National Drug Intelligence Center
Cocaine trafficking and abuse pose the greatest drug threats to the Atlanta HIDTA region. The large quantities of cocaine available in the area, the level of violence associated with cocaine (particularly crack) distribution and abuse, and the number of cocaine-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities are indications that cocaine is a greater drug threat than any other illicit drug. According to data from the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2009, 14 of the 31 law enforcement agency respondents in Georgia counties in the Atlanta HIDTA region report that cocaine is the greatest drug threat in their jurisdictions, and 15 of the 16 respondents in North Carolina counties in the HIDTA region report that cocaine is the greatest drug threat in their jurisdictions.3 Shortages in wholesale quantities of powder cocaine first noted in 2007 continued to be reported by some law enforcement officers in the Atlanta HIDTA region in 2008. In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Atlanta Field Division reported limited availability of cocaine in the Atlanta HIDTA region in 2008. Also the Greensboro Police Department in North Carolina reported that some retail-level distributors were selling fake cocaine as a result of the cocaine shortages in the area in late 2008 and early 2009. Wholesale cocaine prices also reflect the shortages: wholesale prices remain high, and cocaine sold for as much as $25,000 per kilogram in 2008.4 Nonetheless, some law enforcement agencies in the Atlanta HIDTA region report that quantities of cocaine are sufficient to meet local demand and to distribute to other markets, such as Baltimore, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, and Birmingham. Reporting from Atlanta HIDTA Initiatives5 indicates that over 817 kilograms of powder cocaine were seized in 2008. (See Table 1.)
Table 1. Atlanta HIDTA Drug Seizures, by Initiative, in Kilograms, 2008
(in dosage units)
|Metro (Groups 1-3, Financial, Transportation)||247.14||0.40||1.91||4.91||2,513.26||6.94||14.05||0.00||45,990|
|Expanded Operations (Jan-June)||26.23||0.27||0.24||0.00||158.44||0.00||0.01||0.00||685|
|North Carolina Triangle (Jul-Dec)||10.56||0.00||0.00||2.24||0.10||0.00||1.48||0.00||79|
|Domestic Highway Drug Enforcement (DHDE)||486.33||0.00||48.43||0.00||1,506.66||0.00||0.12||0.00||2,043|
Source: Atlanta High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
The production, trafficking, and abuse of powder and ice methamphetamine pose a significant threat to the Atlanta HIDTA region. According to data from the NDTS 2009, 6 of the 47 law enforcement agency respondents in the Atlanta HIDTA region report that powder methamphetamine is the greatest drug threat, and 4 respondents report the same for ice methamphetamine. Locally produced powder methamphetamine and high-purity Mexican ice methamphetamine are available to varying degrees throughout the Atlanta HIDTA region. According to data from the NDTS 2009, 28 of the 47 law enforcement agency respondents in the Atlanta HIDTA region report that ice methamphetamine is available at moderate to high levels, and 26 report the same for powder methamphetamine. Mexican DTOs supply significant quantities of powder and ice methamphetamine to the Atlanta HIDTA region. Methamphetamine is also produced in the Atlanta HIDTA region at low to moderate levels; however, methamphetamine laboratory seizure data suggest rising methamphetamine production throughout North Carolina. This increased production may subsequently lead to increased methamphetamine availability in the Atlanta HIDTA counties in North Carolina.
