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National Drug Intelligence Center
Colorado Drug Threat Assessment
Methamphetamine is a primary drug threat to Colorado, and it is readily available in most population centers in the state. Most methamphetamine available in Colorado is produced by Mexican DTOs and criminal groups in Mexico, California, and Arizona. Mexican DTOs and, to a lesser extent, Mexican criminal groups transport wholesale quantities of methamphetamine into Colorado from Mexico via southwestern states or from production sites in California and Arizona. Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers also produce significant quantities of methamphetamine throughout the state. The rising number of methamphetamine laboratories in the state poses a significant threat to public safety. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the wholesale distribution of methamphetamine produced in Mexico, California, and Arizona. Caucasian criminal groups also distribute methamphetamine at the wholesale level; typically they are supplied by laboratory operators in Colorado and neighboring states. Outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) also produce and distribute methamphetamine in the state. At the retail level Caucasian and Mexican local independent dealers are the most common distributors of the drug, but Hispanic and African American street gangs also distribute methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine abuse is increasingly prevalent in Colorado. The number of methamphetamine-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities in the state increased from 1,748 in 1997 to 2,037 in 2001, according to data from ADAD. (See Table 1 in Overview section.) Since 1999 treatment admissions for methamphetamine abuse have increased each year, while admissions for cocaine, heroin, and marijuana have declined. According to ADAD, more than 83 percent of patients treated for methamphetamine abuse in 2001 were Caucasian, 54 percent were male, and nearly 33 percent were 35 or older. Nearly 43 percent of methamphetamine abusers treated during 2001 smoked the drug, 32 percent injected it, 19 percent snorted it, and 6 percent used some other method or multiple methods of administration.
Methamphetamine-related poison control calls also have increased in Colorado. The Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center (RMPDC) reports an increase in the number of calls related to the category "street-drug amphetamine," from 38 in 1997 to 581 in 2001. The significance of this increase in the volume of calls is unknown but may be related to increased public awareness of the dangers and warning signs of methamphetamine abuse and production.
In the Denver metropolitan area, trends in methamphetamine-related hospital emergency department (ED) mentions and deaths are mixed. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), in the Denver metropolitan area the number of methamphetamine ED mentions decreased, from 292 in 1997 to 98 in 2001. However, mortality data from DAWN indicate that methamphetamine-related deaths increased, from 3 in 1996 to 19 in 2001.
Law enforcement agencies in Colorado also report that methamphetamine abuse is common. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) 2002 National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS), 53 of the 71 law enforcement officials surveyed in Colorado who reported on methamphetamine abuse in their jurisdictions indicated that abuse was at a high level, 8 indicated that abuse was moderate, and 10 reported low or no abuse of the drug.
Methamphetamine is most commonly abused in homes and other private locations in Colorado. Methamphetamine also is abused in public venues such as bars, nightclubs, and all-night rave parties. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that methamphetamine is increasingly used in public venues by long-term club drug abusers seeking to intensify their high.
Methamphetamine is readily available throughout the state. Most of the methamphetamine available in Colorado is produced by Mexican DTOs and criminal groups in Mexico or in California and Arizona. Locally produced methamphetamine is available in small quantities in most areas. According to law enforcement respondents to the NDTS, methamphetamine availability is high in most areas of the state; 55 of the 68 Colorado respondents who reported methamphetamine availability in their jurisdictions indicated that availability was high. Anecdotal information indicates that crystal methamphetamine, locally known as glass, is becoming increasingly available throughout the state.
Seizure data also reflect the availability of methamphetamine in Colorado. According to Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS) data, federal law enforcement officials in Colorado seized 51.1 kilograms of methamphetamine in 1998, 42.6 kilograms in 1999, 35.1 kilograms in 2000, and 51.0 kilograms in 2001. The El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) reported a total of 87 kilograms of methamphetamine seized in Colorado during Operation Pipeline interdictions in 2000 and 2001. The amounts seized ranged from less than 1 kilogram to 40 kilograms, but the amount seized per incident typically was 2 to 3 kilograms. Highway interdiction seizures of methamphetamine are most common in less heavily populated western Colorado between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs. Garfield County law enforcement agencies reported the highest number of methamphetamine-related highway seizure incidents of any county in the state from 1997 through 2000.
A large percentage of federal law enforcement operations in Colorado are focused on methamphetamine-related activity, and the number of federal sentences for methamphetamine-related violations has increased. From October 1998 through May 2001, 36 of the 86 Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigations initiated in Colorado were methamphetamine-related. In FY2001 the percentage of drug-related federal sentences that were methamphetamine-related in Colorado was higher than the national percentage. According to USSC data, 30.8 percent of drug-related federal sentences in Colorado in FY2001 were methamphetamine-related compared with 14.2 percent nationally. The number of methamphetamine-related federal sentences in Colorado increased from 27 in FY1997 to 48 in FY2001.
