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Drug Intelligence Center
Texas Drug Threat Assessment
Heroin poses a considerable threat to Texas. Mexican black tar heroin and Mexican brown powdered heroin are the predominant types available throughout the state; however, South American, Southeast Asian, and Southwest Asian heroin are available to varying extents. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups control the transportation and wholesale distribution of Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin. Colombian DTOs and criminal groups dominate the transportation and wholesale distribution of South American heroin, while Nigerian and other West African groups control the transportation and distribution of Southeast Asian and Southwest Asian heroin. Mexican criminal groups dominate retail-level heroin distribution in the state. However, African American, Caucasian, and other Hispanic criminal groups, local independent dealers, prison gangs, and street gangs also distribute heroin at the retail level.
Heroin abuse is a concern to law enforcement agencies throughout Texas. In response to the NDTS 2002, 13 percent of the 150 law enforcement respondents in Texas who rated the level of heroin abuse in their jurisdictions reported high levels of abuse, 31 percent reported medium levels, and 55 percent reported low levels of abuse.
Heroin abuse is a major concern to substance abuse treatment providers in Texas. According to TCADA, the number of adult heroin-related admissions to TCADA-funded treatment facilities increased in 2002 following 2 years of decline. There were 4,528 adult treatment admissions for heroin abuse in 1998, 5,114 in 1999, 4,005 in 2000, 3,945 in 2001, and 5,127 in 2002. Heroin abuse among Texas youth appears to be stabilizing at low levels as evidenced by state treatment statistics. According to TCADA, the number of youth seeking treatment for heroin addiction at TCADA-funded programs increased from 83 in 1998 to 122 in 1999 to 132 in 2000, decreased to 79 in 2001, and remained stable at 80 in 2002.
A growing number of younger heroin users admitted to treatment report that they snort or smoke black tar heroin. Law enforcement officials report that individuals who snort black tar heroin typically freeze the drug, then crush it into a powder prior to administration. Smoking the drug involves heating it on a piece of aluminum foil over an open flame and inhaling rising wisps of smoke through a straw or similar device--a process called chasing the dragon.
The number of heroin ED mentions in the Dallas metropolitan area fluctuated but decreased overall from 1997 through 2001. In 1997 there were 505 heroin ED mentions in Dallas, 500 in 1998, 428 in 1999, 478 in 2000, and 443 in 2001, according to DAWN. The rate of heroin ED mentions per 100,000 population in the Dallas metropolitan area (14) was the second-lowest rate (behind Minneapolis) among the 21 metropolitan areas reporting to DAWN in 2001.
Across the state the number of deaths in which heroin was a factor fluctuated but remained relatively stable from 1997 to 2001. According to TCADA, there were 333 heroin-related deaths in Texas in 1997, 374 in 1998, 370 in 1999, 320 in 2000, and 339 in 2001. In the Dallas metropolitan area, heroin/morphine-related deaths fluctuated but remained relatively stable from 1997 to 2001. According to DAWN, there were 73 heroin/morphine-related deaths reported in the Dallas metropolitan area in 1997, 69 in 1998, 77 in 1999, 94 in 2000, and 76 in 2001. Mortality data from DAWN indicate that in the San Antonio metropolitan area, heroin/morphine-related deaths increased notably from 1997 to 2001. There were 30 deaths in 1997, 30 in 1998, 77 in 1999, 90 in 2000, and 88 in 2001. Heroin-related deaths are also a significant concern in other areas of Texas. In April 2001 a series of heroin overdose deaths occurred in Travis County, which includes the city of Austin. Ten individuals died from heroin overdoses that month--four in one week alone. In Houston 15 individuals died from heroin overdoses over one weekend in August 2001. Law enforcement and health authorities attributed these overdose deaths to high-purity heroin that abusers were led to believe was cocaine.
The number of calls to Texas Poison Control Centers increased from 181 calls in 1998 to 218 in 1999 and 295 in 2000, then decreased to 241 in 2001 and 221 in 2002.
