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Link to Home Page. National Drug Intelligence Center
California Drug Threat Assessment Update
May 2002


Substance abuse indicators reveal that heroin abuse remains at high levels throughout California and accounts for the highest number of drug-related treatment admissions. According to the California Alcohol and Drug Data System, in 2001 there were 61,853 treatment admissions for heroin abuse, a decrease from 73,669 in 2000. Heroin is the leading cause of drug-related deaths in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. According to DAWN mortality data, in 2000 there were 473 heroin-related deaths in Los Angeles, 145 in San Diego, and 148 in San Francisco.

Mexican black tar heroin is the dominant type available throughout the state; however, other types, including Mexican brown powder, South American, Southeast Asian, and Southwest Asian heroin have been seized. According to DEA, heroin sold for $15,000 (Mexican black tar) to $75,000 (South American) per kilogram in the first quarter of FY2002. Heroin purity varies by location, ranging from 10 percent to 68 percent.

Southern California, primarily Los Angeles, is a major transportation and distribution hub for Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin destined for drug markets in California and throughout the United States. South American heroin, produced and supplied by Colombian DTOs, is also transported and distributed in the area, to a much lesser extent. The area also serves as a transshipment point for Southeast and Southwest Asian heroin, primarily to markets in the eastern United States. In FY2001 the U.S. Customs Service seized 188 pounds of heroin, most of which was Mexican black tar, at ports of entry in Southern California.

Mexican DTOs and criminal groups are the predominant wholesale and retail suppliers and distributors of Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin in California. Colombian DTOs produce and supply South American heroin, which is available to a lesser extent. In addition, Southeast Asian criminal groups supply limited quantities of Southeast Asian heroin to California drug markets, usually via package delivery services from Laos and Thailand. Southwest Asian heroin, though limited, is transshipped through California for markets in the eastern United States. 


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