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Distribution

Mexican DTOs dominate the wholesale and midlevel distribution of powder cocaine, ice methamphetamine, commercial-grade marijuana, and Mexican brown powder and black tar heroin in the Gulf Coast HIDTA region. Most other midlevel and retail-level distributors obtain these illicit drugs from Mexican DTOs. Mexican DTOs distribute most of the illicit drugs to African American and Hispanic street gangs and criminal groups and, to a lesser degree, Caucasian traffickers, who distribute the drugs at the retail level.

A number of DTOs, criminal groups, and local independent dealers distribute illicit drugs at the retail level in the region, and their methods of operation change little from year to year. 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. African American criminal groups and street gangs dominate crack cocaine distribution in urban areas; they are increasingly distributing MDMA and methamphetamine to African American and Caucasian abusers in nightclubs and bars. Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers are the primary distributors of methamphetamine and CPDs throughout the region. Hispanic criminal groups and street gangs distribute cocaine (powder and crack), commercial-grade marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, and CPDs at the retail level. Additionally, Asian criminal groups distribute significant quantities of MDMA and CPDs in the coastal communities of Mississippi. Marijuana is sold by all racial/ethnic groups and across all socioeconomic classes; marijuana sales represent the primary source of income for many distributors because of the large customer base and ready availability of marijuana.

Traffickers and abusers illicitly obtain CPDs through traditional diversion methods (primarily doctor-shopping, theft, forged prescriptions, and unscrupulous physicians and pharmacists working alone or in association); physicians working from pain management clinics in Louisiana and Houston are significant sources for CPDs available in the region. Consequently, the Louisiana Administrative Code was updated in May 2008 to further restrict operating regulations for pain management clinics, requiring them to be owned by pain management specialists who must be licensed by the state of Louisiana.6 As a result, many pain management clinics were reconstituted and promoted as other types of medical centers, such as urgent care centers, in an attempt to circumvent the new regulations. CPDs are also diverted through Internet sales by rogue Internet pharmacies.7 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. Furthermore, federal legislation designed to reduce the number of rogue Internet pharmacies that sell CPDs was enacted in 2008. (See text box.)

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 traffickers typically facilitate drug sales in the Gulf Coast HIDTA region using electronic communications, usually cell phones and the Internet. Many traffickers use a particular cell phone for a limited time before switching to a different cell phone with a new number to reduce the possibility of law enforcement monitoring. Many traffickers prefer prepaid mobile telephones with local numbers; once the minutes are used, the telephone is discarded. Traffickers also conduct drug sales using the text messaging capabilities on cell phones in an attempt to avoid law enforcement intercepts. In addition, Internet chat rooms and blogs have become a popular method of communication for drug traffickers to arrange sales. African American street gang members also use the Internet to communicate, facilitate gang activities, and spread gang culture.

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Drug-Related Crime

Drug distributors and abusers in the Gulf Coast HIDTA region often engage in various criminal acts to sustain their drug-related activities. Law enforcement reporting indicates that crack cocaine is the illicit drug most often associated with violent and property crime in the region. According to NDTS 2009 data, 63 of the 89 law enforcement respondents in the Gulf Coast HIDTA region report that crack cocaine is the drug that most contributes to violent crime in their jurisdictions, and 56 respondents report the same for property crime. New Orleans continues to experience high levels of crime. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data reveal that violent crime in the New Orleans metropolitan statistical area8 increased from 2006 to 2007--this report does not overtly link drug trafficking and violent crime. UCR data for 2006 indicate that violent crime in the area increased from 6,953 reported offenses to 7,938 reported offenses in 2007 (the latest year for which such data are available).9 Property crime increased from 41,679 reported offenses in 2006 to 46,419 reported offenses in 2007. Nonetheless, the murder rate in the city dropped from 2007 through 2008, according to the New Orleans Police Department. According to the New Orleans Police Department, the number of murders reported in the city declined from 210 murders in 2007 to 179 in 2008. The New Orleans Police Department reports that part of this decrease is attributed to an increased presence of law enforcement officers in the city. The number of officers in the New Orleans Police Department increased from 1,370 officers in 2007 to 1,500 officers in 2008; the city was also aided by the presence of the Louisiana State Police and National Guard, which provided additional coverage in high-crime areas.

Mexican traffickers are increasingly committing violent acts in the Gulf Coast HIDTA region. Law enforcement officers report that Mexico-based organizations appear to be sending small teams of "enforcers" from Mexico to the southeastern United States, including parts of the Gulf Coast HIDTA region, to intimidate rival DTOs and criminal groups and to recoup drug debts. For example, in August 2008 the bodies of five murdered Mexican nationals were discovered bound, beaten, and with their throats slashed in a Shelby County, Alabama, apartment.10 Law enforcement officers arrested four Mexican nationals for these murders; officers suspect that the murders were the result of missing illicit drug proceeds.


Footnotes

6. Louisiana Administrative Code (LAC) Title 48:I.Chapter 78 7803.A became effective May 30, 2008. The code provides, in part, that except as specified in 7803.B, each clinic shall be 100 percent owned and operated by a physician certified in the subspecialty of pain management by a member of the American Boards of Medical Specialties, and the clinic must obtain a license issued by the department to operate.
7. Rogue Internet pharmacies are unlicensed, fraudulent, and disreputable businesses that sell CPDs illegally.
8. The New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner metropolitan statistical area (MSA) includes Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and St. Tammany Parishes.
9. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data include murder and nonnegligent homicide, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault as violent crime. FBI UCR data indicate that the New Orleans MSA had a violent crime rate of 773.2 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2007 and a murder rate of 28.2 per 100,000 inhabitants that same year. In 2006, the New Orleans MSA had a violent crime rate of 556.0 per 100,000 inhabitants and a murder rate of 21.7 per 100,000 inhabitants.
10. Shelby County is not a designated HIDTA county; however, it is adjacent to Jefferson County, a designated HIDTA county. Birmingham, Alabama, is in Jefferson County; much of Shelby County is a suburb of Birmingham.


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