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Ohio Drug Threat Assessment
April 2001


Map of the state of Ohio showing interstate highways.

Ohio, located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States, is the thirty-fifth largest state in terms of area. Ohio long has been known as the "Gateway to the West," primarily because of its well-defined land, air, and sea transportation network. Ohio's extensive highway system covers 113,823 miles. The state's railroad mileage is one of the nation's largest, spanning 6,140 miles, with more than 10 commercial liners sharing the tracks. Ohio has three international airports, offering daily arrivals and departures from numerous worldwide cities. Finally, its Lake Erie port provides worldwide shipping, and the Ohio River carries more tonnage than the Panama Canal.

Fast Facts

Population (2000) 11.2 million
U.S. ranking 7th
Median income (1998) $38,925
Unemployment rate (1999) 4.3%
Land area 41,222 square miles
Shoreline 262 miles
Capital Columbus
Principal cities Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, Youngstown
Number of counties 88
Principal industries Manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, mining

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Overland transportation is one of the predominant means by which drugs are shipped into Ohio. Ohio is located between Chicago and New York, two major distribution centers for drugs, and a well-developed network of highways, particularly Interstates 70, 71, 75, and 80, allows criminal groups to transport drugs into and through the state. Drugs concealed in shipments of legitimate goods transported by trucks, private vehicles, parcel services, and railcars have an excellent chance of reaching their destination because of the volume of traffic that traverses the state daily. In 1997, more than $90 billion worth of freight was destined for Ohio from states known to be source areas of drugs, such as California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Annually, nearly $725 billion worth of goods shipped by truck either are destined for or pass through Ohio, ranking it second only to Illinois.

Drugs are concealed easily within the large quantities of freight shipped from Mexico and to a lesser extent, from Canada into Ohio. Ohio ranks sixth overall for imports from Mexico by truck (more than $2 billion) and thirteenth overall for imports from Mexico by rail (more than $30 million). It ranks third overall for imports from Canada by truck (more than $5 billion) and seventh for imports from Canada by rail (more than $1 billion). Quantities of MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) are shipped into northern Ohio from Canada, and most marijuana in Ohio is transported from Mexico through the Southwest Border.

The use of commercial airlines, as well as airfreight and airmail, to transport drugs into Ohio is increasing. The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport offers 580 nonstop daily departures to 113 cities worldwide. The airport offers 18 daily international flights to cities such as Frankfurt, London, Montreal, Nassau, Paris, Toronto, and Zurich. More than 160,000 tons of freight and more than 29,000 tons of mail were processed through the airport in 1998. Cleveland's Hopkins International Airport offers more than 600 domestic and foreign departures and arrivals daily. More than 48,000 tons of freight and more than 15,000 tons of mail passed through Hopkins International in 1998. Columbus' Rickenbacker International Airport, an air cargo facility that comprises a 274,000-square-foot cargo hub, handles more than 500,000 pounds of freight per day. In 1999, a total of 183.5 million pounds of freight passed through the airport.

Ohio has 262 miles of shoreline that border Lake Erie, which is part of the St. Lawrence Seaway system. The Port of Cleveland processes in excess of 16 million tons of cargo annually, and the Port of Toledo processes more than 12 million tons. The Port of Cleveland receives between 120 and 165 foreign vessels annually, principally from Canada, and both ports have foreign trade offices in Asia and Europe.

Ohio also has nine major river tributaries that flow into Lake Erie, providing commercial and private vessels with access to the state's interior. More than 400,000 watercraft are registered in the state, more than 28,000 of which are located along Lake Erie's shore. The tourism industry in Ohio attracts more than 3 million people annually, and thousands enter the state via watercraft from Canada and Michigan. The possibility for drugs to be shipped by this means exists, although threat assessments by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Office of Naval Intelligence ranked Lake Erie as a low threat for illicit drug smuggling.

Criminal groups from Southwest Border states such as California and Texas, as well as those from East Coast states such as New York and Florida, are responsible for transporting drugs into Ohio. Mexican criminal groups transport cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine into many urban areas of Ohio, primarily from the Southwest Border. Dominican criminal groups, with ties to similar groups in New York City, transport cocaine into Ohio from New York. Dominican criminal groups also transport heroin and are responsible for the increase in the availability of high purity heroin in Ohio. Colombian criminal groups transport cocaine into Ohio from New York and Florida. Jamaican criminal groups, with ties to similar groups in California, transport wholesale amounts of marijuana and cocaine into Ohio. Local independent criminal groups transport cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine into Ohio, but these groups generally are not as organized as those mentioned previously.

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Illicit drug distribution in Ohio is beginning to spread from urban to suburban and rural areas, and it is open to groups interested in reaping the profits of illicit drug sales; no one group is dominant. Many of the groups responsible for transporting drugs into the state control distribution as well. Dominican criminal groups distribute cocaine and heroin in Ohio. Jamaican criminal groups distribute marijuana as well as cocaine. Local independent criminal groups distribute cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine in the state. Other criminal groups from areas to the west and east of Ohio have some influence on drug distribution in the state. For example, Chicago- and Detroit-based street gangs distribute cocaine, heroin, and marijuana.

The supply of, and demand for, illicit drugs in Ohio is linked directly to public safety and health, posing a significant threat to the state. Law enforcement agencies throughout Ohio indicate that a great deal of the crime committed in their jurisdictions is attributable to the distribution and abuse of illicit drugs. The number of admissions into publicly funded treatment facilities for illicit drug abuse, including cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and amphetamines, has been increasing in Ohio since 1996. (See Chart 1.)

Chart 1. Ohio Drug Abuse Admissions

 Chart showing Ohio drug abuse admissions for the years 1996 through 1999.

Source: Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, Alcohol and Drug Client Data System, 23 November 1999.

The nature of the drug problem in Ohio varies in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Powdered cocaine and crack predominately are distributed and abused in urban and suburban areas. Heroin distribution and abuse also occurs primarily in urban areas, but availability and use are increasing in suburban areas, particularly among young adults. Marijuana is the principal illicit drug of abuse throughout Ohio.


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