Cannabis cultivation and subsequent marijuana distribution and abuse pose serious threats to the Atlanta HIDTA region. Marijuana is widely available throughout the HIDTA region and is abused by members of all racial/ethnic and social groups. Most of the marijuana available in the region is produced in Mexico or Canada, but some is produced locally at outdoor and indoor cannabis grow sites. Most cannabis cultivated in the Atlanta HIDTA region is grown at outdoor sites; however, severe drought conditions throughout the southeastern United States in 2007 caused a sharp decrease in the amount of cannabis cultivated and eradicated in Georgia, North Carolina, and the Atlanta HIDTA region during the year. Despite a continued drought, growing conditions improved in 2008, leading to increased cannabis eradication in Georgia, North Carolina, and the Atlanta HIDTA region during the year. According to Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) data,6 the number of cultivated plants eradicated from outdoor grow operations in Georgia increased from 11,851 plants in 2007 to 47,607 plants in 2008, and the number of cultivated plants eradicated from outdoor grow operations in North Carolina increased from 15,115 plants in 2007 to 103,711 plants in 2008. Eradication data suggest that indoor cannabis cultivation, however, decreased significantly in Georgia, including Georgia counties in the Atlanta HIDTA region. According to DCE/SP data, the number of cultivated plants eradicated from indoor grow operations in Georgia decreased from 9,585 plants in 2007 to 2,840 plants in 2008. Law enforcement reporting suggests that this decrease can be partially attributed to effective law enforcement investigations in 2007 that targeted large Cuban DTO-operated indoor cannabis grow operations in Georgia. However, the number of cultivated plants eradicated from indoor grow operations in North Carolina increased from 1,253 plants in 2007 to 1,489 plants in 2008. Many of the indoor grow sites seized in Georgia and North Carolina in 2008 were small, independent grow sites that cultivated personal use quantities of cannabis.
Controlled prescription drugs (CPDs)7 and MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy) are considerable threats to the Atlanta HIDTA region, while heroin poses a low threat. The most widely available and commonly abused CPDs are hydrocodone, oxycodone, and diazepam.8 Law enforcement officials report that CPD abuse is a growing problem among Caucasian young adults. MDMA supplied primarily by Asian DTOs (predominantly Laotian and Vietnamese) is available at moderate to high levels in the region. Asian DTOs operating in the Atlanta HIDTA region maintain sources of supply in Canada; these traffickers smuggle MDMA across the U.S.-Canada border and transport it to Atlanta in private vehicles or on commercial airline flights. Moreover, law enforcement officials report that they have seized combination MDMA/methamphetamine tablets in the region.9 MDMA producers in Canada add methamphetamine during MDMA manufacturing to stretch their supplies and increase their profit margins. Heroin availability and abuse are stable at low levels in the Atlanta area; however, law enforcement officers in Durham, North Carolina, report that heroin is available at high levels in their jurisdiction. The high availability of heroin in Durham is most likely the result of Mexican traffickers increasingly distributing large quantities of Mexican heroin throughout North Carolina.
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Mexican DTOs dominate the wholesale distribution of cocaine, ice methamphetamine, and marijuana; they exert more influence over illicit drug trafficking in the Atlanta HIDTA region than any other trafficking organization or group. Mexican DTOs use a complex network of transportation and distribution cells to coordinate drug shipments from sources of supply operating in California, Texas, or Mexico to the HIDTA region. Law enforcement reporting indicates that Mexican DTOs located along the Southwest Border or in Mexico often manage cell leaders in the region. In addition to the Atlanta area, Mexican drug trafficking cells in North Carolina are using cities such as Charlotte as drug distribution centers. To illustrate, in July 2008, Tennessee law enforcement officials stopped a vehicle for speeding along I-40. A search of the vehicle revealed 20 kilograms of Mexican black tar heroin in a hidden compartment. The driver and passenger of the vehicle, both Mexican citizens, admitted that they were traveling from Charlotte to Tacoma, Washington.
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.
Other DTOs and criminal groups of various races/ethnicities, including African American, Caucasian, Dominican, and Jamaican, distribute drugs in the Atlanta area. Most of the traffickers obtain powder cocaine, ice methamphetamine, and marijuana from Mexican DTOs. African American criminal groups typically distribute crack cocaine, marijuana, and MDMA at the retail level. Caucasian criminal groups distribute marijuana, CPDs, and other dangerous drugs (ODDs) in the HIDTA region; Caucasian DTOs and independent dealers also cultivate cannabis in the region. Dominican DTOs distribute small quantities of powder cocaine in the Atlanta area and often arm themselves with assault weapons. Asian DTOs, predominantly Laotian and Vietnamese, distribute MDMA and small quantities of Canadian marijuana in the Atlanta area. These DTOs maintain sources of supply in Canada; they smuggle MDMA and Canadian marijuana across the U.S.-Canada border and transport the drugs to Atlanta in private vehicles or on commercial flights.
