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Drug Threat Overview

Ice methamphetamine trafficking and abuse pose the most significant drug threats to the Hawaii HIDTA region. In 2007 HIDTA law enforcement officers seized more than 146 pounds of ice methamphetamine with an estimated wholesale market value of over $5.3 million. Methamphetamine is identified more often than any other drug, including alcohol, as the primary substance of abuse for treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities in Hawaii. Each of the state and local law enforcement agencies responding to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2007 identified methamphetamine as the greatest drug threat in their jurisdiction and further indicated that methamphetamine was the drug most often associated with violent crime and property crime. Most of the ice methamphetamine available in the area is smuggled from Mexico via the mainland's west coast and from traditional production areas in California. Over the last several years, local law enforcement operations and legislative efforts to limit the availability of methamphetamine precursor chemicals such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine have caused a significant decrease in domestic powder methamphetamine production in the region.

Methamphetamine Threat From Oceania and the Pacific Rim

Increasing ice methamphetamine production in Oceania and Pacific Rim countries poses an increasing threat to Hawaii. The island nations of Oceania, well-known for lax criminal penalties for illicit drug production and money laundering, are struggling with criminal groups that are seeking safe havens in which to operate. Hawaii HIDTA law enforcement and intelligence reporting indicates that organized criminal groups are financing large-scale clandestine ice methamphetamine production laboratories in Oceania and Pacific Rim countries and that an increasing amount of that ice methamphetamine is transported to Hawaii.

Source: Hawaii High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

Throughout 2007 HIDTA officials reported decreased availability and increased prices for high-purity methamphetamine within the region (primarily at the retail level and midlevel) when compared with the high levels of availability over the last several years. According to the National Methamphetamine Threat Assessment 2008, the price of methamphetamine in Honolulu rose from $20,000 to $30,000 per pound in 2006 to $20,000 to $45,000 per pound in 2007. This situation has continued into early 2008 and is the result of several contributing factors. Law enforcement operations over the past several years have successfully dismantled several major methamphetamine trafficking organizations that operated in Hawaii, while methamphetamine production from source areas in Mexico and California declined during the same period. Although some drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) are more likely to send their best product (with average purity levels over 90 percent) to Hawaii because of the higher profit margins to be gained, local dealers are capitalizing on the market shortages by cutting the drug, primarily with MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), to stretch supplies while still charging higher prices.

Operation Paradise Runner

Operation Paradise Runner was an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation that targeted a major Mexican DTO responsible for transporting multipound quantities of ice methamphetamine and cocaine to Honolulu from Southern California on a monthly basis. This organization employed couriers on commercial airlines who bodycarried drugs to Honolulu and illicit proceeds back to Southern California via the same routes. This investigation resulted in the seizure of approximately 14 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, $894,073 in cash, $60,640 worth of jewelry, $216,073 (the estimated value of 16 conveyances--vehicles, off-road and farm equipment), and a $500,000 settlement with the State of Hawaii.

Source: Hawaii High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

High-potency marijuana is widely availability and abused in the Hawaii HIDTA region as a result of rising overall demand, increasing availability, and exploitation of Hawaii's state medical marijuana laws by cannabis cultivators and drug traffickers. Most of the marijuana available in Hawaii is produced there. In 2007 HIDTA law enforcement officers eradicated more than 141,000 pounds of marijuana with an estimated wholesale market value of more than $578 million. HIDTA reporting also indicates that increasing amounts of high-potency marijuana produced in California, Oregon, Washington, and Canada are transported into the HIDTA region by Mexican and Asian DTOs and local criminal groups.

Powder and crack cocaine are also available and abused in the HIDTA region, but to a lesser extent than methamphetamine and marijuana. However, in 2007 HIDTA law enforcement officials reported an increase in powder cocaine abuse in the region. Officials attribute a portion of this increase to some methamphetamine abusers who have switched to powder cocaine because of the lower cost of cocaine and declining methamphetamine purity levels. In addition, public awareness programs that highlight the dangers of methamphetamine abuse and the belief among users that cocaine is safer (less addictive) to use than methamphetamine are believed to be contributing factors. Some powder cocaine supplied to the area is converted into crack cocaine by local retail distributors.

Other illicit drugs pose a threat to the region, even though they are abused to a much lesser extent. Mexican black and brown powder heroin, other dangerous drugs (ODDs) such as MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy), and diverted pharmaceuticals are available throughout the HIDTA region. Heroin is distributed by Mexican DTOs and criminal groups, while MDMA is primarily supplied by Asian criminal groups. Benzodiazepines, hydrocodone, and oxycodone are the most frequently abused pharmaceutical drugs. Distributors and abusers commonly divert pharmaceutical drugs through doctor-shopping, drug thefts, prescription forgery, and Internet purchases. The ease with which drug traffickers and abusers obtain pharmaceuticals through the Internet is a significant concern for law enforcement officials and public health treatment providers in the HIDTA region.

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Drug Trafficking Organizations

Mexican DTOs are the principal illicit drug transporters and wholesale distributors in the Hawaii HIDTA region. Their expansive drug distribution networks enable them to consistently supply Hawaii with wholesale quantities of ice methamphetamine, powder cocaine, and black tar and brown powder heroin. Mexican DTOs typically focus their efforts on wholesale-level sales, supplying smaller Mexican and Asia-Pacific mixed-race DTOs that distribute drugs at the midlevel and retail level throughout the state. Mexican DTO members who are based in Hawaii typically operate in areas with higher concentrations of Hispanic residents, particularly Honolulu and Maui Counties, to more easily assimilate into the local community and avoid law enforcement detection.

Drug Trafficking Organizations, Criminal Groups, and Gangs

Drug trafficking organizations are complex organizations with highly defined command-and-control structures that produce, transport, and/or distribute large quantities of one or more illicit drugs.

Criminal groups operating in the United States are numerous and range from small to moderately sized, loosely knit groups that distribute one or more drugs at the retail level and midlevel.

Gangs are defined by the National Alliance of Gang Investigators' Associations as groups or associations of three or more persons with a common identifying sign, symbol, or name, the members of which individually or collectively engage in criminal activity that creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

Figure 2. Mexican ice methamphetamine seized on the Big Island in 2007.

Photo showing bagged Mexican ice methamphetamine seized on the Big Island in 2007.

Hawaii County Police Department.

Asian DTOs (typically ethnic Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Thai, or Vietnamese) are more numerous than other trafficking groups operating in the HIDTA region. No particular ethnic group is dominant over the others. The drug trafficking threat that they pose to the area is secondary when compared with the threat posed by Mexican DTOs because of their lack of well-established distribution networks. Asian DTOs typically restrict involvement in their drug trafficking operations to individuals of similar race/ethnicity and familial affiliation. Asian DTOs transport wholesale quantities of ice methamphetamine from sources in California and Asia, MDMA from sources in Canada and Asia, and high-potency marijuana from sources in Canada and the west coast of the United States.

Local distributors, including street gangs, prison gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), are the primary retail distributors of illicit drugs in the Hawaii HIDTA region. Some members of these groups also produce marijuana grown locally in Hawaii. These groups are typically composed of native Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Hispanic, and Caucasian individuals who were born and raised in Hawaii and share either familial or close social ties. The diversity of these groups facilitates close working relationships with other DTOs (Asian, Mexican, and Polynesian) that supply them with drugs, presenting serious challenges for law enforcement investigations.

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