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Minnesota Drug Threat Assessment
August 2001


Heroin availability and abuse are gradually increasing in Minnesota's urban areas. Mexican black tar heroin, brown powdered heroin, and Southeast Asian heroin are available in Minnesota at the retail level. Nigerian and Mexican DTOs are the primary transporters and wholesale distributors of heroin throughout the state.


Historically, heroin abuse has been low in Minnesota, but there are signs of increased use. There were 36 opiate-related deaths in Hennepin County through September 2000, compared with 27 in all of 1999. Heroin ED mentions in Minneapolis increased for the fifth consecutive year in 1999 and accounted for 4.5 percent of all drug mentions, compared with 1.7 percent in 1994. Mentions are increasing for all age groups, but most rapidly among those aged 18 to 25. (See Table 3.)

Table 3. Emergency Department Heroin Mentions per 100,000, Minneapolis, 1995-1999

Age Group 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
18-25 5.1 6.3 8.7 11.0 15.4
26-34 9.3 9.9 12.7 11.0 13.8
35+ 4.3 5.3 7.3 8.3 8.8

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Drug Abuse Warning Network, Year End Emergency Department Data, 1999.

Heroin accounted for 5 percent of treatment admissions in Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1999, up slightly from 4.7 percent in 1998. Males accounted for 64.7 percent of admissions in 1999 and 66.8 percent in 1998. African Americans continue to be the largest group admitted for treatment of heroin abuse. They accounted for 45.6 percent of heroin admissions in 1999, 56.2 percent of heroin admissions in 1998, and 45.7 percent in 1997. Individuals aged 18 to 25 accounted for the largest increase in treatment admissions from 1998 to 1999. For this age group, the percentage of total admissions increased from 13.2 to 19 percent. Despite the increase among younger users, the heroin abuser population in general is an aging one. In 1999, over 70 percent of those admitted for treatment were 35 or older. Among arrestees from 1998 to 1999, the percentage of males who tested positive for opiates dropped from 4.7 percent to 3.7 percent, while the percentage of females increased from 6 to over 9 percent.

Drug abuse, particularly of opiates, among Minnesota's Southeast Asian community is a growing concern. Substance-related arrests increased 28 percent among adults and 60 percent among juveniles between 1995 and 1996. Of 51 Hmong clients assessed during a recent year by the Lao Family Community Health Program for substance abuse, 49 were determined to be chemically dependent. The drug of choice for 47 of them was opium.

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Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin and Southeast Asian heroin are available in Minnesota at the retail level. There are no confirmed reports of South American or Southwest Asian heroin in the state.

Wholesale quantities of heroin are only rarely available in Minnesota, but retail availability seems to be increasing. DEA reports that both white heroin and black tar heroin have only limited availability at the multiounce level and larger amounts are rare. The St. Paul Police Department also reports that seizures of quantities greater than multiounce are rare. The Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support laboratory received 18 heroin submissions totaling 69 grams in 1998. By 2000, the number increased to 68 submissions totaling 668 grams. Minnesota drug task forces seized 352 grams of heroin in 1999, up from 97 grams in 1997. The Duluth Police Department reports that while crack is its primary problem, heroin availability is high and increasing. Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials conducted drug sweeps in Duluth in September 1999 and May 2000 that yielded unexpectedly large amounts of heroin.

Price and purity levels reflect heroin's increasing availability. Between 1993 and 1999, white heroin prices decreased from a range of $5,000-$8,200 per ounce to $4,500-$5,500 as purity increased from 68 percent to 80-90 percent. Similarly, black tar prices decreased from $4,500-$6,000 per ounce to $1,500-$3,000.



Most federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in Minnesota cite violent crime associated with gang-related drug distribution as the most serious criminal threat to the state. Gangs are the primary street-level distributors of heroin and other drugs in Minnesota. Gang migration from Chicago to urban areas of Minnesota, and subsequently to suburban and rural areas, has increased the availability of drugs and, consequently, the associated violent criminal activity in these areas.

There are, however, no indications of significant increases in crime or violence related directly to heroin abuse in Minnesota. Nonetheless, the highly addictive nature of heroin forces many users to resort to a life of crime to obtain the money necessary to purchase the drug. Heroin users often commit theft and burglary and occasionally engage in prostitution in order to support their addiction.



There is no evidence of opium poppy cultivation or heroin production in Minnesota.

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Mexican heroin is smuggled from Mexico through Los Angeles, California, and the Southwest Border, primarily Arizona. The Immigration and Naturalization Service discovered in late 1998 that small amounts of heroin were being smuggled from Mexico to Minnesota and the Dakotas in the driveshafts of vehicles. Most were pickup trucks and sedans entering the United States through Texas. Parcel delivery services and the mail continue to be the predominant methods of smuggling Southeast Asian heroin into Minnesota. USCS agents seized a shipment of 12.4 kilograms destined for Minnesota in 1998. The traffickers obtained the heroin from Thailand and repackaged it as cosmetics in South Korea for shipment to Minnesota.

Southeast Asian traffickers continue to smuggle opium into the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Opium destined for the Southeast Asian community is smuggled by courier and by mail parcels. In one instance, USCS agents seized 6 kilograms of opium at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport in June 2000. Two Laotian residents of St. Paul were attempting to smuggle the opium in briefcases. USCS officials in Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Honolulu intercepted at least 40 kilograms of opium from couriers and mail parcels addressed to residents of the Minneapolis area during the first 9 months of 2000. In just one month (September 2000), the USCS seized over 15 kilograms of opium destined for Minneapolis/St. Paul.



Nigerian DTOs are the primary distributors of Southeast Asian heroin at the wholesale level. Chicago serves as the distribution center for Nigerian trafficking operations. Mexican DTOs supply Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin to Mexican criminal groups and African American street gangs for distribution at the street level.

Retail sales of heroin are conducted primarily by African American street gangs and Mexican and Nigerian criminal groups in Minneapolis/St. Paul. African American gangs such as the Chicago-based Gangster Disciples, Mickey Cobras, and Vice Lords operate in open-air drug markets in the northwest Minneapolis neighborhoods along Broadway Street and in southern areas, particularly near Peavey Park in the Phillips neighborhood. Retail quantities are packaged in small brown plastic bindles. Local gangs and independent dealers conduct retail sales in Duluth. The gangs arrive from Chicago and Milwaukee to sell heroin in Duluth and return by automobile and bus to replenish their supplies. Retail transactions occur in several venues. In a drug sweep conducted in Duluth in September of 1999, drug retailers were found selling from homes, city parks, public housing, and a motel.

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