DEA Congressional Testimony
May 30, 2000


Statement by:

George J. Cazenavette, III
Special Agent in Charge
New Orleans Field Division
Drug Enforcement Administration


Before the:

Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources

Date:

May 30, 2000

Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.


Congressman Mica, distinguished members of the Subcommittee: I am pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the growing dangers and concerns of drug trafficking in the New Orleans metropolitan area. I would first like to thank the Subcommittee for its continued support of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and overall support of drug law enforcement.

As you are well aware, the alarming spread of illegal drug abuse by our youth is having a profound affect in communities throughout the United States, including the New Orleans metropolitan area. It is fair to say that increasing use of such drugs as ecstasy and methamphetamine by our youth is quickly becoming one of the most significant law enforcement and social issues facing our nation today. Between 1998 and 1999, past year use of ecstasy rose by a third among 10th graders, and by 56 percent among 12th graders.

Because DEA is the only single-mission federal agency dedicated to drug law enforcement, the agency has developed and further advanced our ability to direct resources and manpower to identify, target, and dismantle drug organizations headquartered overseas and within the United States. In carrying out its mission, DEA is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of criminals and drug gangs who perpetrate violence in our communities and terrorize citizens through fear and intimidation. The drug organizations operating today have an unprecedented level of sophistication and are more powerful and influential than any of the organized crime enterprises preceding them. The leaders of these drug trafficking organizations oversee a multi-billion dollar cocaine and heroin industry that has wreaked havoc on communities throughout the United States.

In an effort to diminish the flow of drugs into this area, the New Orleans Field Division has dedicated six enforcement groups that actively investigate drug trafficking organizations responsible for the transportation and distribution of drugs throughout the metropolitan area. This area represents the largest metropolitan area in Louisiana with more than 1.2 million residents, including the cities of New Orleans, Slidell, and Kenner, as well as Jefferson, Saint Bernard, Saint Tammany and Saint Charles Parishes.

These enforcement groups work predominantly in a multi-agency environment, several of which include task forces made up of Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in the New Orleans metropolitan area as well as the surrounding areas of Slidell and Hammond, Louisiana. Investigations are conducted to target organizations who transport and distribute Cocaine Hydrochloride (HCL) and crack cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin, LSD, MDMA, GHB and Ketamine, all of which are trafficked and abused drugs in the New Orleans metropolitan area.

Drugs Available in New Orleans:

Historically, the vast majority of cocaine smuggled into the greater New Orleans area is controlled by Colombian Drug Trafficking Organizations. Typically, these organizations - consisting of mid-level traffickers answering to bosses in Colombia - continue to be organized around compartmented "cells" that operate within a given geographic region. Some cells specialize in a particular facet of the drug trade, such as cocaine transport, storage, wholesale distribution, or money laundering. Each cell, which may be comprised of 10 or more employees, operates with little or no knowledge about the membership in, or drug operation of, other cells. Consequently, cocaine HCL and crack cocaine saturate all parts of New Orleans. In either form, it is available in all segments of society, including all areas of the city and suburbs, as well as the southern parishes.

Crack cocaine is an inexpensive, purified form of cocaine which is processed into tiny chips or chunks. Soon after crack first appeared, in the early to mid-1980's, crack abuse swept through the country. Three factors contributed to this: first, the drug was cheap and affordable; second, it was easy to smoke; and third, its effects were rapid and intense. Because of this rapid high, crack is more quickly addicting; it is also cheap enough to be available to young and poor users. These factors have made crack an extremely marketable product. In the New Orleans metropolitan area, crack is distributed by both Colombian and Mexican trafficking organizations. Once cocaine HCL is transported to the New Orleans area, it is converted into crack. It is divided into packages consisting of dosage quantities to multi-ounce quantities before it is sold to lower level street vendors for further distribution. One member of a violent crack cocaine organization recently pled guilty after being arrested as a passenger in a vehicle transporting 17 kilograms of cocaine from Houston to New Orleans.

