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This is an NDIC product. National Drug Intelligence Center 
Massachusetts Drug Threat Assessment
April 2001 


Map of the state of Massachusetts showing division by counties.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts1 is the nation's sixth smallest state, consisting of 8,257 square miles divided into 14 counties. The state is only 190 miles east to west and 110 miles north to south at its widest points; however, 6 million people reside in this small area, making Massachusetts the thirteenth most populous state. Boston (population 574,283) and Worcester (169,759) are the largest cities in both Massachusetts and New England. Springfield, Lowell, and New Bedford are the next three largest cities in Massachusetts.2 More than half of the Massachusetts population lives in the Greater Boston area, which is the most urban and most densely populated region in the state.3 A large number of college students, estimated at 424,000, populates Greater Boston and western Massachusetts, and there are an additional 10 colleges in Worcester in central Massachusetts.

Fast Facts

Population (1999) 6,349,097
U.S. ranking 13th
Per capita income (1998) $42,345
Unemployment rate (2000) 2.6%
Land area 8,257 square miles
Shoreline 1,980 miles
Capital Boston
Principal cities Boston, Worcester, Springfield
Number of counties 14
Principal industries Nonelectrical machinery, electric and electronic equipment, instruments, fabricated metal products, printing and publishing products, transportation equipment.

Massachusetts is sixth in the nation in manufacturing income. Cape Cod and the South Shore produce the largest cranberry crop in the world. The per capita income in Massachusetts in 1998 was $32,902, fourth in the nation and 24 percent higher than the national average. However, during 1997-1998, the state's poverty rate was 10.4 percent, ranking seventeenth in the nation, and there is a growing homeless population in Massachusetts.

Roughly 7 in 8 residents of Massachusetts are Caucasian, 1 in 20 is African American, 1 in 20 is Hispanic, 1 in 40 is Asian, and 1 in 500 is Native American. In the Boston Metropolitan Statistical Area, the demographic breakdown of the population is approximately 83 percent Caucasian, 7 percent African American, 5 percent Hispanic, and 5 percent other.

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) provides the largest counterdrug presence in Massachusetts. DEA has a Field Division Office in Boston, Resident Offices in Springfield and Cape Cod, and Posts of Duty in Worcester and New Bedford. DEA participates in the Logan Airport Task Force in Boston (responsible for airport interdiction, parcel interdiction, and monitoring other transportation facilities including the South Station train station and bus terminals), the Cross-Borders Initiative in Lowell (a joint venture between DEA, state and local law enforcement, and the U.S Attorneys from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts, established to address the use of Lawrence and Lowell as drug supply centers for northern New England),4 and a Mobile Enforcement Team (a tactical, quick-response team established as a support service to help state and local law enforcement combat the illegal drug trade and violent crime). DEA also participates with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Customs Service (USCS), the Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), and the U.S. Attorney's Office on an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Committee, which decides what investigations may use OCDETF funding from the U.S. Department of Justice to support operations.5 The OCDETF Program in New England has been
successful because it effectively uses attorneys at the early stages of investigations, uses financial investigations to reach otherwise invulnerable targets, and fosters collaboration among law enforcement agencies from all jurisdictions.

The New England High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) began operating in 1999. The program funded 9 initiatives in 1999 and 13 in 2000, and might expand further in 2001. The program's concentration is on Colombian and Dominican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs); heroin, crack cocaine, and powdered cocaine; and the drug transportation corridor running north from New York City. All Massachusetts counties currently participate in the New England HIDTA except Berkshire and Franklin in the west, and Barnstable and the two island counties, Dukes and Nantucket, in the southeast.

The Massachusetts National Guard supports the counterdrug effort in the state by providing drug intelligence, communications, thermal imagery, and linguistic support, and by assisting in cannabis eradication, cargo and mail inspection, surface reconnaissance, and maritime interdiction operations. In addition, Massachusetts has three safe-streets task forces, two in Springfield and one in Boston.

From 1998 to 1999, the overall crime rate decreased in the five Massachusetts cities covered by the FBI's Uniform Crime Report: Boston, Cambridge, Lowell, Springfield, and Worcester. In Lowell, there was a decline in all seven crime categories for which data were compiled (murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft). The number of forcible rapes, aggravated assaults, and burglaries dropped in all five cities, and the number of murders dropped in all but Worcester (where it doubled from four to eight).6 The homicide rate in Boston is at its lowest point since 1961.

