determined was identified as Mexican; however, the DEA Washington Division reports that Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin are seized sporadically, usually from an individual or parcel. According to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2001, the U.S. Park Police has reportedly seized Mexican brown powdered heroin twice since 1999.
Long-term heroin abusers who inject the drug continue to purchase low-purity heroin. However, high-purity heroin is purchased, particularly on 14th Street Northwest, by predominantly younger suburban abusers who snort the drug. Average purity levels were 20.3 percent in 1996, 21.1 percent in 1997, 24.3 percent in 1998, and 23 percent in 1999. Estimates of heroin purity based on retail samples purchased through the DMP in D.C. in 1999 were stable at low levels, ranging from 11 to 29 percent. DEA's System to Retrieve Information from Drug Evidence (STRIDE) indicates that purity levels, primarily at the midlevel and wholesale level, ranged from 46.6 to 51.9 percent between FY1999 and June of FY2001. In general, heroin is cut with diluents such as mannitol or adulterants like quinine, also known in D.C. as "beat," before being distributed. Purity levels in New York, Newark, and Philadelphia are higher, ranging between 60 and 70 percent.
Heroin prices in D.C. are high but stable, indicating a strong market. At the midlevel, heroin is usually sold in ounce or multihundred-gram quantities; kilogram quantities are rarely sold, according to the DEA Washington Division and MAGLOCLEN. MAGLOCLEN reports that when heroin is available in kilogram quantities, the price averages $134,000 a kilogram. In 2000 a bag of heroin (approximately one dosage unit) sold for about $10, a gram sold for $125 to $150, and an ounce sold for $3,000.
Seizure statistics and investigative information indicate that heroin is readily available in D.C. According to FDSS data, the quantities of heroin seized in D.C. fluctuated from FY1995 through FY2000. Additionally, in response to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2001, the U.S. Park Police reported having seized approximately 258 grams of heroin in D.C. in 1999 and approximately 398 grams in 2000. From October 1998 through June 2001, 22 of the 37 OCDETF investigations in D.C. were heroin-related, second only to the number of cocaine-related investigations. Operation JETWAY and Operation Pipeline data documented three heroin seizures in D.C. in 2000.
Heroin abusers who commit crimes in D.C. generally commit nonviolent property crimes to support their habits. However, heroin distributors at all levels engage in violence and other criminal activities to further drug distribution operations. Drug distributors use violence to protect their drugs or to maintain control over distribution in a given area. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, at least 17 crews distributing heroin engage in violent crimes including assaults, drive-by shootings, homicides, and black-market weapons distributions. The Washington/Baltimore HIDTA reports that Dominican criminal groups in the District are now attempting to expand into retail distribution of heroin on the streets, resulting in violent turf wars. Dealers in Northwest D.C. who cater to a predominantly younger and more suburban population from Virginia and Maryland frequently commit more violent crimes than dealers elsewhere in D.C., according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
Opium poppies are not cultivated nor is heroin refined in the District. Criminal groups smuggle heroin to D.C. that originated in South America, primarily Colombia; Southeast Asia, primarily Burma, Laos, and Thailand; Southwest Asia, primarily Afghanistan; and Mexico, the four major source regions. Most heroin in D.C. originates in South America.
Transporters smuggle heroin to D.C. from New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and other cities by private and rental vehicle, commercial airline, bus, train, and parcel delivery service. Colombian and Dominican criminal groups are the dominant South American heroin transporters, while Nigerian criminal groups are the primary Southeast Asian heroin transporters. Nigerian and Pakistani criminal groups are the dominant Southwest Asian heroin transporters, and Mexican criminal groups are the dominant Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin transporters. Heroin shipments are frequently transported to the District via rental vehicles from New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Transporters often hide heroin in concealed compartments in private vehicles. Couriers also transport heroin from Baltimore to D.C. on trains and buses. Additional quantities of heroin are also transported by similar methods to the District from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, among other cities, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
Heroin is transported from D.C. to Northern Virginia and Maryland, among other locations, primarily in private vehicles, although other methods are used as well. Residents of suburban Virginia and Maryland reportedly drive to D.C. to purchase personal-use quantities of heroin.
Couriers flying on commercial airlines generally smuggle 1 or 2 kilograms of heroin to the District for distribution. The Metropolitan Police have arrested several members of Nigerian and other West African criminal groups for smuggling Southeast Asian heroin from Europe and West Africa through Washington Dulles International Airport. Additionally, an airline serving Baltimore-Washington International Airport started to offer direct flights in July 2000 from Ghana, a West African country known as a transshipment area for Asian heroin. Several Nigerian couriers arriving on the flights had been arrested. All of them had ingested heroin capsules. Law enforcement officials seized 3.4 kilograms of heroin in 1996, 11 kilograms in 1997, 9 kilograms in 1998, and 1 kilogram in 1999 from couriers or cargo on commercial airlines, according to EPIC seizure statistics from 1996 to 1999.
