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NDIC seal linked to Home Page. National Drug Intelligence Center
Arkansas Drug Threat Assessment
October 2003



Map of Arkansas showing major transportation routes.

Note: This map displays features mentioned in the report.

Arkansas is the thirty-third most populous state in the nation with more than 2.6 million residents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000 the population of Arkansas was 80 percent Caucasian and 15.7 percent African American; the remaining 4.3 percent are another race or more than one race. Individuals of Hispanic or Latino descent account for 3.2 percent of the population.

Fast Facts
Population (2000) 2,673,400
U.S. population ranking 33rd
Median household income (2001) $33,339
Unemployment rate (2001) 4.4%
Land area 52,068 square miles
Capital Little Rock
Other principal cities Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Jonesboro, North Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Springdale
Number of counties 75
Principal industries Agriculture, manufacturing, services

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The Hispanic population in Arkansas has increased significantly since 1990. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population in Arkansas increased 148 percent from 1990 to 2000. Increasing employment opportunities in poultry packing plants have resulted in an influx of Hispanic immigrants--primarily Mexican nationals--to Arkansas. Legal and illegal Mexican immigrants seek employment in an increasing number of labor-intensive industries and sometimes are recruited by Mexican criminal groups to transport illicit drugs into Arkansas for distribution.

Arkansas is predominantly rural, with approximately 44,000 farms covering nearly half the state. Livestock products provide about 60 percent of the state's agricultural income, while crops such as rice and soybeans account for the remainder. The state also has considerable forestland including the Ouachita National Forest and the Ozark National Forest.

Despite the state's rural nature, Arkansas has a well-developed transportation infrastructure that facilitates the movement of both licit and illicit goods. Private and commercial vehicles commonly are used to transport drugs into and through Arkansas. To varying extents, drugs also are transported into Arkansas via package delivery services; couriers aboard buses, passenger rail, and commercial aircraft; and cargo on freight rail and commercial shipping vessels.

The highways in Arkansas are used to facilitate the transportation and distribution of illicit drugs. Interstate 40, the principal east-west highway in Arkansas, traverses the southern portion of the United States, linking Arkansas to California in the west and North Carolina in the east. Interstate 30 originates in Fort Worth, Texas, passes through Dallas, and terminates in Little Rock. Interstate 55, which intersects with I-40 in the northeast section of the state, extends north from Louisiana (near New Orleans) to Chicago. Drug traffickers, primarily Mexican criminal groups, commonly use these interstates to transport illegal drugs into and throughout the state. In doing so, drug traffickers primarily use private and commercial vehicles. Couriers aboard buses also are used, but to a much lesser extent.

Two of the busiest highway cargo inspection and weigh stations in the United States are located in Hope and West Memphis. The Hope Inspection Station, located along I-30, processes commercial traffic from southwestern states, and the West Memphis Inspection Station, located at the intersection of I-40 and I-55, processes all commercial traffic crossing the Mississippi River through Memphis. Arkansas Highway Police estimate that each year approximately 2 million trucks enter the Hope Inspection Station and approximately 3 million trucks enter the West Memphis Inspection Station. Drug traffickers typically intermingle drugs with legitimate cargo or place the drugs inside hidden compartments. In February 2003 Arkansas Highway Police in Crittenden County seized 35 pounds of marijuana from a truck loaded with auto parts at the West Memphis Weigh Station on I-40 and arrested the driver who was transporting the drugs from Tennessee to Michigan. According to Arkansas Highway Police, the truck was stopped for a safety inspection.

Passenger and freight rail systems also are vulnerable to the transportation of illicit drugs into and through Arkansas. AMTRAK, the nation's largest passenger rail service, operates a route that extends north from Little Rock to Chicago and southwest to San Antonio. In addition, there are 3 major and 21 minor freight carriers operating on more than 2,700 miles of railroad track within the state. In 2001 Arkansas ranked tenth in the United States in the number of freight railroads operating within the state (24), twenty-ninth in the total number of rail miles (2,607), and twenty-first in the amount of rail cargo (150.2 million tons) carried within the state. Since only a small percentage of railcars are inspected, it is difficult to assess the extent to which railcars are used to transport drugs into Arkansas.

One national airport--Little Rock National Airport--services Arkansas. It provides nonstop service to destinations throughout the United States including eight international airports. Regional airports in El Dorado, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Harrison, Highfill, Hot Springs, Jonesboro, and Texarkana also service Arkansas, providing commercial passenger service to several national and international airports. There also are approximately 100 public-use airports and hundreds of remote airstrips scattered throughout the state. Operation Jetway data indicate that illicit drugs have been transported into the state on aircraft from Dallas, San Antonio, and Los Angeles; however, drug seizures from aircraft are infrequent.