Marijuana found in the New Orleans area generally originates in Mexico and is transported into the area primarily from Texas concealed in hidden compartments of privately owned vehicles or tractor-trailers. This drug is commonly used by all racial and socioeconomic classes and is often used in conjunction with crack cocaine and other drugs. Although dangers exist for marijuana users of all ages, risk is greatest for the young. For them, the impact of marijuana on learning is critical, and often proves pivotal in the failure to master vital interpersonal skills. Another concern is marijuana's role as a "gateway drug," which makes subsequent use of more potent and disabling substances more likely. The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found adolescents who smoke marijuana 85 times more likely to use cocaine than non-smoking peers.

Heroin in New Orleans is still principally found in powder form within the inner city areas such as housing projects and lower economic areas. Recent trends, however, indicate that it is also becoming more available in the suburban areas surrounding the city. During the 1990's heroin use started to rise as the addict population grew and changed. Heroin on the street became purer; the price stayed the same; and more young and middle-class Americans began using the drug. According to DEA's Domestic Monitor Program (DMP), the majority of heroin seized in New Orleans since 1997 was white or yellow confirming that it originated in South America or Southeast Asia. Through the DMP, the Drug Enforcement Administration is able to collect accurate information regarding the nature of the domestic heroin problem, including price and purity data, trends and patterns of use, marketing practices and availability.

One recent investigation in New Orleans resulted in the seizure of one pound of uncut Colombian heroin and the arrest of ten individuals who were members of an international organization with strong ties to New York. New Orleans has also experienced a recent influx of Mexican black tar heroin as evidenced by another investigation that resulted in the seizure of approximately 1/2 kilogram of black tar heroin from an organization in California that was transported to New Orleans aboard a commercial airline. In yet another investigation, three members of an international organization with links to Texas were arrested for conspiracy and distribution of approximately 3/4 kilogram of heroin. Generally speaking, however, most heroin trafficking groups in our division will not distribute quantities of heroin above the ounce level in order to avoid law enforcement scrutiny. There is little doubt that this is due to strict state laws that mandate a life sentence without benefit of probation or suspension of sentence for heroin distribution.

Recent statistics from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) also indicate that the consequences of heroin abuse is increasing in the New Orleans area. Through DAWN statistics, DEA is kept abreast of drug abuse developments and trends throughout the nation. Current information obtained from New Orleans area narcotics treatment centers support the DAWN statistics and suggest that the majority of heroin hospital emergency room admissions were African-American/Males in the city of New Orleans and Caucasian/Males in the suburbs. In both areas of New Orleans, the majority (55 percent), of these heroin admissions was under 35. While heroin continues to be injected, intranasal use is becoming increasingly popular with users 18-25 years old. This is primarily due to the wider availability of high-purity South American heroin.

"Club" and "Designer" Drugs: An Emerging Epidemic:

In addition to the rise in heroin abuse, New Orleans is also experiencing an alarming increase in club and designer drugs used by teenagers and young adults in nightclubs, rave venues, parties, and drinking establishments. No place is this more evident than at the rave functions that have become so popular throughout the New Orleans metropolitan area, as well as across the country. These rave functions, which are parties known for loud techno-music and dancing at underground locations, regularly host several thousand teenagers and young adults who use MDMA, LSD, GHB, Ketamine, and Methamphetamine, alone or in various combinations. The age range for raves in the New Orleans area is 15-24, with the mean age range of between 18-22. This poly-drug abuse has been supported by information acquired during interviews with hospital emergency room physicians and local law enforcement officials.

