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Mexican DTOs use the Atlanta HIDTA region as a principal distribution center for drugs, particularly powder cocaine, destined for drug markets in much of the eastern United States. Mexican DTOs use their expansive transportation networks and distribution cells to provide illicit drugs from the Atlanta HIDTA region to eastern drug markets, including Baltimore; Cincinnati and Dayton; Columbia, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Miami, and Tampa; Memphis and Nashville; Birmingham and Montgomery; Pittsburgh; and Roanoke.

Mexican DTOs control the wholesale and midlevel distribution of powder cocaine, ice methamphetamine, marijuana, and heroin in the HIDTA region. Most midlevel and retail-level distributors depend on Mexican DTOs as their sources for these illicit drugs. Mexican DTOs typically stash the illicit drugs they transport to the region in houses located in middle-class neighborhoods and in more rural areas of the region--locations that the traffickers believe receive limited law enforcement scrutiny. Moreover, effective law enforcement efforts against Mexican DTOs operating in the Atlanta area have caused some DTOs to move their distribution operations into North Carolina to spread their operations over a larger geographic area in an attempt to minimize the risk of apprehension by Atlanta law enforcement officials. To this end, Mexican traffickers operating in North Carolina have formed a cooperative relationship to facilitate control of drug trafficking in the southeast and to increase market share; they are increasingly distributing Mexican brown powder heroin and black tar heroin in the state.

A number of DTOs, criminal groups, and local independent dealers distribute illicit drugs at the retail level in the Atlanta HIDTA region (see Table 4), and their methods of operation change little from year to year. In Georgia counties in the HIDTA region, retail-level distribution takes place at open-air drug markets, at housing projects, in local clubs, in private residences, and at prearranged meeting sites such as parking lots. However, in 2008, Atlanta city officials relocated residents of several public housing projects and demolished the public housing buildings; most of these areas were retail drug markets controlled by street gangs. The street gang members who resided in those public housing areas relocated to new areas of the city, particularly Clayton County, where they formed new street gangs. These new street gangs are competing with established gangs over drug turf, which has resulted in increased violence among street gangs in these areas. Heroin distribution in Atlanta remains confined to the "Bluff" area northwest of the Georgia Dome. MDMA is generally distributed in pool halls and dance clubs in Buckhead (northern Atlanta) and Midtown. Jonesboro, located south of Atlanta in Clayton County, is an open-air market for ounce quantities of powder and crack cocaine. Ice methamphetamine is typically not distributed in open-air markets because of the erratic behavior often displayed by methamphetamine abusers; methamphetamine distributors usually deliver the drug directly to abusers at their residences or other locations that receive limited law enforcement and public scrutiny. In North Carolina counties in the HIDTA region, illicit drugs are sold in many of the same types of locations as in the Atlanta area. Crack is distributed primarily by African American street gangs operating out of public housing projects. Crack and heroin traffickers in Durham also distribute drugs from open-air markets on street corners and from crack houses concentrated on the east side of the city.

Table 4. Retail-Level Drugs, by Distributor, in the Atlanta HIDTA Region, 2008

Distributors Retail-Level Drugs
African American Powder and crack cocaine, heroin, MDMA, marijuana, and ice methamphetamine
Asian High-potency marijuana and MDMA
Caucasian Powder cocaine, GHB, MDMA, marijuana, locally produced powder methamphetamine, Mexican ice methamphetamine, and CPDs
Dominican Powder cocaine
Hispanic Powder cocaine, marijuana, and ice methamphetamine

Source: Atlanta High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

Traffickers and abusers illicitly obtain CPDs through traditional diversion methods such as doctor-shopping, theft, and forged prescriptions as well as through unscrupulous physicians and pharmacists who work alone or in association. CPDs are also diverted through sales by rogue Internet pharmacies.12 However, the number of sites offering such drugs has decreased, most likely because of increased law enforcement pressure through improved cooperation among federal and state law enforcement agencies, Internet service providers (ISPs), package delivery services, and financial services companies typically used by rogue Internet pharmacy operators. Federal legislation designed to reduce the number of rogue Internet pharmacies that sell CPDs was enacted in 2008. (See text box.) Drug traffickers are increasingly attempting to circumvent law enforcement efforts to prevent CPD diversion in the Atlanta area by obtaining these drugs in Florida because of their wide availability.

The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008

The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 was enacted in October 2008. This federal law amends the Controlled Substances Act and prohibits the delivery, distribution, and dispensing of CPDs over the Internet without a prescription written by a doctor who has conducted at least one in-person examination of the patient. Provisions of the law increase the criminal penalties for illegal Internet prescribing of Schedules III, IV, and V controlled substances. The law will most likely deter some Internet pharmacy operators from engaging in "script mill" practices, which provide alleged medical consultations (for a fee) and prescriptions that are sent to local pharmacies or directly to customers, who can take them to a pharmacy to be filled.

Retail-level drug distributors typically facilitate drug sales in the Atlanta HIDTA region using electronic communications, usually cellular telephones and the Internet. These distributors prefer to conduct drug-related conversations over cellular telephones with point-to-point capabilities, believing that these communications are difficult for law enforcement officials to intercept. Many traffickers use a particular cellular telephone only for a limited time before switching to a new cellular telephone with a new number to reduce the possibility of law enforcement monitoring. Traffickers also use cellular telephones with removable subscriber identity module (SIM) cards,13 maintaining multiple SIM cards and one cellular telephone. By changing SIM cards, traffickers can use multiple numbers while using only one telephone, again reducing the possibility of law enforcement monitoring. Moreover, SIM cards are more easily destroyed than cellular telephones should the trafficker be arrested. In addition, the Internet has become a popular method of communication for drug traffickers. Traffickers use Internet chat rooms and blogs to arrange drug sales. Further, African American street gang members use the Internet to communicate, facilitate gang activities, and spread gang culture.

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Drug-Related Crime

Drug-related violent and property crimes often occur within the Atlanta HIDTA region as distributors, particularly street gang members, protect their distribution operations and abusers seek funds to sustain their addictions. According to NDTS 2009 data, 11 of the 31 law enforcement agency respondents in Georgia counties in the Atlanta HIDTA region identify crack cocaine, and 10 of the 31 respondents identify methamphetamine as the drug that most contributes to violent crime in their jurisdictions. In North Carolina counties in the HIDTA region, 15 of the 16 law enforcement agency respondents identify crack cocaine as the drug that most contributes to violent crime in their jurisdictions. Moreover, 15 of the 31 respondents in Georgia counties and 13 of the 16 respondents in North Carolina counties in the HIDTA region identify crack cocaine as the drug that most contributes to property crime.

Mexican traffickers are increasingly committing violent acts in the Atlanta area, according to several law enforcement officers. Mexican DTO members are increasingly traveling from Mexico to the Atlanta area and committing violent acts, such as kidnappings, against members of rival organizations and members who owe drug debts to their organization. For example, in July 2008, Mexican traffickers lured a Rhode Island man who owed them money to Gwinnett County, kidnapped him, and held him for ransom until law enforcement officers rescued him. Violence has also increased among retail-level distributors over increased distribution of fake or poor-quality drugs.


12. Rogue Internet pharmacies are unlicensed, fraudulent, and disreputable businesses that sell CPDs illegally.
13. SIM (subscriber identity module) cards are removable smart cards that contain a cellular telephone subscriber's account information, including telephone number. Removable SIM cards are legitimately used to allow cell phone subscribers to maintain their accounts and personal information when purchasing new phones.

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