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National Drug Intelligence Center
Florida Drug Threat Assessment
Methamphetamine poses a serious and increasing threat to Florida and is a major public health problem in some areas of the state. The drug is frequently available and abused in rural areas and is increasingly available and abused in suburban and metropolitan areas. Methamphetamine production, distribution, and abuse often are associated with violent crime. In central Florida, an area that historically has had a significant methamphetamine problem, the availability and abuse of the drug have spread outward from Polk County. Most of the methamphetamine available in this area is produced in high volume laboratories in California, Mexico, and southwestern states using the hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method. Significant quantities of methamphetamine available in Polk and surrounding counties are produced locally, primarily using the Birch reduction method. In northern Florida the number of methamphetamine laboratories has increased as users have learned how to produce the drug. Locally produced methamphetamine is increasingly available and abused in this area, although an increasing amount of methamphetamine produced in Mexico, California, and southwestern states also is available in the state. In southern Florida crystal methamphetamine is frequently seen in clubs and used in combination with other drugs, including MDMA. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups, the dominant transporters of methamphetamine, usually smuggle the drug in commercial and private vehicles into Florida from California, Mexico, and southwestern states. Methamphetamine also is transported into the state via couriers on commercial aircraft and via package delivery services from California, Mexico, and southwestern states. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the wholesale distribution of methamphetamine statewide. They typically sell pound quantities of methamphetamine to Caucasian and Mexican criminal groups who then sell ounce quantities to local independent Caucasian and Mexican dealers, the dominant retail distributors in the state. Street gangs such as Latin Kings, Vice Lords, and Sureņos 13 also distribute retail quantities of methamphetamine in Florida. Retail quantities (1 gram to one-quarter gram) of methamphetamine usually are packaged in small plastic bags and sold on street corners and at open-air drug markets, private residences, bars, housing projects, mobile home parks, and occasionally at raves or techno parties.
Much of the following data regarding methamphetamine abuse indicators in Florida is heavily focused on Miami or southern Florida. Methamphetamine is a predominantly rural phenomenon, heavily concentrated in central and northern Florida; therefore, data such as emergency department mentions and arrestee drug abuse indicators collected in southern Florida may not accurately reflect the true level of methamphetamine abuse throughout the state.
Methamphetamine is frequently abused in rural areas in Florida, and is increasingly abused in suburban and metropolitan areas. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials and treatment providers in Florida report that in central Florida, an area that historically has had a significant methamphetamine problem, the availability and abuse of the drug have spread outward from Polk County. In some rural areas methamphetamine is being marketed as an alternative to crack. These officials and treatment providers also report that the level of abuse in northern Florida, the Florida panhandle, and in some areas of southern Florida such as Miami Beach, Key West, and Fort Lauderdale has increased.
Methamphetamine can be snorted, smoked, or injected and often is used in conjunction with other drugs, particularly pharmaceuticals. Drug treatment providers report that most methamphetamine abusers in Florida snort the drug, at least initially. However, the harsh chemicals used to produce methamphetamine damage the nasal passages, forcing abusers to resort to smoking or injecting the drug. According to federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, many methamphetamine abusers simultaneously use pharmaceuticals including benzodiazepines (Xanax and Valium), oxycodones (OxyContin and Percocet), and hydrocodones (Lorcet and Lortab), many of which are obtained illegally. State and local law enforcement officials in Florida report that most individuals arrested for possession of methamphetamine also possess other drugs, including illegally obtained pharmaceuticals, at the time of their arrest.
Treatment data indicate that there are fewer methamphetamine-related admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities in Florida than for cocaine, heroin, or marijuana. According to TEDS data, the number of methamphetamine-related treatment admissions increased from 379 in 1997 to 467 in 2001. (See Table 3 in Overview section.) The number of methamphetamine-related treatment admissions per 100,000 population (4) in Florida was dramatically lower than the number per 100,000 population nationwide (32) in 1999, the most recent year for which these data are available.
Methamphetamine abuse occasionally is cited in connection with drug-related deaths in Florida. According to the 2001 Report of Drugs Identified in Deceased Persons by Florida Medical Examiners, there were 43 methamphetamine-related deaths in the state in 2001. According to DAWN mortality data, the number of methamphetamine-related deaths in Miami-Dade County increased from zero in 1996 to three in 2000.
Methamphetamine abuse is less frequently associated with ED mentions in Miami than is abuse of any other drug. According to DAWN data, the number of methamphetamine-related ED mentions in Miami increased from 10 in 1997 to 27 in 2001. In both 1997 and 2001, only one methamphetamine-related ED mention per 100,000 population was reported in Miami.