Wholesale and retail prices of methamphetamine vary by location throughout Colorado. According to DEA, the price of methamphetamine in Denver remained relatively stable from FY1999 to FY2002. In the third quarter of FY2002, methamphetamine in Denver sold for $5,500 to $9,000 per pound and $80 to $100 per gram. In Grand Junction methamphetamine sold for $500 to $750 per ounce and $140 to $160 per gram. In Colorado Springs higher purity methamphetamine is readily available from Mexican distributors or local producers with prices ranging from $9,000 to $15,000 per pound, $700 to $1,200 per ounce, and $90 to $125 per gram. Crystal methamphetamine available in the Denver area sells approximately 20 percent higher than powdered methamphetamine.
In Denver the purity of methamphetamine produced by Mexican DTOs and criminal groups was typically 10 to 20 percent during the second half of FY2000, according to DEA. The same type of methamphetamine sold at the wholesale and retail levels averaged 20 percent pure in Colorado Springs. Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies throughout the state report that locally produced methamphetamine generally has a higher purity than methamphetamine produced by Mexican DTOs and criminal groups in Mexico, California, and Arizona. However, because of current federal and state restrictions placed on the sale of chemicals used in methamphetamine production, producers and distributors in Colorado have been diluting small quantities of locally produced methamphetamine, resulting in lower purity methamphetamine. The purity of crystal methamphetamine, which is becoming increasingly available in most metropolitan areas in Colorado, is higher than the purity of other types of methamphetamine. Crystal methamphetamine has tested as high as 90 percent pure in Colorado.
The potential for methamphetamine-related violence is one of the most serious concerns of law enforcement officials in Colorado. Individuals addicted to methamphetamine often are unpredictable, frightened, and confused; they will also commit violent crimes to obtain the drug, particularly during the "tweaking" stage of abuse. Methamphetamine abusers often are paranoid and delusional and frequently arm themselves against perceived threats, particularly from law enforcement officers. The effects of methamphetamine have caused many abusers to assault or kill others, including family members and friends.
Many police departments throughout Colorado report a direct correlation between methamphetamine distribution and violence. Criminal groups and local independent dealers who distribute methamphetamine engage in violent acts including assault and homicide to protect drug distribution activities and to collect drug debts. Between January and August 2001, three Westminster Police Department officers were involved in shooting incidents with methamphetamine producers--an officer was injured in one of the incidents. Numerous street gangs such as AK Huds, Sureņos 13, and West Side Varrios as well as OMGs such as Bandidos and Sons of Silence distribute methamphetamine in Colorado and also reportedly engage in violent activity, some of which is linked to their methamphetamine distribution activities.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups produce most of the methamphetamine available in Colorado in large laboratories in Mexico, California, and Arizona. Methamphetamine also is produced in significant quantities in Colorado, primarily by Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers. The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) estimates that less than 20 percent of the methamphetamine available in Colorado is produced in the state; however, these laboratories pose a significant threat to public safety. Most of the methamphetamine produced in Colorado is produced in volatile stovetop or "bathtub" laboratories. The hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method is the most popular method of producing methamphetamine in the state. The Birch reduction method, also known as the Nazi method, is used by local methamphetamine producers to produce small quantities--usually 1 ounce or less--of high purity methamphetamine. The Rocky Mountain HIDTA reports that the Birch reduction method is one of the most common methods used in the Rocky Mountain region.
Methamphetamine laboratory seizures in Colorado increased significantly from 1997 through 2001. (See Chart 1.) The Rocky Mountain HIDTA reports that 452 methamphetamine laboratories and dumpsites were seized in Colorado during 2001 compared with 240 in 2000. Most laboratories seized in 2001 were small, capable of producing up to 2 ounces per production cycle; however, the Rocky Mountain HIDTA reports that four laboratories seized in Colorado during 2001 were capable of producing more than 1 pound of methamphetamine per production cycle. Further, in 2000 the West Metro Task Force in Jefferson County reportedly seized one super lab--a laboratory capable of producing 10 or more pounds of methamphetamine per production cycle.
Methamphetamine production poses serious safety and environmental concerns to Colorado. The production process creates toxic and hazardous waste that endangers law enforcement personnel, emergency response teams, children (particularly those who reside in the homes of methamphetamine producers), and the environment. Methamphetamine laboratories may contain a variety of highly flammable chemicals and produce 5 to 7 pounds of toxic waste for every pound of methamphetamine produced. Most of the toxic residue from methamphetamine production is dumped in areas accessible to the public. These chemicals contaminate soil, streams and rivers, and public sewer systems.
Mexican DTOs and, to a lesser extent, Mexican criminal groups are the primary transporters of most of the methamphetamine available in Colorado. These DTOs and criminal groups transport methamphetamine into Colorado in private vehicles from Mexico via transshipment areas in southwestern states or from laboratories in California and Arizona. The primary transportation routes into Colorado are I-70 and I-25. Operation Pipeline seizure data indicate that methamphetamine destined for Colorado has been transported on highways from Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Utah. Criminal groups based in El Paso, Texas, as well as in Los Angeles and Stockton, California, transport substantial quantities of methamphetamine into the state. In addition, methamphetamine reportedly has been shipped via package delivery services to street gang members in the Denver area from a source in California. Methamphetamine also is transshipped through Colorado en route to drug markets in other states.
