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Pennsylvania Drug Threat Assessment
June 2001



Map of the state of Pennsylvania showing counties,  interstate highways, and cities providing information for this report.

Note: This map displays features mentioned in the report.

The commonwealth of Pennsylvania is the sixth most populous state in the nation with 12.2 million residents. Nearly one-third live in Philadelphia and the surrounding four counties (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery), which combined have a population of more than 3.8 million. Other major population centers include Pittsburgh (population 334,563), Allentown (106,632), and Erie (103,717). The racial/ethnic composition of Pennsylvania is 85.4 percent white, 10 percent black or African American, 3.2 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 1.8 percent Asian. Philadelphia has the most ethnically diverse population, and much of the remainder of the state is ethnically homogeneous.

Fast Facts
Population (2000) 12.2 million
U.S. ranking 6th
Median income (1999) $37,995
Unemployment rate (1999) 4.1%
Land area 46,058 square miles
Capital Harrisburg
Other principal cities Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie
Number of counties 67
Principal industries Steel, travel, health, apparel, machinery, food, and agriculture

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Philadelphia, the largest city in Pennsylvania and the fifth largest city in the United States, is the center of drug-related activity in the commonwealth. More drugs are sold in Philadelphia than in any other city in Pennsylvania, and most midlevel and possibly some retail distributors throughout the state obtain their drug supply from traffickers in Philadelphia. The city is a major distribution center and transshipment point for both licit and illicit commodities destined for Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region, in large part because the city is centrally located among the Mid-Atlantic states and has a vast transportation infrastructure. Other cities of significant but lesser importance to the state's drug situation are Pittsburgh, Reading, and Erie. Pittsburgh is the second most populated city in the commonwealth and the forty-fifth largest city in the country. Drug distribution and abuse are widespread in Pittsburgh, which is also a regional distribution center for drugs. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Pittsburgh District Office and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police believe that most drugs brought to the city are sold to local users, but that a portion reaches midlevel and retail distributors in southwestern Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, and northwestern West Virginia. Reading, the sixth largest city in the state (population 81,207), serves as a transshipment point for wholesale quantities of marijuana and smaller amounts of cocaine and heroin sold in eastern Pennsylvania. Erie, the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania, is located on the southern shore of Lake Erie. Transportation groups that smuggle drugs across Lake Erie present a risk to the city and the western part of the state.

Both licit and illicit commodities are transported overland into and through Pennsylvania by commercial trucks, private vehicles, rental vehicles, and commercial buses. The combined interstate and state highway system in Pennsylvania is an efficient and heavily used transportation network. In 2000, approximately 139 million passenger vehicles and more than 21 million commercial vehicles traveled on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (also known as I-76 and I-276 east-west and I-476 north-south), according to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. Interstate 95, which runs from Florida to Maine, passes directly through Philadelphia and is recognized as the East Coast's major drug transportation corridor. Interstates 70, 79, 80, and 81 provide access to many midsize cities and smaller towns in Pennsylvania. In 1997, nearly $61 billion worth of freight was transported into Pennsylvania. The freight was shipped by surface modes from California, Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Texas, the states where most drugs enter the country.

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Ports in Philadelphia, Erie, and Pittsburgh facilitate the transport of commodities into and through Pennsylvania, providing drug traffickers with another method for smuggling drugs into the state. The Port of Philadelphia and Camden consists of more than 40 private and public cargo-handling facilities located on the upper Delaware River in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. After New York City, the Port of Philadelphia and Camden is the busiest port on the Atlantic Coast in total import cargo volume. Some 80 percent of this volume consists of imports of crude oil, making Philadelphia the leading destination for this commodity on the East Coast. Cocaine and marijuana are the drugs most commonly smuggled into Pennsylvania via the Port of Philadelphia and Camden.

The primary risk on Lake Erie is from smugglers moving drugs using airdrops, cigarette boats, and other pleasure craft. Intelligence indicates that there are at least six separate criminal groups based in western Pennsylvania that transport drugs from Canada to the United States. The principal drug distributors are independent dealers and members of the Outlaws OMG (Outlaw Motorcycle Gang). The primary drug brought from Canada to Pennsylvania via Lake Erie is marijuana.

The Port of Pittsburgh is the busiest inland port in the United States and is served by more than 30 privately owned public river terminals serviced by 18 barge lines. Despite primarily handling river barge traffic, the port was the eleventh busiest in the United States in 1999 and handled more tonnage than Los Angeles, Baltimore, or Philadelphia that year. Approximately 52.9 million tons of cargo were shipped from or received by the port in 1999. Two class-one railroads and four interstates provide connectivity to the nation. The large volume of commercial traffic at the Port of Pittsburgh presents a potential for drug smuggling. However, a lack of drug seizures at the port suggests that drug activity there is minimal.

The large volume of air passengers and cargo passing through Pennsylvania provides drug traffickers with additional opportunities for smuggling. Drugs are frequently seized at Philadelphia International Airport, the nineteenth busiest passenger airport in the United States with more than 10.3 million passengers in 1999. Approximately 25 airline carriers and charter companies fly daily between Philadelphia and more than 100 domestic and international locations, including Puerto Rico (nine direct flights daily). In addition, eight all-cargo airlines transport more than 564,576 tons of freight annually through Philadelphia International. The international hub of the United Parcel Service (UPS), serviced by 24 aircraft, is also located at the airport. Each day, this UPS hub handles over 460,000 domestic packages and approximately 18,000 outbound and 5,000 to 8,000 inbound packages shipped between Philadelphia and foreign destinations.