In 2001 heroin/opiates were detected in a fairly large percentage of adult male arrestees in Dallas, Laredo, and San Antonio. According to ADAM program data, in 2001, 4.8 percent of adult male arrestees tested positive for heroin or another opiate in Dallas, 10.7 percent tested positive in Laredo, and 9.1 percent tested positive in San Antonio.
Heroin is available throughout Texas; 49 percent of the 158 law enforcement respondents to the NDTS 2002 in Texas who rated the level of heroin availability reported that heroin was readily available in their jurisdictions. Mexican black tar heroin is the predominant type available in Texas; Mexican brown powdered heroin is also available but to a lesser extent. South American heroin is primarily available in Dallas and Houston. Southwest Asian and Southeast Asian heroin availability is limited in the state.
The quantity of heroin seized by federal law enforcement officers in Texas has fluctuated but remains high in comparison with other states. According to FDSS data, federal law enforcement officers in Texas seized 138 kilograms of heroin in 1998, 118 kilograms in 1999, 189 kilograms in 2000, 142 kilograms in 2001, and 291 kilograms in 2002. Although the quantity of heroin seized by federal officers fluctuated, heroin availability remains high--Texas ranked third nationwide in the amount of heroin seized by federal officers in 2002. (See Table 1 in Overview section.)
According to USSC data, in FY2001, 2 percent of drug-related federal sentences in Texas were heroin-related compared with 7 percent nationally. The number of heroin-related federal sentences in Texas decreased each year from 176 in FY1997 to 98 in FY2001.
Heroin prices are relatively stable throughout most areas of Texas. According to DEA, in FY2002 Mexican black tar heroin sold for $35,000 to $60,000 per kilogram in Dallas and approximately $31,000 per kilogram in El Paso. During that period, Mexican black tar heroin sold for $1,600 to $2,800 per ounce in Dallas, $1,000 to $1,500 per ounce in El Paso, and $1,000 to $2,000 per ounce in Houston. In FY2002 retail quantities of Mexican black tar heroin sold for $150 to $250 per gram in Dallas and $100 per gram in El Paso. (Retail prices were not available for Houston.) In Dallas during the first quarter of FY2003 Mexican brown powdered heroin sold for $800 to $1,600 per ounce and $10 to $20 per capsule. Mexican brown powdered heroin prices were not available for El Paso or Houston. During the same time period, South American heroin sold for $60,000 to $70,000 per kilogram and $2,000 per ounce in Dallas. (No other prices were available.)
The purity of heroin varies throughout Texas, depending on location and type. The North Texas HIDTA reports that the purity level of Mexican black tar heroin increased from an average of 47 percent in 1998 to an average of nearly 60 percent in FY2001. The DEA Dallas Division reports that purity levels for South American heroin in its jurisdiction ranged from 74 to 89 percent. (No other purity information was available.)
Heroin-related violence occurs throughout Texas, primarily in connection with distribution of the drug. Several violent prison gangs and street gangs distribute heroin in Texas. The Mexikanemi prison gang reportedly commits violent crimes such as extortion and murder to protect its heroin distribution operations. Members of Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos, a prison gang that distributes various illicit drugs including heroin, frequently commit violent crimes such as burglary, homicide, and weapons trafficking on the West Side of San Antonio. Some of these crimes are committed in connection with their heroin distribution activities. Barrio Azteca (see text box), the most violent prison gang in El Paso County, distributes heroin, along with cocaine, marijuana, and other dangerous drugs such as MDMA and Rohypnol. Its members have been implicated in drug-related kidnapping, extortion, homicide, and murder-for-hire. The Vario Arnett-Benson and North Side Locos street gangs that distribute heroin in the Lubbock area reportedly have engaged in violent criminal activity in connection with their heroin distribution operations, including assault--particularly on law enforcement officers--drive-by shooting, homicide, and armed robbery.
