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Indiana Drug Threat Assessment
April 2001


Map of Indiana showing interstate highways passing through Indianapolis.

Indiana is the fourteenth largest state in the nation with a population of 5.9 million people. The northern belt along Lake Michigan is industrialized, while the central and southern areas support a rural, agricultural lifestyle. All the interstates in Indiana cross through Indianapolis, the state's largest city.

Fast Facts

Population (1999) 5.9 million
U.S. ranking 14th
Median income (1999) $40,929
Unemployment rate (1999) 3%
Land area 36,291 square miles
Shoreline 53 miles
Capital Indianapolis
Principal cities Fort Wayne, Gary, Evansville, South Bend
Number of counties 92
Principal industries Agriculture, production, tourism

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Northwestern Indiana, specifically the area covered by the Lake County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), is a distribution center for drugs transported throughout Indiana. Lake County, Indiana's second largest county, is located just 30 miles east of Chicago and consists of approximately 500 square miles. The county's population of 486,308 comprises more than 80 ethnic cultures. The Lake County HIDTA is divided into three areas: the urban, northern area (including Gary, Hammond, and East Chicago); the suburban, central area; and the rural, southern area. The transportation infrastructure of Lake County is varied, consisting of passenger and commercial railroad lines (there are large rail yards in Gary, Hammond, and Munster), the Port of Indiana, several truck depots, and two airports, including the recently expanded Gary Airport. Drug trafficking organizations 

DTOs) take advantage of this infrastructure and use the Lake County area as a transshipment point for drugs destined for the Midwest. Mexican DTOs use the area to store and distribute bulk quantities of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin.

Private and rented vehicles and commercial trucks are the most common means used to transport drugs, although package delivery services, air parcel delivery services or couriers, and railways also are used. Drug shipments have an excellent chance of reaching a destination because of the volume of private vehicles, trucks, parcels, railcars, and ships that transit the area every day.

Indianapolis is a secondary distribution center for the state. Indianapolis is one of the country's leading grain markets and a major livestock and meat processing center. Both I-70, a major east-west route spanning two-thirds of the country, and I-65, the Lake Michigan-Gulf of Mexico link, pass directly through downtown, providing DTOs easy access to the city as well as to other areas of the state. Furthermore, I-69 connects Indianapolis to central and southern Michigan, providing a possible conduit for drug transportation throughout the Great Lakes Region. Indianapolis is also ranked sixteenth in the world for air cargo shipped with 1,107,985 tons per year.

The nature of the drug problem in Indiana varies throughout the state. The primary drug problems in northern and central Indiana are the availability, distribution, and abuse of powdered and crack cocaine. In the central and southern areas, a dramatic increase in the number of methamphetamine laboratories has resulted in increased methamphetamine abuse. Heroin is more readily available in the state's urban areas, and while marijuana is the most commonly abused drug across Indiana, the threat posed by marijuana abuse has not reached the level posed by powdered cocaine.

Chart 1. Federal Sentences by Drug Type FY1998
Chart showing Indiana federal drug sentences for FY1998 broken down by percentages for district and drug types.
Powdered Cocaine    Crack Cocaine    Heroin   
Marijuana    Methamphetamine     
Source: U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials report that Mexican DTOs are the primary transporters of cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin to Indiana. They obtain supplies directly from Mexico or via California, Florida, and Texas. African American and independent Caucasian criminal groups, also transport drugs to Indiana.

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Street gangs, including organized gangs such as the Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, and Latin Kings, as well as local independents dominate street-level distribution of drugs in the Northern District, whereas local or independent street gangs are a more dominant factor in drug distribution throughout the Southern District. The presence of gangs or gang-related activity appears to be increasing. Out of 190 agencies surveyed in 1999 by the Indiana State Police, 87 reported criminal gang activity and another 35 responses suggested gang activity was present. The Gangster disciples had the most significant increase in gang migration; in 1999, officials in 32 counties, 13 more than reported in 1998, identified the presence of Gangster Disciples--or one of its many factions--in their areas. Officials in 10 more counties than reported in 1998 identified members of the Latin Kings in their areas. Respondents to the 1999 survey identified members of the Vice Lords in 35 Indiana counties.

