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Ohio Drug Threat Assessment
April 2001


Heroin is an increasing threat in Ohio, as evidenced by escalating abuse, transportation, and distribution. Criminal groups are often supplementing cocaine shipments with heroin in an attempt to increase the supplies of heroin in Ohio. In Toledo, problems associated with heroin distribution and abuse are as extensive as those associated with cocaine.

Heroin is shipped into Ohio from major distribution centers in the United States such as Chicago, Detroit, New York City, and various cities along the Southwest Border. Dominican and Mexican criminal groups principally are responsible for shipping wholesale amounts of heroin into the state. Dominican criminal groups operating from New York City are responsible for increasing the availability of higher purity South American heroin, which has attracted a new, younger user population. Since this heroin can be snorted or smoked effectively, users' perceptions of the risks of heroin use, particularly by injection, are reduced.


Heroin abuse in Ohio is prevalent and comparative to rates of abuse in other states in the region. NHSDA estimates indicate that in 1999, 64,827 Ohio residents aged 12 or older reported using heroin at least once in their lifetime. The percentage of individuals aged 12 or older reporting heroin use at least once in their lifetime in Ohio is slightly less (0.7) than in other states in the Great Lakes Region such as Illinois (1.8) and Michigan (1.5).

The number of publicly funded treatment admissions for heroin abuse increased more than 16 percent from 1998 to 1999. Admissions to Ohio's treatment programs listing heroin as the primary substance of abuse were 3,508 in 1998 compared with 4,092 in 1999.

Caucasians and African Americans are the primary heroin users in Ohio. In 1999, adult Caucasians accounted for 48.6 percent of admissions for heroin abuse, while adult African Americans accounted for 40.5 percent. Males accounted for more than 63 percent of all admissions for heroin abuse.

More than 62 percent of treatment admissions for heroin abuse in Ohio were between the ages of 25 and 44. One significant difference between heroin and cocaine admissions is evident among those aged 45 to 54. This age group accounted for more than 27 percent of heroin admissions, compared with only 9 percent of cocaine admissions.

The rate of heroin abuse appears to relate to the education level and employment status of users. Individuals with a high school education or less accounted for 68.5 percent of all admissions for heroin abuse in 1999. Unemployed individuals and those not in the labor force accounted for 79.5 percent of admissions for heroin abuse in Ohio.

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All types of heroin are available in Ohio. Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin are most prevalent in northern Ohio. Southeast Asian, Southwest Asian, and South American heroin are obtained in southern Ohio. Law enforcement personnel have encountered white heroin in the Cleveland metropolitan area (See text box).

White heroin refers to any heroin that is white in color. Many law enforcement agencies are unable to distinguish the actual origin of heroin unless a chemical test is conducted.  

Heroin availability is increasing in many areas of Ohio. An influx of illegal aliens from Colombia and the Dominican Republic to Ohio has allowed criminal groups to establish distribution networks within immigrant communities, increasing the availability of higher purity heroin. Heroin availability is increasing in the Cincinnati metropolitan area, where lower cost, higher purity South American heroin has contributed to increased abuse. In 1990, the Cincinnati Police Department reported only 19 arrests for possession of, or trafficking in, heroin, compared with 464 in 1999. Heroin is readily available in both retail and wholesale amounts throughout the Dayton area. Declining wholesale prices over the past 5 years also indicate a greater heroin availability than in the past. The average price of an ounce of heroin in Ohio was $7,100 in 1995, compared with $4,070 in 1997, and $3,950 in 1999.

The average purity of heroin in Ohio varies by quantity sold. Kilogram quantities of heroin average 80 percent pure; ounce quantities, 48 percent; and gram quantities, 47 percent. Kilogram quantities of heroin often are broken down to ounce or gram quantities and sold to midlevel or street-level distributors. At this point, diluents such as cornstarch and wheat starch often are added, decreasing the purity and extending the amount of heroin that can be sold.



Most urban areas are experiencing increased heroin-related criminal activity, although it is not a significant concern in rural Ohio. Drug distributors recognize the profitable heroin market in Ohio and are competing to control it. This competition usually results in increased violent crime.

Crime associated with heroin users is fueled in part by the large numbers who describe themselves as daily users. For example, in a National Institute of Justice survey of heroin users in six major cities, 70 percent of Chicago heroin addicts surveyed described themselves as daily users. Chicago drug abusers had the highest reported rate of participation (24%) in illegal activities to pay for drugs.

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Opium is not known to be cultivated nor is heroin known to be produced in Ohio.