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Treatment providers regard heroin and cocaine as the most serious drug abuse threats7 in Massachusetts, given their powerfully addictive nature and the high rate of recidivism among addicts. Law enforcement officers, likewise, regard them as the most serious drug threats in the state because of their strong association with violent crime. Heroin's popularity has risen as prices have dropped and purity has gone up. Consequently, heroin overdoses are on the rise. Marijuana use is rampant in the state, although the drug generally is regarded as a lower threat because users do not often seek treatment for marijuana substance abuse or commit violent crimes. However, many treatment providers believe marijuana is a "gateway drug," meaning its abusers often "graduate" to using cocaine, heroin, or other more addictive drugs. The abuse of designer drugs, notably MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, aka "ecstasy"), is up in Massachusetts, and diverted pharmaceutical drugs are readily available.

State-level law enforcement reporting shows there are two distinct drug markets in Massachusetts. Law enforcement authorities in counties with more than 500,000 people (Suffolk, Essex, Middlesex, Worcester, Norfolk, and Bristol) identify heroin as their greatest drug threat followed by powdered or crack cocaine and then marijuana. Abuse of MDMA is also an issue: all these counties report it as a problem with the sole exception of Bristol. Authorities in counties with fewer than 500,000 people (Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden, Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket) identify cocaine, particularly crack cocaine, as their greatest drug threat; heroin-marijuana or marijuana-heroin are second and third, depending on the county. In all these counties, abuse of MDMA is a lesser issue; in fact, only the "Cape and Islands" area (Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket Counties) reported MDMA abuse as a problem in 1999. Federal reporting, however, indicates MDMA use was increasing in less populous counties of Massachusetts in 2000. MDMA and GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) were not encountered in the state until 1999.

According to Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS) data converted to user dosages,8 the three most prevalent drugs seized in Massachusetts in fiscal year (FY) 1999 were, in order, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Marijuana seizures outnumbered cocaine seizures by only a slight margin, and heroin was a distant third. The Massachusetts Attorney General's Office prosecuted 61 cocaine, 12 heroin, 10 marijuana, and 20 other "Class B"9 cases in 1999. DEA Task Forces in Boston, Lowell, and Springfield prosecuted 90 people for trafficking, distribution, and/or possession of powdered cocaine, 74 for heroin, 12 for crack cocaine, and 5 for marijuana in 1999.

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According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), substance abuse treatment centers in Greater Boston recorded the following data for cocaine/crack cocaine, heroin/ opiates, marijuana, and alcohol admissions:

  • 75 percent were male, a percentage consistent with the previous year and marginally higher than the years FY1994 to FY1997.
  • 47 percent were Caucasian, consistent with prior years; 33 percent were African American, part of a consistent downward trend since FY1994 (40%); and 17 percent were Hispanic, part of a consistent upward trend since FY1994 (11%).
  • 66 percent were aged 30 to 49, part of a consistent upward trend since FY1994, and 23 percent were aged 19-29, part of a consistent downward trend since FY1994.
  • 85 percent earned less than $10,000 per year, generally consistent with past years (FY1995-98), and 33 percent were homeless, consistent with the past 2 years.
  • 27 percent had some involvement with the criminal justice system, consistent with past years (FY1995-98).
  • 22 percent reported a mental health problem, consistent with past years (FY1995-98).

According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN),10 the number of emergency department (ED) drug episodes in Boston has been relatively stable since 1996. The data also show that the number of ED drug mentions in Boston was relatively constant from 1996 through the first half of 1999.

The drug trade is associated with violent crime in different areas of the state. For example, the Lowell Police Department in northeastern Massachusetts reports a link between the drug trade and assaults, home invasions, and violent crime in that area. The Springfield Police Department, in the western part of the state, reports a link between the crack cocaine trade and gang and ethnic violence over controlling market areas ("turf wars"), and a link between the drug trade and home burglaries, shoplifting, vehicle thefts, breaking-and-entering crimes, assaults, domestic violence, and insurance fraud.

