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Wyoming Drug Threat Assessment
Methamphetamine has been the primary drug threat to Wyoming since the mid-1990s. It is the drug-investigative priority for federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies throughout the state. While Mexico-produced methamphetamine predominates in Wyoming, methamphetamine produced in California by Mexican criminal groups also is available. Moreover, locally produced methamphetamine is readily available in many areas of the state. Since 1996, in-state seizures of methamphetamine laboratories capable of producing ounce to pound quantities have risen sharply. Although the price of methamphetamine is comparable to that of powdered cocaine, demand for methamphetamine is greater because it is more readily available and produces longer-lasting effects than cocaine. Mexican criminal groups dominate wholesale distribution of Mexico-produced methamphetamine and methamphetamine that is produced in California by Mexican criminal groups, while local independent dealers dominate retail distribution.
Serious physical effects related to methamphetamine abuse include hyperthermia, convulsions, and cardiovascular collapse. Long-term effects of methamphetamine abuse include kidney complications, lung disorders, brain and liver damage, and blood clots. Paranoia associated with methamphetamine abuse may lead to homicidal and suicidal tendencies.
Treatment admissions for methamphetamine abuse increased overall between 1997 and 1999. Data from the Wyoming Department of Health, Division of Substance Abuse, indicate that public treatment admissions for methamphetamine increased nearly 65 percent, from 231 admissions in 1997 to 381 admissions in 1998. Admissions decreased 18 percent to 312 in 1999.
Data from the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) indicate a similar trend. According to TEDS, admissions to public treatment for methamphetamine abuse increased nearly 52 percent, from 377 in 1997 to 572 in 1998. In 1999 admissions for methamphetamine abuse decreased almost 30 percent to 401 admissions. Disparities between state and federal reporting on admissions to substance abuse treatment programs are likely to occur because of differences in data collection and reporting methodologies. TEDS data indicate that more than 42 percent of patients in treatment for methamphetamine in 1999 were between the ages of 21 and 30. More than 53 percent were male, and 94 percent were Caucasian. Data from the Division of Substance Abuse show that 50 percent of patients in treatment for methamphetamine abuse were aged 19 to 30, more than 53 percent were male, and more than 90 percent were Caucasian.
Methamphetamine poses an increasing threat to youth. The 1999 YRBS indicates that high school students surveyed in Wyoming have a higher rate of methamphetamine abuse than high school students nationwide. Nearly 13 percent of Wyoming respondents reported using methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime, well above the national average of 9 percent. In particular, 12 percent of female and more than 13 percent of male respondents had used methamphetamine compared with 8 percent of female and 10 percent of male respondents nationally. In early 2001 the DEA Cheyenne Resident Office reported that methamphetamine was increasingly abused by teenagers in Wyoming, due to the wide availability, low price, and popularity of the drug.
Until methamphetamine became readily available in the early 1990s, Wyoming had a limited intravenous drug-user population. As methamphetamine use increased, the number of intravenous drug users increased as well. Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Health, Division of Substance Abuse, reveal that 19 percent of patients in public treatment for methamphetamine in 1997 injected the drug. This number increased to 47 percent in 1999. Law enforcement officers frequently discover syringes and intravenous user kits during the execution of search warrants and methamphetamine-related arrests. Exposure to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis, and other diseases transmitted through contact with infected needles is a significant concern to law enforcement and health care personnel.
Few deaths in Wyoming are linked to methamphetamine. According to Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) Medical Examiner (ME) data, since 1997 there has not been a methamphetamine-related death in Casper--the only city in Wyoming that participates in DAWN.
Methamphetamine is readily available in most areas of Wyoming. Mexico-produced methamphetamine is most readily available; however, methamphetamine produced in California by Mexican criminal groups and, to a lesser extent, locally produced methamphetamine are also available. DCI's Regional Enforcement Teams routinely purchase large quantities of methamphetamine during investigations, indicating a ready supply of the drug. DCI reports that agents routinely "work their way up" from purchasing personal-use quantities to multiounce and multipound quantities from distributors. The availability of methamphetamine is evidence of strong consumer demand in Wyoming. Although the price of methamphetamine is comparable to that of cocaine, methamphetamine is abused more often because it is more readily available and produces a longer-lasting euphoria than cocaine.
Methamphetamine prices have been relatively stable in Wyoming. The DEA Denver Field Division reported that the pound price of methamphetamine decreased in the fourth quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2000, then increased to FY1999 levels in FY2001. According to DEA, the price of methamphetamine in Wyoming as of the second quarter of FY2001 was $7,500 to $10,000 per pound, $1,000 to $1,200 per ounce, and $80 to $100 per gram. (See Table 1.) In the fourth quarter of FY2000 and the first quarter of FY2001 DCI investigators negotiated methamphetamine purchases for as little as $900 per ounce and $80 to $85 per gram.
