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Drug-Related Crime

Drug-related violent and property crimes often occur within the HIDTA region as distributors, particularly street gang members, protect their distribution operations and abusers seek funds to sustain their addictions. Drug distributors often commit violent crimes, including assault and homicide, to maintain control of local drug markets. For instance, officials with the Knox County Sheriff's Office in Tennessee report that territorial violence among street gangs in their jurisdiction is increasing; the officials also report that the majority of homicides in the county occur in areas with high levels of street gang activity and drug distribution. Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network officials in Charleston, West Virginia, report continued high levels of violence among street gangs operating in their area, primarily street gangs that distribute crack cocaine. Cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription drug abusers and distributors often commit crimes such as retail fraud, burglary, robbery, and theft to obtain drugs or money to purchase drugs. Moreover, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2007, 13 of the 34 local law enforcement agencies in the Appalachia HIDTA that responded to the NDTS 2007 identified crack cocaine as the drug that most contributed to violent crime in their jurisdictions, and 12 out of 34 report prescription drugs as the drug that most contributed to property crime.

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Marijuana is the primary illicit substance identified in treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), the number of marijuana-related treatment admissions in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia from 2002 through 2006 (the latest year for which such data are available) exceeded the number of treatment admissions for cocaine, prescription drugs (including other opiates, tranquilizers, and sedatives), heroin, and amphetamines (including methamphetamine). (See Table 2 in Appendix A.) TEDS data reveal that the number of treatment admissions for marijuana, cocaine, and prescription drug abuse increased between 2005 and 2006. Cocaine-related treatment admissions in 2006 (5,982) were almost equivalent to marijuana-related treatment admissions (6,029).

Diverted pharmaceutical drugs are widely available and frequently abused throughout the Appalachia HIDTA region. The most commonly abused pharmaceuticals are prescription narcotics, such as Vicodin and Lortab (hydrocodone products), methadone, and OxyContin (oxycodone). CNS depressants, including Xanax (alprazolam) and Valium (diazepam)--both benzodiazepines--are also abused. State medical examiner data reveal that users are abusing illicit drugs in combination with prescription narcotics, primarily methadone; such combinations are emerging as a leading cause of drug-related deaths in the region. Methadone has been used primarily in opioid addiction treatment for the past 50 years; however, its use in management of certain types of pain has steadily increased since the late 1990s.

Heroin availability and abuse, while low, are rising in the Appalachia HIDTA region, particularly in West Virginia HIDTA counties. Additionally, heroin use is rising among young Caucasian abusers who previously abused prescription narcotics; they are switching from prescription narcotics, particularly OxyContin, to Mexican black tar heroin because the cost of Mexican black tar heroin is lower. For example, a dosage unit of Mexican black tar heroin sold for approximately $50 during 2007 in Huntington, while a dosage unit of OxyContin sold for $80 to $100 during the same period. Moreover, FBI analysis of Mexican black tar heroin samples acquired in Huntington revealed that the heroin was 70 to 80 percent pure. Additionally, officials from the FBI Huntington Violent Crime/Drug Task Force report that the increased abuse of Mexican black tar heroin caused over 40 drug-related overdoses in Huntington, West Virginia, between March 2007 and March 2008, 14 of which resulted in death; only two heroin-related overdoses were reported in the area from 2000 through March 2007.

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Illicit Finance

Illicit drug proceeds generated at the wholesale level and sometimes at the midlevel in the Appalachia HIDTA region are typically laundered by traffickers through bulk cash smuggling. Mexican DTOs transport bulk cash using private vehicles from the Appalachia HIDTA region to Atlanta and then to the Southwest Border area for eventual smuggling into Mexico. Traffickers also launder illicit drug proceeds through real estate investments, cash-intensive front businesses, and the purchase of luxury items; some traffickers also exploit casinos in the region to launder illicit funds. Moreover, law enforcement officials report that some family-based criminal groups hide drug proceeds in bulk, using the cash as needed to make purchases, rather than using banks or government institutions, which they generally distrust.

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Mexican DTOs will become more entrenched in the Appalachia HIDTA region, particularly in Tennessee. They will provide increasing amounts of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin to the HIDTA region through distribution networks they have established to service drug markets in the eastern United States. Moreover, Mexican DTOs will most likely capitalize on the remote nature of the region and its generally favorable growing climate to expand their domestic cannabis cultivation operations.

Cannabis cultivation in the Appalachia HIDTA region will continue at high levels, particularly in remote outdoor areas where Caucasian criminal groups and independent dealers have established long-standing, entrenched growing operations. Cultivation sites will pose increasing hazards to law enforcement officials and passersby, the result of intensified efforts on the part of grow site operators to protect their crops from discovery, thievery, and increased eradication through the use of violence and booby traps.

Heroin availability and abuse will most likely increase in the Appalachia HIDTA region, particularly among young Caucasians and prescription narcotics abusers who are being drawn to the drug by its lower price and high potency. Mexican black tar heroin will very likely be the primary type of heroin abused in the region in the near term, unless Mexican DTOs increase their distribution of SA heroin in the area. Additionally, the consequences associated with heroin abuse--including associated crimes and treatment costs--will rise in the HIDTA region, compounding the threat posed by the drug.

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