Law enforcement officers frequently arrest heroin couriers riding on buses or trains typically from Baltimore en route to the District. Many couriers are female and carry the drugs in carry-on baggage. The Metropolitan Police Department Interdiction Group reports that most of its drug seizures are effected at the train station rather than at the bus terminal. According to Operation JETWAY data for 2000, D.C. had two seizures of unknown types of heroin; one was at the train station and the other at the bus depot at Union Station. One shipment was destined for distribution in the District, and the other was destined for New York City.
Heroin is rarely seized on D.C. roadways. According to EPIC Operation Pipeline and Operation Convoy seizure statistics from 1995 to 1999, law enforcement officials in Maryland seized approximately 3 grams of heroin destined for D.C. in May 1995. In 1998 law enforcement officials in Pennsylvania seized 255 grams of Mexican brown powdered heroin in a single shipment destined for distribution in D.C. In June 2001 law enforcement officials seized a shipment of 1,044 grams of heroin in D.C. that was destined for Virginia. No other seizures were recorded from 1995 to 1999.
Transporters use express mail services to ship small quantities of heroin, and larger shipments are occasionally sent to D.C. via this method. In March 1998 Metropolitan Police arrested three individuals and seized 5 kilograms of heroin smuggled through express mail services to three different mailbox companies in the District. This seizure was the largest heroin seizure in the D.C. metropolitan area since 1993.
Most of the heroin distributed in D.C. is transshipped to the District through one of two major distribution centers--New York City and Philadelphia. D.C.-based Colombian and Dominican criminal groups are the dominant wholesale distributors of South American heroin in the District. Both groups purchase heroin from Colombia-based suppliers. Dominican criminal groups appear to have stronger control over heroin distribution in D.C. than they do over cocaine distribution. Nigerian and other West African criminal groups in D.C. usually purchase wholesale quantities of Southeast Asian heroin from other Nigerian and West African criminal groups. Pakistani and Nigerian criminal groups in D.C. usually purchase Southwest Asian heroin from other Pakistani and Nigerian criminal groups. Southwest Asian heroin distributors charge high prices and hold heroin until a buyer is located, thus limiting their market share. Mexican criminal groups distribute Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin in D.C.
African American and Hispanic crews are the dominant retail distributors of all heroin except Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin. Mexican criminal groups and independent dealers usually distribute Mexican heroin within the large Mexican population residing in the District. Crews typically distribute heroin, as well as other drugs, in open-air drug markets. According to the NDIC Gang Survey 2000, at least 17 crews distribute heroin in the District. The Metropolitan Police report that Salvadoran nationals distribute heroin at the retail level for Dominican criminal groups. Retail-level crews usually serve as pitchers (distributors), catchers (money collectors), lookouts, or runners. These crews are not very sophisticated and are generally loosely knit groups of individuals from the same neighborhood.
Open-air heroin markets are typically near low-income housing projects, main corridors into and out of the city, or in other areas contained within a few city blocks. The location usually determines the customer base. For example, dealers at housing projects generally sell heroin to neighborhood customers, while dealers along main corridors usually cater to suburban abusers who want easy access to drugs and a convenient way out of the city. Suburban customers spend several hundred dollars at a time, and dealers want to ensure that these customers are satisfied in order to maintain regular sales.
Some heroin distributed in D.C. is sold at indoor locations, making law enforcement efforts more difficult. For example, the DEA Washington Division has reported instances in which couriers working for an organization based in New York City or Philadelphia had set up shop at apartments and motel rooms in D.C. to distribute heroin. These couriers usually returned to New York City or Philadelphia with the proceeds once the drugs were sold.
Law enforcement reports indicate that a few individuals over 60 years of age distribute heroin in public housing projects occupied by senior citizens in D.C. to supplement their incomes or to sustain drug habits. Most of these dealers distribute smaller quantities than those distributed by crews. They typically distribute heroin out of their homes, although some distribute it on street corners or outside methadone clinics. According to the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, 41 individuals over the age of 60 were charged with distributing drugs (commonly heroin) in 1998 and 1999.
Retail-level dealers in D.C. usually distribute heroin packaged in small
zipper-type bags stamped with a symbol or logo. However, the U.S. Park Police
has seized heroin packaged in cellophane and in brownish-colored gelcaps. Most
of the heroin packaged in cellophane originates in Philadelphia and is
transported in quantities of multithousand-dosage units (approximately 50
milligrams per dosage unit) for retail distribution. The Washington/Baltimore
HIDTA reports that some heroin is sold packaged with powdered cocaine, a
combination referred to as "one plus one."
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