Distributors in Wyoming realize huge profits from the sale of methamphetamine. According to the Wyoming DCI, 1 pound of 90-percent-pure Mexico-produced methamphetamine can be purchased for as little as $4,000 in the Southwest Border states. The drug can be sold in Wyoming for as much as $10,000--a profit of $6,000. Distributors frequently add MSM (also known as dimethylsulfone or DMSO2)--a nutritional supplement for horses and humans--as a cutting agent to increase the quantity available for retail distribution. Adding 1 pound of these cutting agents to 1 pound of methamphetamine decreases the purity of the drug to approximately 45 percent. The 2 pounds of cut methamphetamine are divided into 32 packages, each containing 1 ounce and selling for approximately $1,000. At the retail level the 32 packages are divided into more than 900 packages, each containing 1 gram and selling for approximately $100. (See Figure 1.)
Methamphetamine is seized throughout Wyoming. The Rocky Mountain HIDTA reported that most methamphetamine seizures in 2000 occurred in the northeastern and central areas of the state. Seizures of methamphetamine totaled more than 20 pounds in 2000, a decrease from the almost 29 pounds seized in 1999.
The number of methamphetamine laboratories seized in the state has increased overall since 1997. There were 3 methamphetamine laboratories seized in 1997 by DCI's Regional Enforcement Teams, 12 in 1998, 20 in 1999, and 19 in 2000. Twelve of the methamphetamine laboratories seized in 2000 were discovered in single-family residences, two in commercial storage locker facilities, and five in vehicles. By August 2001, 24 laboratories had been seized in Wyoming.
Methamphetamine is the primary focus of law enforcement agencies in Wyoming. In 1992 the Wyoming DCI initiated 20 methamphetamine-related investigations. From 1998 through 2000 the DCI initiated 393 methamphetamine-related investigations. Almost 50 percent of the drug-related arrests made by DCI Regional Enforcement Teams in 2000 were for methamphetamine-related offenses. By July 2001, 54 percent of drug-related cases involved methamphetamine. The DEA Cheyenne Resident Office reports that overall methamphetamine-related arrests skyrocketed from 18 percent of total drug-related arrests in 1993 to 58 percent in 1998 and then to 80 percent in 1999. Data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) indicate that in FY2000, 78 percent (64 sentences) of federal sentences for drug law violations in the federal district of Wyoming were for methamphetamine-related violations.
Methamphetamine-related violence is a concern to law enforcement and public health officials. Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that affects the central nervous system and can induce anxiety, insomnia, paranoia, hallucinations, mood swings, delusions, and violent behavior, particularly during the "tweaking" stage of abuse. (See text box.) Abusers of methamphetamine frequently commit crimes and violent acts to obtain money to support their drug habits. Distributors often use violence in the course of conducting business and defending their territory. Such violence poses a direct threat to law enforcement officers.
Methamphetamine producers and abusers have been linked to violent crimes in Wyoming, including an alarming number of domestic crimes ranging from child neglect to homicide. The paranoia that accompanies methamphetamine abuse has caused many users to assault and even kill family members, including children. Methamphetamine production in Wyoming poses a direct threat to the safety of children. Methamphetamine laboratories in homes typically result in deplorable conditions and are unsafe for the families living there because of caustic and flammable chemicals used in methamphetamine production. Children were found at two methamphetamine laboratory sites in 2000. Five of the methamphetamine laboratories seized during 1999 and 2000 were located within 500 feet of elementary schools.
The presence of methamphetamine laboratories in Wyoming poses a significant risk to law enforcement officers. Law enforcement authorities discovered booby traps, blasting caps, black powder, and hand grenades during four laboratory seizures in 1999. In 2000 law enforcement personnel seized a methamphetamine laboratory and discovered books and literature on bomb making, along with chemicals used to manufacture bombs.
While most of the methamphetamine available in Wyoming is produced in Mexico and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in California--particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area or California's Central Valley--some methamphetamine production takes place in Wyoming. Methamphetamine production in Wyoming has increased because of high demand for the drug. Most of the methamphetamine laboratories seized in Wyoming are small, hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method operations capable of producing multiounce to pound quantities. In 2000 law enforcement agencies seized a total of 19 methamphetamine laboratories from 9 of Wyoming's 23 counties, primarily in the southeastern corner of the state. By August 2001 each of the six regional enforcement teams had seized at least one laboratory.
The presence of methamphetamine laboratories poses hazards to the local population, law enforcement officers, and other emergency response personnel. These laboratories contain highly flammable toxic chemicals and vapors. Methamphetamine laboratories produce 5 to 7 pounds of toxic waste for every pound of methamphetamine produced. Toxic residue from methamphetamine production is dumped in the local area, contaminating groundwater and soil. Remediation of these laboratory sites costs federal, state, and local governments millions of dollars every year. The average cost of cleaning one site is $5,000; however, costs can exceed $100,000 for larger sites.