Dominican, Colombian, Jamaican, Mexican, and West African criminal groups predominantly are responsible for shipping heroin into the state. Dominican, Colombian and Mexican criminal groups are predominant in the north and north central area of the state. Dominican and Jamaican criminal groups transport heroin from New York City into northeastern Ohio. Mexican criminal groups dominate heroin distribution in northwestern Ohio. West African criminal groups ship heroin into southern Ohio, particularly the Dayton area.

The use of commercial aircraft to smuggle heroin into the state has increased. The U.S. Customs Service (USCS) recorded six heroin seizures in the greater Cincinnati area, totaling slightly more than 6 kilograms in fiscal year (FY) 1999, compared with only two heroin seizures totaling a little more than 1 kilogram during FY1998. Most of these seizures involved passengers bodycarrying heroin on airline flights into Ohio from European cities. For example, on April 12, 2000, USCS agents at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport discovered 3 kilograms of heroin in the bag of a Nigerian-born woman who arrived at the airport on a flight from Zurich, Switzerland.

Overland transportation is another method used to ship heroin into Ohio. Two Operation Pipeline heroin seizures involving overland transportation on an interstate occurred in 1999. One of the seizures involved a rented van; the other involved a privately owned automobile. In both cases, the heroin, transported by Hispanic males, originated in New York and was destined for Ohio. Heroin from Detroit is usually transported by bus or automobile; the heroin normally is bodycarried or placed in hidden compartments.

Heroin is shipped into Ohio from major distribution centers such as Chicago, Detroit, New York, and various cities along the Southwest Border. Six of the fifteen law enforcement agencies in Ohio responding to the 2000 National Drug Threat Survey indicated New York City was a source of supply for their areas, while the Dayton and Toledo Police Departments cited Chicago as a source of supply. Several of the Colombian and Dominican criminal groups operating in northern Ohio have ties to similar groups in New York City. Heroin is shipped overland from the Southwest Border in quantities of 3 ounces to half a kilogram. Mexican criminal groups transport black tar heroin overland from the Southwest Border into northwest Ohio.



Heroin is transported from Chicago, New York, and various cities along the Southwest Border into larger cities in Ohio that serve as statewide distribution centers. Wholesalers use major Ohio cities like Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo as distribution centers for smaller cities in and outside the state. Law enforcement agencies in smaller cities in Ohio that responded to the 2000 National Drug Threat Survey indicated that heroin is transported into their districts from metropolitan areas such as Cleveland and Columbus.

Most law enforcement agencies in Ohio responding to the 2000 National Drug Threat Survey indicate that Mexican or Dominican criminal groups are responsible for shipping wholesale amounts of heroin into their areas. For example, two Mexican immigrants were charged with selling high-grade black tar heroin in central Ohio. The two were part of a well-organized ring that sold Mexican heroin in numerous states. Nationwide, the ring distributed 80 pounds of heroin per month worth more than $7 million. The investigation known as "Operation Tar Pit" targeted a heroin distribution ring based in Nayarit, Mexico. This group sold high purity heroin (60 to 84%) at low prices, expanding its market share throughout the United States and pushing other distributors out of the heroin distribution market. This Mexican distribution group used juvenile girls and elderly men to transport drugs to distribution points in 22 cities.

Local independent groups also are responsible for supplying wholesale amounts of heroin. Some of these groups are identified as Caucasian criminal groups or local street gangs. Six of fifteen law enforcement agencies in Ohio responding to the 2000 National Drug Threat Survey indicated that these local independent groups were responsible for wholesale heroin distribution.

Dominican, Colombian, and Mexican criminal groups, as well as African-American and Hispanic street gangs, are responsible for retail heroin distribution. Dominican and Colombian criminal groups are involved in street-level heroin sales in the Cleveland area. Dominican criminal groups, supplied by associates in New York City, distribute heroin in the Youngstown area. Mexican distributors dominate the heroin market in northwestern Ohio. Responses to the NDIC Gang Survey 2000 identify eight street gangs that sell heroin in the neighborhoods in which they live. The Dayton Folk, Gangster Disciples Folk, and the Residence Park Bloods reportedly sell heroin in Dayton. The Insane Spanish Cobras, Moore Street Bloods, and the Smith Park Mafia reportedly sell heroin in Toledo. In Cincinnati, a two-block section of 15th Street, from Elm to Pleasant, which is predominantly an African-American community in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, has become notorious for open-air heroin sales. The heroin is sold in $20 bindles in powder form inside a folded piece of paper. This high purity heroin can be snorted or smoked.

Heroin is sold in various packaging. In Youngstown, Dominican distribution groups sell South American heroin by the bag or in bundles. In Toledo, Mexican brown powdered heroin is sold in half-gram quantities packaged in aluminum foil. Mexican brown powdered heroin is sold in clear gelatin capsules in the Miami Valley and Dayton areas.


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