"Club" and "Designer" drugs have become such an integral part of the rave circuit that there no longer appears to be an attempt to conceal their use. Rather, drugs are sold and used openly at these parties. Traditional and non-traditional sources continue to report the flagrant and open drug use at "raves." Intelligence indicates that it has also become commonplace for security at these parties to ignore drug use and sales on the premises. In 1998, several teenagers died in New Orleans from overdoses while attending a rave party. Tragically, many teens do not perceive these drugs as harmful or dangerous. Ecstasy is marketed to teens as a "feel good" drug and is widely known at raves as the "hug drug." One ambulance service has since advised that at least 70 requests for emergency medical assistance in the past two years were made relative to overdoses at rave events.

MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, LSD, Rohypnol and GHB are the most popular drugs among the rave scene because of their long lasting effects, inexpensive cost, and ready availability. Reports indicate that ravers in the New Orleans area use a variety of forms of MDMA which makes it the predominate club drug and its abuse far exceeds other substances.

Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate (GHB) is easily accessible at rave parties and is currently popular among teenagers and young adults in the New Orleans area. Commonly referred to as a date-rape drug, GHB was originally used as a substitute anabolic steroid for strength training, bodybuilding and weight control. It was also alleged to be a growth hormone releasing agent to stimulate muscles. GHB costs approximately $10 per dose in New Orleans and is frequently mixed with amphetamine in an alcoholic drink. This drink, known as a Max, has allegedly appeared in New Orleans. Hospital officials throughout the New Orleans metropolitan area have reported that as GHB has grown in popularity among ravers, overdoses have increased significantly.

Gamma Butyrolactose (GBL), the solvent precursor for GHB, can be found in products such as Invigorate, Blue Nitro, and Renewtrient at some health food and nutrition stores as well as on the Internet. A little over a year ago, three fourteen-year-old girls in Jefferson Parish used one of these products containing GBL and were later admitted to a hospital after being found lying in the driveway of a home. The girls were unconscious and bleeding from the nose. Law enforcement officials had limited options at that time to combat this abuse since these substances were not yet regulated by DEA (note: On February 18, 2000, GBL became a Schedule I chemical and is now subject to criminal, civil, and administrative sanctions of the Controlled Substances Act).

Rohypnol, also known as a date-rape drug, is popular at raves among high school and college students who, take the drug with alcohol or use it after cocaine ingestion. Popular because of its low cost of only $5-10 per tablet and the misconception that it is safe and cannot be detected by urinalysis, Rohypnol is a Schedule IV controlled substance under both state and Federal law.

LSD first emerged as a popular drug of the psychedelic generation in the 1960's. Its popularity appeared to decline in the late 1970's, an effect attributed to a broader awareness of its hazardous effects, though it never completely vanished from the drug subculture. Over the past decade, there has been a resurgence of LSD abuse, especially among young adults. Liquid LSD has been seized in Visine bottles at rave functions. LSD is also sold at raves in the New Orleans area on very small perforated paper squares that are either blank or have a cartoon-figure design.

As of August 1999, Ketamine, also known as "Special K," was placed in Schedule III of the Controlled Substance Act. Used primarily by veterinarians as an anesthetic, Ketamine produces hallucinogenic effects similar to PCP with the visual effects of LSD. One recent report stated that Ketamine has been stolen from veterinary supply sources in Louisiana. Additional information indicates that some dentists in the New Orleans area are now diverting Ketamine into the illicit market. Law enforcement officials have reported the Ketamine in powder form appears very similar to a pharmaceutical grade of cocaine HCL. In its powder form, the user snorts Ketamine in the same manner as cocaine at 5-10 minute intervals until the desired effect is obtained. There were three Ketamine deaths reported in New Orleans in 1998.

A noteworthy trend is the recent emergence of female drug dealers at raves, which is a deviation from the traditional profile of male drug dealers at these functions. The distributors at raves and their "runners" are generally in their teens. This is probably because teenagers are not only contemporaries of the rave subculture, but also because they are less likely to be suspected and are subject to limited prosecution due to their age. Many of these drug dealers sell drugs to support their own personal use, while profit or a perception of social status motivates others. Another advantage to recruiting young drug dealers is that they are easily intimidated by their source of supply. There have been instances where Disc Jockeys were involved in the distribution of club drugs. These Disc Jockeys concealed their narcotics in sound equipment such as speaker boxes and distributed drugs from the Disc Jockey area at the rave functions.