The Gangster Disciples is the largest Chicago-based street gang. Members are primarily African American. The gang has been in existence since the early 1960s and its organizational structure is similar to that of a corporation. In Indiana, members sell drugs primarily in low-income, urban areas. The Gangster Disciples has been identified in over 40 states. The Gangster Disciples has been in a state of flux because law enforcement authorities have targeted the group in recent years. Investigations have resulted in indictments and convictions of almost 40 leaders, including Larry Hoover, who had served as "Chairman of the Board" since the early 1970s.

The Vice Lords is the oldest street gang in Chicago. Its members are primarily African American. The Vice Lords is divided among three major factions: the Conservative Vice Lords, Traveling Vice Lords, and Four Corner Hustlers. Each faction has its own members and leaders but its organization is more loosely structured than that of the Gangster Disciples.

The Latin Kings, also known as the Almighty Latin King Nation, is a primarily Hispanic street gang. It is composed of more than 70 factions operating under an overall leadership structure. The Latin Kings has expanded its drug trafficking to other parts of the state and nationwide.


A rise in juvenile, gang-related violence over the past 10 years can be attributed, in part, to the rise in gang-related drug distribution. Juvenile drug-related crimes increased in 1999. Most of the Indiana county sheriff's and police departments responding to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey 2000, as well as those interviewed by telephone, report that, on average, 40 percent of the drug-related crime in their areas is committed by juveniles. In Gary, an estimated 50-70, primarily juvenile, street gangs openly compete for control of more than 300 crack houses. In Indianapolis, an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 gang members compete for control of the drug market in the city.

Chart 2. Juveniles Arrested for Drug Crimes in Indiana, 1995-1997

Chart showing numbers of juveniles arrested for drug crimes in the state of Indiana for the years 1995 through 1997.
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Report, 1997.

Despite increased drug-related activity by juvenile gang members, there has been an overall decline in drug abuse among Indiana youth. The use of marijuana, cocaine, and prescription drugs all decreased from 1998 to 1999, particularly among middle school students. However, abuse levels reported by Indiana youth still exceed the national average for most drugs.

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Drug abuse is a significant health, social, public safety, and economic problem in Indiana. Approximately 30,000 rural Indiana residents required publicly funded substance abuse treatment in 1998. According to the Prevention Needs Assessment conducted by the Institute for Drug Abuse Prevention, in 1996 more than 27,000 pregnant women in rural Indiana sought support in substance abuse prevention programs. In the three rural counties included in the assessment, 5.6 percent of newborns tested positive for drugs.

Healthcare and disease statistics also suggest significant drug abuse in Indiana. There has been an increase in the number of HIV diagnoses and AIDS-related deaths associated with the sharing of needles among drug abusers. Rural counties accounted for 16 percent of the new drug-related HIV and AIDS cases in 1997, up from 8 percent in 1995. Of the 86 new HIV cases reported in rural Indiana in 1997, 21 percent involved injection drug use.

Drug use is widespread among arrestees in Indiana, regardless of the offense. According to the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program, 74 percent of adult arrestees in Indianapolis tested positive for the use of illegal drugs, compared with 67 percent nationwide. The number of juvenile arrestees in urban and rural areas testing positive for drug use is also high. According to the Indiana Youth Institute, the number of juveniles arrested on drug charges statewide increased from 667 in 1990 to 3,159 in 1998.

In 1999, the Indiana Department of Corrections reported that approximately 80 percent of state prisoners had a significant abuse history. The Department's Reception and Diagnostic Center staff and drug abuse counselors assigned to the prison system conservatively suggest that drug abuse is a direct causative factor in up to 50 percent of criminal offenses. The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute also reports a significant history of drug abuse among 70 to 80 percent of criminal offenders and estimates that more than 25 percent of adult males are incarcerated for crimes directly related to drugs or alcohol. The Marion County Superior Court reports that of the nearly 11,000 felony cases filed in 1998, 19 percent were drug-related. Drugs were associated with 62 percent of assaults, 52 percent of child abuse incidents, 68 percent of manslaughter charges, and 49 percent of murders

Drug abuse among prison inmates is also widespread. A study by the Indiana Division of Mental Health estimates that 61 percent--an estimated 15,000 in 1996--of inmates are dependent on alcohol or other drugs. According to the same study, a large number of juvenile detainees abuse drugs: 61 percent abused marijuana and 27 percent abused other drugs. Officials estimate that among state prison inmates who abuse drugs, about half began using them by age 15.

Chart 3. Adults Arrested for Drug Crimes in Indiana
Chart showing numbers of adults arrested for drug crimes in Indiana for the years 1995 through 1997.
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Report, 1997.


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