The Birch reduction (Nazi) method of methamphetamine production also is used in Wyoming. Anhydrous ammonia, an agricultural fertilizer, was present in four of the methamphetamine laboratories seized in 1999 and in two seized in 2000, indicating the use of the Birch reduction method. The Rocky Mountain HIDTA reports that the Birch reduction method is one of the most common methods used in the Rocky Mountain region. Small quantities of methamphetamine--usually a pound or less--with purity levels of about 90 percent are produced in less than an hour using the Birch reduction method.
Birch reduction method production laboratories are small, highly mobile means of producing methamphetamine. The necessary chemicals and equipment can fit into a box, and a laboratory can be assembled almost anywhere. Common locations include the trunks of cars, the beds of trucks, residences, and motel rooms. These laboratories also can be set up and operated outdoors, making detection difficult in this rural, sparsely populated state.
Wyoming is both a destination and a transit area for methamphetamine. The primary method for methamphetamine transportation into and through Wyoming is by private vehicle using the interstate highway system. According to DEA and the Wyoming DCI, methamphetamine is transported to Wyoming from distribution centers in Denver, Colorado; Phoenix, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; San Francisco, California; and Spokane, Washington. The DCI's Regional Enforcement Teams reported the seizure of methamphetamine from all of these distribution centers during 1999 and 2000. The primary methamphetamine transportation routes include I-25 from New Mexico via Colorado to northern Wyoming and I-80 from California to southern Wyoming. Mexican criminal groups are the primary transporters of wholesale quantities of methamphetamine to Wyoming. The DEA Cheyenne Resident Office reported in early 2001 that Mexican criminal groups were beginning to use commercial buses and private aircraft to transport methamphetamine into Wyoming.
While most of the methamphetamine available in Wyoming is produced in Mexico, some is produced in California. Mexican criminal groups transport methamphetamine produced in the San Francisco Bay area, in California's Central Valley, or in Southern California, to Wyoming. In 2000 investigators with the Regional Enforcement Team in Casper identified a superlab--capable of producing up to 10 pounds of methamphetamine per cook--in San Bernardino, California, as a methamphetamine supply source for criminal groups in Wyoming. California law enforcement authorities subsequently seized the laboratory.
Wyoming is also a transit area for methamphetamine transported from California to destinations in the Midwest. In August 2001 Uinta County deputy sheriffs seized 20 pounds of methamphetamine destined for Minneapolis, Minnesota, on I-80 near Lyman, Wyoming. The methamphetamine was hidden behind a panel in the rear of a sport utility vehicle with California license plates. Two California residents and three Mexican illegal aliens were arrested.
Methamphetamine is transported to Wyoming using mail and parcel delivery services. Postal inspectors use drug detection dogs and electronic equipment to seize drug shipments transported via the mail service. Controlled deliveries of packaged drugs occasionally result in methamphetamine-related arrests.
Methamphetamine produced in Wyoming is transported occasionally to other states for distribution and consumption. In May 2000 law enforcement personnel from the Rio Blanco, Colorado, Sheriff's Office stopped a car accompanied by two motorcycles near the Colorado-Utah border. A consensual search of the car resulted in the seizure of approximately 122 grams of methamphetamine and 150 grams of marijuana. The methamphetamine, purchased in southwestern Wyoming, had been transported through northeastern Utah into Colorado. A subsequent execution of search warrants at two residences in Sweetwater County, Wyoming, resulted in the discovery of a methamphetamine laboratory. Authorities also found receipts for the purchase of chemicals and equipment.
Mexican criminal groups dominate wholesale methamphetamine distribution in Wyoming. DEA and state law enforcement agencies note that Mexican criminal groups usually control methamphetamine distribution, especially multiounce and larger quantities. Law enforcement authorities note that when one of these Mexican criminal groups is dismantled, another quickly replaces it. DEA reports that a Mexican criminal group operating from Casper since 1989 has nearly total control of wholesale methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana distribution in central and northern Wyoming. This group also reportedly supplies methamphetamine and cocaine to distributors in Nebraska.
The Wyoming DCI indicates that Mexican criminal groups based in other states supply multiounce and pound quantities of methamphetamine to local independent dealers. Local independent dealers dominate retail distribution of methamphetamine in Wyoming. Retail sales often occur in private residences. These sales involve gram or eighth- or quarter-ounce quantities. Methamphetamine also is sold at the retail level in hotels and on street corners. Methamphetamine sold at the retail level is most frequently packaged in plastic bags.
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