Street gangs distribute illicit drugs at the retail level in many areas of the Atlanta HIDTA region; the level of drug distribution by street gangs is generally moderate to high in the region. According to NDTS 2009 data, 20 of the 47 law enforcement agency respondents in the Atlanta HIDTA region report that the level of gang drug activity increased in their jurisdictions during the past year. This increased activity most likely is the result of an increase in the supply of illicit drugs by Mexican DTOs to street gangs in the region. Street gang activity is prevalent among African American and Hispanic youths in the Atlanta HIDTA region. Most street gangs in Atlanta are locally based; they commonly adopt multiple facets of gang culture from national-level street gangs that members often garner from the Internet. Moreover, local gangs typically do not exhibit the organizational structure, written code, or defined member roles associated with national-level street gangs. African American street gangs such as Most Dangerous Click (MDC), Dangerous Killer Click, and 30 Deep typically distribute crack cocaine and marijuana at the retail level; these street gangs depend on Mexican traffickers as their source for powder cocaine, which they generally convert to crack cocaine. Hispanic street gangs such as Sureņos 13 (Sur 13) and Vatos Locos maintain a strong presence in the Atlanta HIDTA region; they typically distribute cocaine and marijuana obtained from Mexican DTOs. Hispanic street gangs appear to be more organized than African American street gangs and exhibit more violence in direct support of their drug distribution activities. The presence of Mara Salvatrucha (MS 13) in North Carolina and Georgia is growing. Law enforcement officials report increased coordination of criminal activity among MS 13 cliques in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) data for 2009 cited in this report are as of
February 12, 2009. NDTS data cited are raw, unweighted responses from federal, state,
and local law enforcement agencies solicited through either the National Drug Intelligence
Center (NDIC) or the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) High Intensity
Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. Data cited may include responses from agencies
that are part of the NDTS 2009 national sample and/or agencies that are part of
HIDTA solicitation lists.
4. Intelligence and law enforcement reporting indicates that the decrease in cocaine availability in U.S. drug markets was most likely the result of several simultaneous factors that obstructed the flow of cocaine from South America through Mexico to U.S. drug markets. The probable factors include several exceptionally large cocaine seizures made while the drug was in transit to the United States, counterdrug efforts by the Mexican Government, U.S. law enforcement operations along the Southwest Border, a high level of intercartel violence in Mexico, and expanding cocaine markets in Europe and South America. It is unclear which of these factors contributed most to the decrease in cocaine availability.
5. Atlanta HIDTA funds are allocated to nine initiatives (program areas): Metro Atlanta Task Force, DeKalb Task Force, Intelligence, Administration, Crime Lab, Prosecution, Training, Facilities, and Prevention. Initiatives contain subcategories such as Groups 1 through 6 within the Metro Atlanta Task Force.
6. Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) data are available only at the state level; thus, the number of cannabis plants and grow sites eradicated and seized reflect the entire states of Georgia and North Carolina, not just the Atlanta HIDTA region.
7. Not all prescription drugs are controlled prescription drugs (CPDs) under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). However, many prescription drugs are listed in Schedules I through V of the CSA because of their high potential for abuse or addiction. Schedule I through V prescription drugs are primarily narcotic pain relievers and central nervous system depressants and stimulants. A complete list of CPDs, by schedule, is available on the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Office of Diversion Control web site at http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/schedules/schedules.htm.
8. Schedule II drugs include several prescription drugs such as Duragesic (fentanyl), methadone, morphine, OxyContin (oxycodone), and Percocet (oxycodone in combination with acetaminophen). Schedule III drugs include several prescription drugs such as Vicodin (hydrocodone in combination with acetaminophen). Schedule IV drugs include several prescription drugs such as Ambien (zolpidem), Ativan (lorazepam), Darvon (propoxyphene), Valium (diazepam), and Xanax (alprazolam).
9. Combination tablets that contain MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy) and methamphetamine or other substances have been transported south across the U.S.-Canada border since at least 2000. Various data suggest that the flow of MDMA tablets from Canada to the United States has been consistently increasing since 2003, and it is highly likely that the flow of combination tablets has risen at the same time.
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