The percentage of high school students in Florida reporting having abused methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime is statistically comparable to the national percentage. According to 2001 YRBS data, 7.6 percent of Florida high school students surveyed reported having abused methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime, compared to 9.8 percent nationwide.
Methamphetamine is rarely abused by adult male arrestees in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. According to ADAM data, no adult male arrestees tested positive for methamphetamine abuse in either Miami or Fort Lauderdale in 2000. (See Table 2 in Overview section.)
Methamphetamine is often available in rural areas and more recently has become available in metropolitan and suburban areas. In central Florida, particularly Polk County, the availability of locally produced methamphetamine and methamphetamine produced in California, Mexico, and southwestern states has spread outward. In addition to local producers, laboratory operators from Alabama and Georgia, who produce methamphetamine primarily using the Birch reduction method, have begun producing methamphetamine in northern Florida. An increasing amount of methamphetamine produced in Mexico, California, and southwestern states also is available. (See Methamphetamine Production Methods text box.) In southern Florida methamphetamine is infrequently available but availability is increasing. According to FDSS data, the amount of methamphetamine seized by federal law enforcement officials in Florida fluctuated but increased dramatically overall from nearly 10 kilograms in 1997 to 85 kilograms in 2001. (See Table 1 in Overview section.) State and local law enforcement officials in at least five states--Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, South Carolina, and West Virginia--responding to the NDTS 2002 reported that Florida is a supply area for methamphetamine available in their jurisdictions.
Prices for methamphetamine vary throughout the state but are typically higher the farther an area is from Polk County, the primary distribution center. According to the DEA Miami Division, wholesale quantities of methamphetamine sold for $8,000 to $12,000 per pound in central and northern Florida in the second quarter of FY2002. Pound quantities are rarely available in southern Florida. Ounce quantities of methamphetamine sold for $650 to $1,200 in central Florida, $800 to $1,500 in northern Florida, and approximately $1,500 in southern Florida during that period. DEA reported that methamphetamine typically sold for $70 to $100 per gram and $250 per one-eighth ounce (8-ball) statewide during that period.
Purity levels for methamphetamine vary depending on the level of distribution and the production method used. According to DEA, in Florida kilogram quantities of methamphetamine produced in Mexico, California, and southwestern states are usually 80 percent pure before being cut with diluents such as MSM. Pound quantities of methamphetamine produced in these areas are typically 20 to 30 percent pure, cut with two parts MSM per one part methamphetamine. Retail quantities (1 gram to one-quarter gram) of methamphetamine produced in these areas are often 8 to 16 percent pure statewide. Methamphetamine produced locally using the Birch reduction method generally has a higher purity level than methamphetamine produced in California, Mexico, and southwestern states. Local producers often sell the drug to friends or relatives without cutting the drug. Locally produced methamphetamine, generally sold at the retail level, is 50 to 80 percent pure; however, according to the DEA Southeast Regional Laboratory, experienced producers in Florida often produce methamphetamine that is 90 to 95 percent pure.
The percentage of drug-related federal sentences in Florida involving methamphetamine was significantly lower than the national percentage each year from FY1997 through FY2001. According to USSC data, 5.5 percent of drug-related federal sentences in Florida in FY2001 were methamphetamine-related, compared with 14.2 percent nationwide. Nonetheless, the number of federal sentences involving methamphetamine in Florida increased dramatically from 65 in FY1997 to 106 in FY2001.
Methamphetamine production, distribution, and abuse often are associated with violent crime in Florida, particularly in rural areas. According to federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, Mexican criminal groups, Caucasian and Mexican local independent dealers, and gangs such as Vice Lords and Sureņos 13 that distribute methamphetamine in Florida often commit assault, homicide, and black market weapons violations. Many methamphetamine abusers and producers also commit crimes such as spousal abuse and child neglect. Further, local methamphetamine laboratory operators, distributors, and abusers often carry pistols, modified shotguns, or other weapons.
Long-term methamphetamine addicts often display psychotic behavior such as paranoia and experience auditory and visual hallucinations or mood disturbances and have violent tendencies. As the drug's euphoric effects begin to diminish, the user enters a stage called tweaking. It is during this stage that the user is most prone to violence, delusions, and paranoid behavior. These unpredictable and violent behaviors prompted law enforcement agencies in Florida to offer training and establish guidelines for officers encountering a methamphetamine abuser. Officers are advised to stay 7 to 10 feet away from the abuser because moving closer could be perceived as threatening. Officers also are advised not to shine bright lights at the user, who may become violent if blinded.