Heroin abusers generally are not associated with violent crime; however, abusers in Texas periodically commit property crimes to acquire money to purchase the drug. Odessa law enforcement officials report that local heroin abusers commit burglary in the city to support their heroin addiction. Moreover, the Plano Police Department reports that property crime in its jurisdiction often is linked to heroin abusers. Department officials also report that a large number of heroin users between the ages of 14 and 21 live in the neighborhoods where these crimes are committed.
Opium is not cultivated nor is heroin produced in Texas. Heroin is produced in four primary source regions: Mexico, South America, Southeast Asia, and Southwest Asia. Most of the heroin available in Texas is produced in Mexico; however, heroin from all of the primary source regions is available to some degree in the state.
Heroin frequently is seized at or near the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. EPIC data indicate that the amount of heroin seized in Texas within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border more than doubled from 80 kilograms in 1999 to 162 kilograms in 2002. EPIC data also indicate that 66 percent of the heroin seized within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border in 2002 was seized in Texas. (See Table 5.)
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the smuggling of Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin into Texas. These DTOs and criminal groups typically smuggle heroin through and between POEs along the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly in South Texas. Colombian DTOs and criminal groups control the smuggling of South American heroin into Texas, often employing Mexican criminal groups to transport the drug across the U.S.-Mexico border. Colombian DTOs and criminal groups also control the transportation of South American heroin within the state. They generally transport the drug to drug markets in major urban areas, primarily Dallas and Houston, and to drug markets in other states, either on their own or by contracting with others, including Dominican, Haitian, and Mexican criminal groups. Nigerian and other West African criminal groups control the transportation of Southeast Asian and Southwest Asian heroin into Texas. Most of this heroin is destined for cities outside Texas, such as Chicago and New York City.
Heroin transporters use a variety of methods to smuggle the drug into the state. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups primarily smuggle Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin into the state in commercial and private vehicles outfitted with specially designed hidden compartments. They commonly conceal heroin in toolboxes, bumpers, tires, gas tanks, engine compartments, or in shipments of legitimate cargo. Operation Pipeline/Convoy data indicate that state and local law enforcement officers in Texas seized 6 kilograms of heroin from commercial and private vehicles traveling on Texas highways in 2000.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups also commonly use couriers traveling aboard commercial and private aircraft; buses, boats, and passenger trains; couriers traveling on foot between the POEs; and package delivery services to transport Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin into Texas. Colombian DTOs and criminal groups primarily use couriers aboard commercial aircraft as well as package delivery services to smuggle South American heroin into Texas. Nigerian and other West African criminal groups use couriers aboard commercial aircraft and package delivery services to smuggle Southeast Asian and Southwest Asian heroin into the state.
Heroin transporters often use locations in Texas as transshipment points for heroin destined for markets outside the state. Seizure data indicate that the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston frequently are used by couriers en route to major drug markets outside Texas, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, Newark, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Operation Jetway data indicate that in 2000 law enforcement officers in Texas seized 61.2 kilograms of heroin that were transported (or intended for transport) aboard commercial aircraft, buses, trains, or via package delivery services. In 2000 the largest heroin seizure under Operation Jetway in Texas was 24 kilograms seized from the luggage of an airline passenger destined for New York City.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups are the primary wholesale distributors of Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin throughout Texas. Colombian and Dominican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the wholesale distribution of South American heroin in the state. Nigerian and other West African criminal groups control the wholesale distribution of Southeast and Southwest Asian heroin; Asian criminal groups also distribute Southeast and Southwest Asian heroin at the wholesale level as well, although to a lesser extent.
Mexican criminal groups dominate the retail distribution of heroin in Texas, generally selling Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin. Other Hispanic criminal groups, African American and Caucasian criminal groups as well as local independent dealers, street gangs, and prison gangs such as Barrio Azteca, Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos, Mexikanemi, and Texas Syndicate also serve as retail-level heroin distributors in the state.
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