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Drug Threat Overview

The distribution and abuse of cocaine (particularly crack), heroin, and marijuana are the primary drug threats in the Chicago HIDTA region. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2007, 24 of the 42 state and local law enforcement respondents in the Chicago HIDTA region identified cocaine as the drug that posed the greatest threat to their jurisdictions; seven respondents identified heroin, and 10 respondents identified marijuana. Large quantities of these drugs are transported to the area by Mexican DTOs and criminal groups, principally from locations along the Southwest Border. In 2007 Chicago HIDTA initiatives reported the seizure of 1,086 kilograms of cocaine, 70 kilograms of heroin, and 10,286 kilograms of marijuana. The HIDTA region has one of the largest illicit drug user populations in the United States. According to the Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (DASA), the Chicago HIDTA region (Cook, Grundy, Kendall, and Will Counties) accounted for 51.6 percent of all treatment provider services rendered in Illinois in 2006 (the latest year for which such data are available). Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the wholesale transportation and distribution of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana; they typically obtain these drugs directly from DTOs operating in Mexico and provide them to street gang leaders in the region for retail-level distribution. Street gangs are the primary retail distributors of illicit drugs. These gangs regularly engage in violent criminal activities to protect their drug supplies, distribution territories, and illicit drug proceeds. For example, of the 443 murders investigated by the Chicago Police Department in 2007, 43.8 percent were gang-related.

Cocaine trafficking and abuse in the Chicago HIDTA region are widespread; however, fluctuations in wholesale-level cocaine availability were reported by law enforcement officials during 2007. In the first half of 2007, law enforcement reported decreased cocaine availability coupled with increased prices. This shortage was at least partially due to successful law enforcement operations in Mexico and large seizures of the drug. Law enforcement officials reported that availability returned to previous levels in the third quarter of 2007 but decreased again in the fourth quarter. Cocaine purity levels in the region declined significantly in the second half of 2007, possibly indicating increased cutting of cocaine by traffickers to stretch supplies or increase profits. For example, law enforcement officials reported increased incidents of "re-rocking" facilities located in the HIDTA region. "Re-rocking" is a process of diluting kilograms of powder cocaine and reforming the cocaine into kilogram bricks with a hydraulic press, making the cocaine appear authentic and uncut.

Heroin supplied by Colombian, Nigerian, other West African, and Mexican traffickers is widely available in the region. Most of the heroin available in the Chicago HIDTA region is South American (SA). Colombian DTOs that produce heroin typically employ Mexican DTOs to transport multikilogram quantities of the drug through Mexico to the HIDTA region. Nigerian and other West African traffickers smuggle multiounce quantities of Southwest Asian (SWA) heroin and, to a much lesser extent, Southeast Asian (SEA) heroin to Chicago on commercial aircraft through various concealment methods and through package delivery services. Mexican brown powder and black tar heroin are also available in Chicago, particularly in Hispanic communities. Street gangs are the principal retail heroin distributors in the region.

Heroin availability and abuse levels in the Chicago HIDTA region are high, as indicated by increased heroin purity levels, lower wholesale heroin prices, and the large number of individuals seeking heroin treatment services. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Heroin Domestic Monitor Program (HDMP), retail-level heroin purity in Chicago increased to 21.4 percent in 2007, ending a near-steady 10-year decline. (See Figure 2.) In addition, wholesale prices for SA heroin in Chicago declined from December 2006 ($45,000 to $80,000 per kg) to December 2007 ($30,000 to $70,000 per kg), most likely indicating increased availability. According to the Illinois Department of Human Services DASA, the number of heroin treatment services rendered in the Chicago HIDTA region (Cook, Grundy, Kendall, and Will Counties) increased 30.6 percent from 2004 to 2006, the latest year for which such data are available. Much of this increase is quite likely a consequence of the growing number of suburban heroin abusers over the past few years.

Figure 2. Average Retail-Level Heroin Purity in Chicago, 1998-2007

Chart showing the average retail-level heroin purity in Chicago from 1998 to 2007.
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Source: Drug Enforcement Administration, Heroin Domestic Monitor Program.

Marijuana is widely available and abused in the Chicago HIDTA region. Mexican DTOs typically transport commercial-grade marijuana to the region from the Southwest Border, often in multiton quantities, using tractor-trailers. Although most of the marijuana distributed in the HIDTA region is commercial-grade, law enforcement reporting indicates that the demand for, and the distribution and abuse of, high-potency marijuana are increasing. High-potency marijuana is transported to the region from California and Washington, primarily by Mexican traffickers, but also by Asian (primarily Chinese and Vietnamese) and Caucasian traffickers. Asian, Albanian, and Caucasian traffickers increasingly transport significant quantities of high-potency marijuana to the region from Canada. Small amounts of marijuana are produced locally at indoor and outdoor grow operations.

Methamphetamine distribution and abuse occur at low levels in the area; however, wholesale quantities of ice methamphetamine transit the Chicago HIDTA region en route to other markets. Mexican DTOs transport wholesale quantities of ice methamphetamine to the region and break them down for further distribution to drug markets in the Midwest. Law enforcement reporting indicates that methamphetamine distribution and abuse are limited to some Asian abusers and members of gay communities on the North Side of Chicago.

The availability and abuse of MDMA, diverted pharmaceutical drugs, and other dangerous drugs (ODDs) vary throughout the region. The availability and abuse of MDMA in the HIDTA region are increasing. Asian, Albanian, and Caucasian traffickers transport the drug into the region from Canada. Law enforcement reporting indicates that MDMA is available throughout the region and typically is abused by young Caucasians, primarily of Polish descent; however, abuse among individuals in African American and Hispanic communities is expanding and is quite likely the result of increased MDMA distribution by African American and Hispanic street gangs. Diverted pharmaceutical drugs and ODDs including PCP (phencyclidine), LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), khat, and ketamine are available and abused in the region, but to a much lesser extent.


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