In addition to the crime and violence associated with methamphetamine distribution and abuse, methamphetamine production adversely affects the environment and endangers the lives of those who live at or near the production site. Children, law enforcement personnel, and local residents increasingly are exposed to the dangers posed by the explosive and toxic chemicals used to produce methamphetamine. Methamphetamine laboratories create 5 to 7 pounds of toxic waste for every pound of methamphetamine produced. Most of the toxic residue from methamphetamine production is dumped in the local area, killing vegetation and contaminating water supplies and soil.
Most of the methamphetamine available in Florida is produced in high volume laboratories in California, Mexico, and southwestern states using the hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method or is produced locally using the Birch reduction method. (See text box.) Local production typically occurs in rural areas of the state, particularly in northern Florida. A significant amount of methamphetamine also is produced in central Florida. Methamphetamine occasionally is produced in southern Florida. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups are the dominant producers of methamphetamine in California, Mexico, and southwestern states. Local independent Caucasian dealers typically produce methamphetamine in Florida.
Methamphetamine producers in Florida often steal the chemicals necessary for production. Most local methamphetamine production occurs in single-family homes, apartments, storage buildings, cars, and wooded areas. According to local law enforcement officials, local methamphetamine producers frequently steal anhydrous ammonia--a common fertilizer--from farms, often placing the liquid in containers such as propane tanks, coolers, fire extinguishers, and other containers. Many of these containers are not designed to store anhydrous ammonia, which is highly corrosive and toxic, leading to a potential hazard. When collecting other essential chemicals such as pseudoephedrine, methamphetamine producers often avoid large retail stores in which employees are more likely to report suspicious purchases or detect thefts. Many prefer instead to collect ephedrine from convenience stores in inner-city neighborhoods and poor sections of rural communities.
Methamphetamine laboratories in Florida are seized at an increasing rate. According to EPIC, the number of methamphetamine laboratories seized by federal, state, and local law enforcement officials in Florida fluctuated but increased dramatically overall from 1 in 1997 to 27 in 2001. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials also seized 63 methamphetamine laboratories in the first 9 months of 2002. The number of methamphetamine laboratories seized in Florida is actually higher than the number cited by EPIC, primarily because state and local law enforcement officials are not always required to report their seizures. Many local officials in northern and central Florida report having seized more methamphetamine laboratories in 2002 than in any prior year.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups, the dominant transporters of methamphetamine, usually smuggle the drug in commercial and private vehicles from Mexico, California, and southwestern states into Florida. Law enforcement officials in Florida seized 5 kilograms of methamphetamine from commercial and private vehicles as part of Operation Pipeline in 2001, and USCS officials in Florida seized almost 3 kilograms of methamphetamine from similar conveyances that year.
Methamphetamine also is transported into Florida by couriers on commercial aircraft and via package delivery services. Couriers often conceal methamphetamine taped to their body or hide the drug in clothing. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials report that Mexican criminal groups often hire male Mexican couriers, but Caucasian females are used at an increasing rate because they are believed to attract less attention from law enforcement officials. Methamphetamine transported via package delivery services sometimes is concealed in auto parts, stuffed animals, or other items. USCS officials in Florida seized over 7.0 kilograms of methamphetamine from commercial aircraft in 2001, and federal, state, and local law enforcement officials seized 10.4 kilograms of methamphetamine transported on commercial aircraft as part of Operation Jetway in 2001.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the wholesale distribution of methamphetamine statewide. They typically sell pound quantities of methamphetamine to Caucasian and other Mexican criminal groups who then sell ounce quantities to local independent Caucasian and Mexican dealers, the dominant retail distributors in the state. Gangs such as Latin Kings, Vice Lords, and Sureņos 13 also distribute retail quantities of methamphetamine in Florida.
Retail quantities (1 gram to one-quarter gram) of methamphetamine usually are packaged in small plastic bags and sold at various locations in Florida. Local independent Caucasian dealers often sell methamphetamine at private residences, bars, housing projects, mobile home parks, and occasionally at raves or techno parties. Mexican criminal groups and local independent dealers as well as Hispanic gang members usually distribute methamphetamine at open-air drug markets and on street corners. Local methamphetamine producers frequently consume most of what they produce; however, they also sell small quantities of methamphetamine to friends, family members, and associates, principally to fund further methamphetamine production.
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