Much of the state's drug-related violence is attributable to local street gangs, which often are linked to statewide and nationwide networks. The Massachusetts Department of Corrections has identified more than 60 active gangs with a total of 1,874 members. According to DEA, identified street gangs number in the hundreds with membership in the thousands. The gangs range in structure from loosely-knit, undisciplined local groups to organized, structured chapters having nationwide chartered membership. The criminal activity that these gangs are involved in includes narcotics and weapons trafficking, home invasions, drive-by shootings and murder, extortion, automobile theft, and money laundering. Other violence in Massachusetts is linked to outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), which have been involved peripherally in drug trafficking for many years and can be extremely violent.

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According to responses to a 2000 National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) survey, gangs that law enforcement identifies as the most significant in their area are involved in drug trafficking in northeastern (Suffolk, Middlesex, and Essex Counties), central (Worcester County), and southeastern (Bristol County) Massachusetts. These gangs reportedly are involved in only local drug distribution in Suffolk County (Boston), Essex County (Lawrence and Lynn), and Middlesex County (Lowell), but are reported to be involved in both local and interstate drug trafficking in the other areas. Of the survey respondents that described the ethnicity of the most significant local gangs, all except those from Fall River mentioned Hispanic gangs. Of the respondents that listed names of the most significant local gangs, all except those from Worcester mentioned the Hispanic gang Latin Kings and all except those from Worcester and Belmont (a Boston suburb) listed the Hispanic gang Ñeta. Other information indicates that the number of Massachusetts townships reporting gang activity increased almost 50 percent from 1997 to 1999, and that most new townships reporting activity were in western and central Massachusetts. La Familia, Bloods, Crips, Vice Lords, Latin Gangster Disciples, Los Solidos, and Southeast Asian gangs (particularly ethnic Cambodian and Vietnamese) also operate in
Massachusetts. (See text box.)

and Crips
gangs, originally formed in Los Angeles in the 1960s, are composed primarily of African Americans. They are two distinct gangs with many loosely organized factions, known as "sets." Bloods and Crips are typically rivals whose members have a deep hatred for one another. Since the mid-1980s, these gangs have spread across much of the United States. In New England, gangs that identify as Bloods or Crips generally do not have any connection to the Los Angeles-based gangs. Blood sets in the Northeast generally identify with the United Blood Nation, which began in Riker's Island Jail in New York City in the early 1990s.

The Gangster Disciples, the largest Chicago-based street gang, is affiliated with the Folk Nation. The makeup of the Gangster Disciples is primarily African American. In existence since the early 1960s, the Gangster Disciples functions with a structure similar to a corporation. The gang conducts illegal drug operations in the Chicago area, mostly in low-income areas on the South and West Sides of the city, as well as throughout Illinois and in over 40 states across the nation including Massachusetts. The Gangster Disciples has been in a state of flux recently because law enforcement investigations have resulted in indictments and convictions of nearly 40 leaders, including Larry Hoover who served as "Chairman of the Board" since the early 1970s. The retail drug operations of the Gangster Disciples reportedly yielded over $100 million in annual profits at their peak.

La Familia is an organized Hispanic gang composed primarily of members of Puerto Rican ancestry. The gang operates drug distribution enterprises throughout Massachusetts and surrounding states. Gang allies of La Familia include the Latin Kings and Ñetas.

Latin Kings is a predominately Hispanic street and prison gang with two major factions, one in Chicago and the other in New England. These gangs started as social groups in Hispanic communities but later evolved into organized criminal enterprises involved in drug trafficking and violent crime. Latin Kings is a very structured gang that relies on strict, detailed charters to maintain discipline. The Chicago-based Latin Kings, affiliated with the People Nation, is the foundation upon which all Latin Kings groups are based. The gang operates drug distribution enterprises on the North and Southeast Sides of Chicago and has expanded throughout Illinois and the nation. This gang operates drug distribution enterprises in Massachusetts and surrounding states. The New England-based Latin Kings started in the Connecticut prison system in the late 1980s as an offshoot of the Chicago-based Latin Kings. The Latin Kings have attempted to consolidate the Chicago and New England based factions.

Los Solidos is a prison gang composed mostly of Hispanic males with some African American and Caucasian members. Los Solidos formed in the early 1990s from two Connecticut street gangs: Savage Nomads and Ghetto Brothers. These two gangs consolidated for mutual protection within the prison system and became known as Los Solidos, or "The Solid Ones." Los Solidos is still active in Connecticut, both in prisons and on the street; however, in recent years many Los Solidos members have moved to Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania. The main sources of income for Los Solidos inside and outside the prison system are funds derived from drug sales (mainly heroin) and extortion. Other criminal activities committed by Los Solidos members are homicides, drive-by shootings, assaults, and witness intimidations.