Operation Jetway

Operation Jetway is a domestic interdiction program supported by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC). Drug seizures are reported to Operation Jetway by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies across the nation at airports, train stations, bus stations, package shipment facilities, U.S. Post Offices, and airport hotels and motels.


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Illicit drugs also are transported into and through the state along its two major waterways, the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers. Approximately 200 million tons of commodities pass through the state via the Mississippi River each year. The Arkansas River bisects the state and flows into the Mississippi River at the state's southeastern border. The Port of Little Rock is situated on the Arkansas River and serves as the state's primary commercial port.

Mexican criminal groups are the primary transporters and wholesale distributors of methamphetamine, powdered cocaine, marijuana, and heroin throughout Arkansas. They obtain these drugs from Mexican criminal groups operating in Mexico, California, and southwestern states. These groups primarily transport these drugs into the state in private and commercial vehicles on I-30 and I-40, according to law enforcement authorities in Arkansas. In addition to Mexican nationals, Mexican criminal groups often employ a variety of individuals--including Caucasians and African Americans--to transport drugs in order to deter suspicion by law enforcement authorities. Other illicit drugs including club drugs and hallucinogens are transported into Arkansas in private vehicles, by couriers aboard commercial aircraft, and via package delivery services.

Mexican criminal groups, local independent dealers, street gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) are the principal retail drug distributors in Arkansas. Mexican criminal groups distribute methamphetamine produced in Mexico, California, and southwestern states, powdered cocaine, Mexico-produced marijuana, and Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin at the retail level. Local independent dealers distribute methamphetamine, powdered and crack cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. Street gangs are retail distributors of methamphetamine, powdered and crack cocaine, and marijuana. OMGs distribute retail-level quantities of methamphetamine. Club drugs and hallucinogens are distributed and abused by middle-class, suburban young adults and college students at raves, nightclubs, and on college campuses. Diverted pharmaceuticals generally are obtained throughout the state by diversion techniques including improper prescribing practices, prescription forgery, and "doctor shopping."

Drug-related admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities in Arkansas increased from state fiscal year (SFY) 1998 (July 1 through June 30) through SFY2002. According to the Arkansas Department of Health, treatment admissions for abuse of amphetamines, powdered cocaine, and marijuana increased from SFY1998 through SFY2002, while admissions for crack cocaine and heroin decreased. (See Table 1.)

Table 1. Drug-Related Treatment Admissions, Arkansas, SFY1998-SFY2002
  Amphetamines* Crack Cocaine Powdered Cocaine Marijuana Heroin Total
SFY1998 1,822    1,968    609    2,588    109    7,096   
SFY1999 2,153    1,561    506    2,823    82    7,125   
SFY2000 2,601    1,516    561    2,865    61    7,604   
SFY2001 2,834    1,542    582    3,370    74    8,402   
SFY2002 2,993    1,524    633    3,652    59    8,861   

*Most of the amphetamine-related treatment admissions are methamphetamine-related.
Source: Arkansas Department of Health.

Juvenile drug abuse is a concern in Arkansas. According to the 2001 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 21.1 percent of high school students in Arkansas reported that they had been offered, sold, or given an illegal drug on school property during the past 12 months, although this rate is lower than the nationwide percentage of 28.5. Further, 10.8 percent of individuals aged 12 to 17 in Arkansas reported having abused an illicit drug within the past month, according to combined data from the 1999 and the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA). This rate is statistically comparable to the reported nationwide percentage of 9.8.

The percentage of federal sentences in Arkansas that were drug-related is slightly higher than the national percentage. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), drug-related sentences accounted for 43 percent of all federal sentences in the state in fiscal year (FY) 2001, compared with 41 percent nationwide. Forty-one percent of the drug-related federal sentences in Arkansas were crack cocaine-related, significantly higher than the national percentage (20%). Methamphetamine-related offenses accounted for 33 percent of the drug-related sentences in Arkansas, compared with 14 percent nationwide. Marijuana-related offenses accounted for 12 percent of drug-related federal sentences in the state, compared with 33 percent nationwide, and powdered cocaine-related offenses accounted for 12 percent of the sentences, compared with 22 percent nationwide. Moreover, the number of drug-related arrests recorded annually by the Arkansas Crime Information Center increased from 12,858 in 1997 to 14,754 in 2001.

The total financial impact on Arkansas government from substance abuse-related costs is significant. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reported that in 1998 (the latest year for which statistics are available), Arkansas spent $519 million--approximately $206 per resident--on substance abuse-related costs. This figure represents costs and services across program areas including justice, education, health, child-family assistance, mental health-developmental disabilities, public safety, and the state workforce. This accounted for approximately 7.8 percent of the state's total budget. When factoring in the cost of lost productivity and nongovernmental expenses by private social services, estimates for total substance abuse-related costs are even higher.


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