The groups and individuals that distribute methamphetamine in Colorado vary depending on the source of the drug and the level of distribution. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the wholesale distribution of methamphetamine produced by other Mexican DTOs and criminal groups in Mexico, California, and Arizona. Law enforcement officials in Colorado report that Mexican criminal groups that distribute methamphetamine are "vertical" in nature--local Mexican groups purchase methamphetamine directly from friends and family members associated with Mexican DTOs operating in Nayarit and Sinaloa, Mexico; California; and southwestern states. These groups in turn supply wholesale and midlevel quantities of methamphetamine to other criminal groups, local independent dealers, street gangs, or OMGs. Mexican criminal groups also occasionally distribute the drug directly to abusers at the retail level. Many members of these criminal groups are illegal immigrants who work in Colorado's recreation and construction industries, and many maintain ties with friends and family in Mexico.
Caucasian criminal groups also distribute methamphetamine at the wholesale level in Colorado, but to a lesser extent than Mexican DTOs and criminal groups. These groups produce the drug in Colorado and neighboring states and often are involved in multistate distribution. Some of these groups distribute up to 15 pounds of methamphetamine per month in Colorado and surrounding states, according to the Rocky Mountain HIDTA. These groups are loosely organized; however, individuals associated with the group typically perform one specific role in the production and distribution process, which is coordinated by the group leader.
OMGs maintain extensive methamphetamine distribution networks in Colorado. Many OMGs obtain their methamphetamine from Mexican DTOs. Sons of Silence--which maintains its national headquarters in Colorado Springs--and Bandidos are the most active OMGs in Colorado; both distribute methamphetamine at the wholesale and retail levels. Other OMGs that distribute methamphetamine in Colorado include Brothers Fast, Hells Angels, High Plains Drifters, Iron Horsemen, and Sundowners. The Weld County Drug Task Force reports that the Sons of Silence chapter in its jurisdiction produces and distributes methamphetamine. The Arvada Police Department reports that Bandidos and High Plains Drifters distribute significant quantities of methamphetamine in Arvada (a suburb of Denver). Hells Angels has expanded its operations into Colorado by absorbing the Colorado-based Brothers Fast as well as its methamphetamine distribution operations.
Hispanic street gangs such as Sureņos 13, West Side Varrios, and AK Huds distribute midlevel and retail quantities of methamphetamine in Colorado. They purchase methamphetamine from Mexican DTOs and criminal groups who produce the drug in Mexico, California, and Arizona. According to Colorado law enforcement officials, Sureņos 13 is one of the largest Hispanic gangs distributing methamphetamine in Colorado. Many Sureņos 13 gang members in Colorado have ties to other Hispanic gangs in Southern California. Police department officials in Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins, and Lakewood report that Sureņos 13 and other Hispanic gangs distribute methamphetamine at the retail level in their jurisdictions but are capable of supplying larger quantities of the drug. Law enforcement officials report that West Side Varrios distributes methamphetamine in Colorado Springs, and AK Huds distributes methamphetamine in Denver.
Caucasian and Mexican local independent dealers are the most common retail-level methamphetamine distributors in Colorado. Caucasian local independent dealers are supplied by Mexican as well as Caucasian criminal groups, while Mexican local independent dealers are supplied by Mexican DTOs or criminal groups. In addition, small groups of local independent dealers--most of whom are Caucasian--produce and distribute small amounts of methamphetamine throughout the state. According to DEA, these groups produce and distribute only about 20 percent of the methamphetamine available in Colorado; however, some jurisdictions report that local independent dealers are responsible for most or all of the methamphetamine distribution in their jurisdictions. For instance, the 16th Judicial District Drug Task Force reports that nearly all of the methamphetamine in the district--composed of Bent, Crowley, and Otero Counties--is produced and distributed by Caucasian local independent dealers.
African American street gangs, primarily Bloods and Crips, also distribute methamphetamine at the retail level in Colorado. Both Bloods and Crips originated in Southern California in the late 1960s and subsequently spread from California to other states. Members of some local Crips gangs maintain close ties with Crips members in Southern California; however, some street gangs that identify themselves as Crips have no ties to the California gangs. The East Side 12th Street Crips gang distributes methamphetamine in Pueblo, and the Ruthless Ass Gangster Crips gang distributes methamphetamine in Colorado Springs. The Arvada Police Department reports that the Little Mafia Gangster Crips gang distributes methamphetamine in its jurisdiction.
Methamphetamine at the wholesale level typically is wrapped in cellophane and duct tape and often is smeared with grease to mask its odor. At the retail level methamphetamine is sold in quantities of less than 2 ounces in small plastic bags. Small quantities of methamphetamine generally are distributed on the street or from private vehicles, while larger quantities of methamphetamine typically are distributed from private residences or businesses such as bars and nightclubs.
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