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Drug Threat Overview

Cocaine trafficking and abuse pose the greatest drug threat to the Gulf Coast 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 poses a greater threat than any other illicit drug. According to data from the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2009,1 48 of the 89 law enforcement agency respondents in the Gulf Coast HIDTA region report that cocaine is the greatest drug threat in their jurisdictions. Shortages in wholesale quantities of powder cocaine, which were first noted in 2007, continued to be reported by some law enforcement agencies in the Gulf Coast HIDTA region through 2008. Nonetheless, cocaine remains available at the retail level, and quantities are sufficient to meet local demand. Law enforcement officials seized more than 1,315 kilograms of powder cocaine in conjunction with Gulf Coast HIDTA initiatives in 2008. (See Table 1.)

Table 1. Drug Seizures in the Gulf Coast HIDTA Region, in Kilograms, 2008

  Powder Cocaine Crack Cocaine Methamphetamine Marijuana Heroin CPDs
(in dosage units)
(in dosage units)
Alabama 243.50 4.37 1.74 2,652.33 0.24 6,156.00 6,046.00
Arkansas 113.58 0.58 10.06 1,076.69 0.00 3.00 270.00
Louisiana 650.12 17.30 55.67 2,585.01 15.00 30,223.00 410,322.00
Mississippi 308.69 6.63 3.77 1,906.63 0.00 1,660.00 14,503.50
Total 1,315.89 28.88 71.24 8,220.66 15.24 38,042.00 431,141.50

Source: Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

The production, trafficking, and abuse of powder and ice methamphetamine pose a significant threat to the Gulf Coast HIDTA region. According to NDTS 2009 data, 22 of the 89 law enforcement agency respondents in the Gulf Coast HIDTA region report that powder methamphetamine and ice methamphetamine are the greatest drug threats in their jurisdictions. Mexican high-purity ice methamphetamine and locally produced powder methamphetamine are available throughout the Gulf Coast HIDTA region. Mexican DTOs supply large amounts of powder and ice methamphetamine to the region through established distribution networks. Methamphetamine is also produced in the region at low to moderate levels.

The diversion, distribution, and abuse of CPDs2 pose a serious and growing threat to the Gulf Coast HIDTA region. CPDs are widely available and abused at high levels; further, a considerable number of property crimes are committed by CPD abusers. According to NDTS 2009 data, 83 of the 89 law enforcement agency respondents in the Gulf Coast HIDTA region report that CPDs are available at moderate to high levels in their jurisdictions. CPDs are frequently abused in the region; law enforcement officers report that CPD abuse is a growing problem among Caucasian young adults. The most widely available and commonly abused CPDs are analgesic patches, Dilaudid, hydrocodone, methadone, OxyContin, and Xanax,3 as well as the prescription drug Soma. Distributors 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 also significant sources for CPDs available in the region. Consequently, stricter regulations were enacted for pain management clinics operating in Louisiana in an attempt to diminish their ability to illicitly dispense CPDs. As a result, many pain management clinics were reconstituted and promoted as other types of medical centers, such as urgent care centers, to avoid the new regulations.

Marijuana distribution and abuse pose considerable threats to the Gulf Coast 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, but some cannabis is grown locally at outdoor and, to a lesser degree, indoor grow sites. Much of the high-potency marijuana available in the region is transported from sources of supply in Canada and northern California.

MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy) and heroin pose lower threats to most of the Gulf Coast HIDTA region. MDMA is available in the region. Caucasian and Asian criminal groups and, increasingly, African American criminal groups and street gangs distribute MDMA in the region. Heroin availability and abuse are at low levels throughout most of region; however, law enforcement officials in New Orleans--a city that historically has had high levels of heroin availability and abuse--and Arkansas report that heroin is increasingly available.

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Drug Trafficking Organizations

Mexican DTOs are the principal wholesale distributors of powder cocaine, Mexican brown powder and black tar heroin, methamphetamine, and commercial-grade marijuana in the Gulf Coast HIDTA region. Mexican DTOs transport these illicit drugs through the Gulf Coast HIDTA region to supply southeastern markets outside the HIDTA region. Most other wholesale and midlevel traffickers in the region rely on Mexican DTOs for these drugs. In 2008 violent acts committed by Mexican DTOs against other Mexican traffickers increased in the region; this violence is often initiated to collect drug debts and to intimidate other drug traffickers in the region.

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.

African American criminal groups and street gangs are primary retail-level distributors in the Gulf Coast HIDTA region; these groups and gangs are increasingly becoming polydrug distributors. They distribute large amounts of powder and crack cocaine, commercial-grade marijuana, and heroin, and are more frequently distributing methamphetamine and MDMA that they obtain from African American criminal groups located in the Atlanta HIDTA and North Texas HIDTA regions. African American street gangs, such as Vice Lords and Black Gangster Disciples, dominate crack cocaine distribution in urban areas such as Jackson, Mississippi. Many African American criminal groups are establishing drug distribution networks in rural areas of the region where they believe law enforcement agencies lack the resources to disrupt and dismantle their operations.

Hispanic criminal groups and street gangs distribute cocaine (powder and crack), commercial-grade marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, and CPDs at the retail level. These groups obtain most of the illicit drugs that they distribute from Mexican DTOs. Hispanic street gangs in the region are typically more organized than African American street gangs and are more frequently connected to national-level street gangs.

Asian drug traffickers distribute MDMA and high-potency marijuana in the Gulf Coast HIDTA region. Asian DTOs distribute large amounts of MDMA in coastal communities of the HIDTA region in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Large Vietnamese populations employed in the fishing industry in those communities allow Asian traffickers to blend into local communities. In addition, Asian DTOs distribute lesser amounts of MDMA and high-potency marijuana in other areas of the HIDTA.

Caucasian DTOs, criminal groups, and independent dealers are the principal cannabis cultivators, methamphetamine producers, and CPD distributors in the HIDTA region; they also distribute marijuana, MDMA and, to a lesser extent, cocaine. Caucasian traffickers cultivate cannabis and produce methamphetamine, most frequently in rural areas of Alabama and Arkansas.


1. 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.
2. Not all prescription drugs are listed as controlled prescription drugs (CPDs) in the 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
3. Schedule II drugs include several prescription drugs, such as Dilaudid (hydromorphone), 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).

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