The Ñetas originated as Hispanic prison gang in the Puerto Rican prison system in the 1970s. The Ñetas has many chapters in the U.S. prison system and in many communities, primarily in Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. The Ñetas is an organized gang that uses drug trafficking as its major source of income and is also involved in other criminal activities such as extortion, intimidation, robbery, assault, money laundering, weapons trafficking, and murder.

Vice Lords, the oldest street gang in Chicago, is affiliated with the People Nation. Its members are predominantly African Americans. Vice Lords is split among several major factions: Conservative Vice Lords, Traveling Vice Lords, and Four Corner Hustlers. Each faction has a distinct membership, and none is as structured as the Gangster Disciples. Vice Lords operates drug distribution networks, primarily in Chicago and the Midwest, and has expanded its operations to other states including Massachusetts.


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The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) is the most significant OMG involved in drug trafficking in Massachusetts. The HAMC has established chapters in Lowell, Lynn/Salem (headquartered in Lynn), Cape Cod (headquartered in Buzzards Bay), and Lee/Berkshire (headquartered in Lee). All but the Cape Cod chapter have been active in recent years. Other OMGs are associated with the Hells Angels as part of a "coalition," which means they pay monthly dues to the Hells Angels in exchange for the right to wear motorcycle club patches. If they fail to pay, the HAMC forces them out of existence. Noncoalition OMGs include the Devil's Disciples (in the city of Hull), Diablos (Westfield), East Coast MF (New Bedford), Nomads (Norton), Outlaws (Brockton), and Rum Pot Rustlers (Somerville). At least some of these gangs distribute drugs, but their involvement is less significant than that of the HAMC.

On January 1, 1999, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections had a population of 10,356 criminally sentenced inmates of which 22 percent were incarcerated for drug offenses. Thirty-six percent of the female inmates were incarcerated for drug offenses, more than for any other crime.11 Drug abuse among the state's youth continues, despite state laws that increase penalties for distributing controlled substances to persons under the age of 18. State laws also authorize public school principals to expel students for use or possession of a controlled substance or a dangerous weapon on school property.

On November 7, 2000, Massachusetts voters defeated, by a rather small margin (53% to 47%), a referendum that would have substantially altered state laws governing the prosecution of drug defendants and the legal forfeiture of money and property.12 According to the proposal, "a person charged with a drug crime may request a court finding that he is drug-dependent and would benefit from court-monitored treatment. If the court so finds, and the person then successfully completes a treatment program, the criminal charges are dismissed." The law also would have created a "Drug Treatment Trust Fund, to be used…solely for the treatment of drug-dependent persons." Money and property used in a manner that was merely incidental to a drug crime could not be forfeited. The state would have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that money or property was subject to forfeiture, and the property owner could then try to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the money or property was legally exempt from forfeiture. All forfeited money, instead of being divided between the prosecuting agency and responsible police department and used for law enforcement purposes, would be put in the Drug Treatment Trust Fund. All forfeited property, instead of being so divided and used, would be sold and the proceeds put in the Fund. All 11 Massachusetts District Attorneys and the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police opposed the law.

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Some drugs are brought to Massachusetts by couriers traveling on commercial air flights into Boston's Logan International Airport, the state's only international airport and one of the nation's busiest airports for airline travel, mail, and cargo services. In 1999, Logan International was the thirteenth busiest airport in the world, measured by the number of aircraft takeoffs and landings, and ranked twenty-ninth in the world in passenger traffic (26,964,864 passengers) and thirty-eighth in the world in cargo movement (443,786 metric tons). There are direct passenger flights to Logan International from 43 cities outside the continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii. Passengers can fly to Boston from 12 European countries, 8 Canadian provinces, 3 countries in East or Southeast Asia (Korea, Japan, and Singapore), and 5 Caribbean nations, as well as from Israel, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, and Costa Rica. However, the USCS in Boston indicates that no flights from Mexico, South America, or Asia clear Customs in Boston. There are also direct passenger flights to Logan International from many domestic cities that serve as points of entry for international flights, including New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. Passengers arriving in Boston after passing through airports in these cities would have already cleared Customs.