Drug seizures at Pittsburgh International Airport increased in 2001, according to DEA Pittsburgh. The Bureau of Drug Law Enforcement of the Pennsylvania State Police reports that Pittsburgh International Airport is a major hub. Pittsburgh International Airport served nearly 20 million passengers in 2000 and provided 600 nonstop flights to 118 domestic and international cities daily. The airport is the principal domestic hub for US Airways, and 24 additional commercial airlines service Pittsburgh. More than 121.3 million parcels were shipped from Pittsburgh International to domestic and international locations in 1996, and over 163,000 tons of cargo passed through the airport during 1998. There are four other international airports in Pennsylvania, located in Allentown, Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, that drug smugglers might exploit.

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Colombian and Dominican DTOs are the predominant cocaine and heroin smugglers and wholesalers in the state. Although Colombian and Dominican DTOs dominate wholesale distribution in Philadelphia, Mexican DTOs, already responsible for a considerable amount of drug trafficking nationwide, increasingly are infiltrating this market. Colombian and Dominican DTOs supply cocaine and heroin distribution groups operating throughout Pennsylvania.

Dominican criminal groups, loosely formed retail distribution groups, and some members of street gangs dominate the retail drug trade in Philadelphia, and they have expanded their networks from Philadelphia and New York City to Allentown, Erie, Harrisburg, Reading, Scranton, York, and other midsize cities in the state, where they perceive law enforcement scrutiny and market competition to be lower. Local independent African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, and other ethnic criminal groups and local unaffiliated street gangs also are involved in retail sales of cocaine, heroin, and other drugs in midsize cities. They dominate retail drug sales in smaller towns throughout the state. These distributors obtain their drugs from Philadelphia and from suppliers in Michigan, New York, and Ohio. Mexican criminal groups and OMGs also distribute marijuana and methamphetamine at the retail level in various locations in the state.

Survey data indicate that drug abuse is a serious problem in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. According to the 1999 National Household Survey of Drug Abuse (NHSDA), 36.4 percent of Pennsylvania individuals aged 12 or older reported using an illicit drug in their lifetimes, 10.6 percent reported use in the past year, and 7 percent reported use in the past month. Nationally, 6.7 percent of surveyed individuals reported past month drug use. Statewide treatment admissions for all drugs increased 4 percent from 63,231 in 1999 to 65,791 in 2000, after having decreased from 1996 to 1998 and having remained stable in 1999. The recent increase, however, may be the result of corrections in reporting by state treatment providers, rather than the result of more drug abuse in the state. Clients admitted to state facilities for drug and alcohol treatment in state fiscal year (FY) 2000 had the following characteristics:

  • 70 percent were male, and 30 percent were female.
  • 70 percent were white, 20 percent were black, and 7 percent were Hispanic.
  • Alcohol was the primary drug of abuse for 50 percent, cocaine or crack for 18 percent, heroin for 16 percent, and marijuana for 13 percent.
  • 48 percent were unemployed.

According to the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), Pennsylvania reported 484 statewide treatment admissions per 100,000 population in 1998, compared to 631 admissions per 100,000 population recorded nationwide. (TEDS data is compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration from facility data from state administrative systems. TEDS measures a significant proportion of all admissions to substance abuse treatment, but not all admissions. State treatment data and TEDS data may be derived from the same data set.)

According to Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) data, Philadelphia hospital emergency departments reported 45,685 drug mentions in 1999, third among the 21 cities nationwide for which DAWN reported data. Philadelphia also reported 810 drug-related deaths in 1999, a 5.7 percent increase from 1998, and lower than only Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago. DAWN data on drug-related deaths indicate the following:

  • Philadelphia decedents were younger than those in New York or Los Angeles.
  • Nearly 2 of 3 Philadelphia decedents were white.
  • Nearly 3 of 4 Philadelphia decedents were male.
  • The number of black decedents in Philadelphia increased by 22 percent from the previous year, while the number of white decedents remained relatively unchanged.

According to the 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Study, the percentage of high school students in Philadelphia who abused drugs in 1999 was generally lower than the national average.

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Drug-related crime is a major concern in Pennsylvania. Arrests for drug abuse violations increased 43.3 percent from 1993 to 1998 and increased 5.2 percent from 1998 to 1999, reaching an all-time high of 46,632. The 5.2 percent rise corresponded with a 3 percent increase in the number of full-time law enforcement personnel during the same period. Also in 1999, 39.7 percent of federal sentences in Pennsylvania were for primary drug offenses, comparable to the national average of 41 percent. In Philadelphia, of those arrestees tested for drug use, 76 percent of female and 70 percent of male arrestees tested positive for drug use in 1999, according to Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) Program data. Sixty-four percent of tested males reported having a full- or part-time job, compared to only 27 percent of females.

The financial burden of drug abuse on the state government is considerable. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Pennsylvania spent over $3.5 billion in 1998 on substance abuse and addiction programs including expenses for justice, education, health, child-family assistance, mental health-development disabilities, public safety, and state work force programs. This figure amounted to 14.5 percent of the state budget, the seventh highest percentage of any state budget in the nation. Pennsylvania ranked third in total dollars spent, behind only California and New York. When nongovernmental expenses such as business losses from worker productivity and expenses for private social services are factored in, cost estimates of substance abuse are even higher.


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