"Runners" are usually advanced a supply of drugs to sell at a rave function and will return to the Disc Jockey area for another supply while delivering the proceeds of sales to the supplier. Further information has confirmed that runners are usually given V.I.P. badges that allow them to come and go from the Disc Jockey area at their discretion. The sources of supply routinely employ bodyguards or other security measures and generally remain in the Disc Jockey area, rarely selling the drugs directly to the customer.

Enforcement Initiatives:

The New Orleans Field Division has recognized that enforcement operations which target designer or club drug distribution at the raves are different from the enforcement efforts required to combat other illicit drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. This is largely due to strict Federal sentencing guidelines for drug thresholds that make it difficult to prosecute club and designer drug trafficking at the federal level. As such, the vast majority of cases involving club and designer drugs are prosecuted in the state system.

Of note, one recent MDMA investigation resulted in the arrests of members of an organization who were transporting MDMA from Houston to be distributed in New Orleans, Miami, and New York. Members of this organization were responsible for distributing thousands of dosage unit quantities of MDMA to high school and college students primarily at rave functions in the New Orleans area. In a post arrest statement, one member of this organization stated that he was also selling MDMA to students at a local area high school. Another member of the organization stated that he distributed MDMA tablets at rave functions in New Orleans for about $10-$15 each. This individual further stated that he had distributed about 250,000 MDMA tablets in about 20 trips to New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana. One of the smuggling techniques this organization used was to body carry MDMA tablets for delivery aboard commercial airlines. On at least one occasion, MDMA was deposited in a storage vault in New Orleans before it was distributed and sold at the rave functions in the New Orleans area by the runners.

Recently, Special Agents of the New Orleans Field Division seized two GBL labs in Lafayette, Louisiana, that included 70 ounces of diluted GBL packaged and ready for sale, along with several hundred boxes used for packaging 32 ounce plastic bottles. GBL was mixed with water and potassium sorbate, which is a preservative. The mixture was cut in a ten-to-one ratio, costing only $1.25 to fill a 32 ounce bottle. The end product was sold to customers over the internet for $60-$90. There is a strong possibility that orders for GBL might have been purchased by ravers in the New Orleans metropolitan area. Louisiana lawmakers are so concerned over the number of young overdose victims that a bill has been filed through the special session that will add GBL to the list of illegal depressants, treating it like other date-rape drugs.

Conclusion:

The DEA is continually working to develop and revise strategies to enhance enforcement effectiveness and aggressively develop investigations to dismantle significant drug trafficking organizations affecting the New Orleans metropolitan area. We are confident that with the dedicated and tireless efforts of all our employees, we will continue to successfully address not only existing drug problems, but be proactive in devising strategies to address emerging trends in drug trafficking.

To further complement our enforcement initiatives, and in an effort to educate and alert the citizens of New Orleans, DEA frequently conducts drug-related training and workshops throughout the New Orleans metropolitan area. Over the past year alone, the Demand Reduction Program has provided peer leadership and DWI programs in the area schools. Numerous workshops were offered to train teachers, parents, classrooms, and youth leadership, all of which were well received. This past March twelve youths from the New Orleans metropolitan area attended the National Drug Leadership Conference hosted by the Drug Enforcement Administration in Pensacola, Florida. Next month, training is scheduled for coordinators in the Safe and Drug Free Schools Program. All of these training opportunities and workshops provide the Drug Enforcement Administration a positive avenue to educate the youth about the devastating effects and consequences of drug use and at the same time steer them towards a healthy and successful future.

I thank you for providing me the opportunity to address the Subcommittee, and I look forward to taking any questions you may have on this important issue.

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