Traffickers transporting drugs into the state from other domestic locations possibly are exploiting smaller airports in and near Massachusetts. Bradley International Airport13 in Connecticut is a major airport approximately 20 miles south of Springfield, and the airports in Worcester and New Bedford are expanding. The Federal Aviation Administration reports 47 recognized airports and numerous public and private airstrips in Massachusetts, many of which are not registered or mapped.

Drugs are probably transported into Massachusetts by maritime conveyance also, despite the fact that there have been very few seizures. The state has approximately 1,980 miles of shoreline along the Atlantic Ocean, Massachusetts Bay, and Buzzards Bay, which means there is potential for maritime drug smuggling. According to a report by NDIC, the greatest threat to the Eastern Border of the United States is maritime smuggling in commercial cargo, and the Port of Boston is vulnerable to drug smuggling because it handles a high volume of commerce. There are several other sizable seaports in Massachusetts including Fall River, Salem, New Bedford, and Gloucester. The fishing industry in many of these areas is declining, a situation that treatment providers believe could encourage some residents to begin selling or using illegal drugs. The state also has two island resort areas off the southeast coast, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, that experience a rise in maritime traffic in the warmer months.

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End Notes

1Massachusetts is one of four "Commonwealths" in the United States. It is also called the Bay State, the Old Bay State, the Old Colony State, the Puritan State, and the Baked Bean State.
2. Next in order are Cambridge, Brockton, Fall River, Quincy, and Newton.
3. Health and Addictions Research Inc., a private organization that studies drug data for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, reports that 48 percent of the total Massachusetts population lives in the Boston Metropolitan Statistical Area.
4. In this report, "northern New England" refers to the states of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, "southern New England" to the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
5. The agencies mentioned are charter members of the OCDETF Committee. Other nonvoting members participate, including the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
6. Notable deviations from this general drop in crime included a 6.3 percent increase in motor vehicle theft in Boston; an 8.6 percent increase in motor vehicle theft and a 5.3 percent increase in larceny-theft in Cambridge; and a 19.5 percent increase in robbery and an 11.3 percent increase in larceny-theft in Springfield.
7. The NDIC formed analytical judgments about the threat posed by each drug based on quantitative and qualitative information on availability, demand, production and cultivation, transportation, and distribution as well as the effects of the drug on abusers and society as a whole.
8. Because a kilogram of heroin goes much further than a kilogram of cocaine, which goes much further than a kilogram of marijuana, the author has converted seizure data into user dosages to make the data more meaningful. However, converting seizures to user dosages relies on two important assumptions: (1) that 1 kilogram of marijuana converts to 2,000 user dosages (joints) of 0.5 gram each, 1 kilogram of heroin converts to 30,000 user dosages (glassine bags) of 1/30 of a gram each, and 1 kilogram of powdered cocaine converts to 10,000 user dosages (small crack rocks) of 1/4 gram each; and (2) that the marijuana, heroin, and cocaine seized were never adulterated from the point of seizure to the point of use. While the second assumption is almost certainly untrue, there is no way to tell which portions would have been adulterated and how much; therefore, purity is assumed to have been constant. Also, 1 kilogram of powdered cocaine converts to roughly 1,000 user dosages of powdered cocaine, but the author assumed a maximum number of user dosages would have been obtained; hence, 10,000 crack rocks rather than 1,000 powder dosages.
9. "Class B" corresponds to Schedule II of the federal Controlled Substances Act (Title 21, Section 812 of the U.S. Code of Law).
10. Conducted annually by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), DAWN is a national probability survey of hospitals with emergency departments. While DAWN data do not measure the prevalence of drug use in the population, they tabulate emergency department drug-related episodes and drug mentions. DAWN defines a drug-related episode as "an ED visit that was induced by or related to the use of an illegal drug(s) or the nonmedical use of a legal drug for patients age 6 years and older." DAWN defines a drug mention as "a substance that was mentioned during a drug-related episode" and explains that "because up to 4 drugs can be reported for each drug abuse episode, there are more mentions than episodes…."
11. The Massachusetts Department of Corrections is responsible for the commitment of persons convicted in Superior Court of serious crimes.
12. With 2,076 of the state's 2,111 precincts (98%) reporting vote totals, the "no" votes led the "yes" votes by about 140,000.
13. International flights out of Bradley International Airport actually connect to foreign destinations through JFK Airport in New York City or through other U.S. cities. The Northern Connecticut Task Force is responsible for drug interdiction at Bradley.

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