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Massachusetts Drug Threat Assessment
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
1. Massachusetts 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.
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