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South Carolina Drug Threat Assessment
December 2001


The availability, distribution, and abuse of powdered and crack cocaine constitute the primary drug threats in South Carolina. Crack cocaine is also the drug most often associated with violent crime, and more adults throughout the state are arrested for crimes related to crack than any other drug.



Crack cocaine abuse is a significant health problem in South Carolina although publicly funded treatment center admissions are declining. According to the DAODAS, in FY1997 and FY1998 crack cocaine accounted for the highest number of publicly funded treatment center admissions for any drug, surpassed only by marijuana in FY1999 and FY2000. The number of crack cocaine users admitted to publicly funded treatment centers declined from 4,498 in FY1997 to 4,200 in FY2000. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 1998 Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), South Carolina publicly funded treatment center admissions for powdered (15 per 100,000) and crack cocaine (69 per 100,000) are below national numbers (26 per 100,000 and 71 admissions per 100,000 respectively). Excluding alcohol, more than 44 percent of publicly funded treatment center admissions for the abuse of drugs were for cocaine, and 85 percent of the cocaine publicly funded treatment center admissions in FY2000 were for crack abuse.

Most juvenile cocaine abusers in the state are male. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance 1999 survey, cocaine abuse among male high school students in South Carolina is nearly twice that of female students for both current and lifetime use. The same approximate ratio exists for current cocaine use nationally, but no significant difference exists between males and females reporting lifetime cocaine use. South Carolina students are just as likely to use cocaine currently (3.5%) as are students nationwide (4%), but fewer students in the state report lifetime cocaine use (7.4%) than do students nationwide (9.5%).

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There are indicators that powdered cocaine is increasingly available throughout South Carolina in quantities ranging from grams to kilograms with quantities in the ounce range being the norm. The price and purity of cocaine in South Carolina vary with the location of the sale. (See Table 2.) In 2000, powdered cocaine prices statewide averaged $120 per gram, and crack cocaine averaged $20 per rock. The purity of powdered cocaine samples seized or bought in South Carolina and submitted to the DEA laboratory during 2000 ranged from as low as 9.8 percent at the retail level to as high as 90 percent at the wholesale level.

Table 2. Powdered and Crack Cocaine Prices in South Carolina Cities, 2000

Location Kilogram Ounce Gram
Powdered Cocaine
Columbia $17,000-$26,500 $900 $100-$150
Charleston $15,000-$25,000 $950-$1,050 $100
Greenville $26,000 $1,000 $90
Florence $26,000-$32,000 $800 $120
Crack Cocaine
Location Kilogram Ounce Rock
Columbia $27,000 $650-$1,600 $35
Charleston $25,000 $800-$1,300 $20
Greenville NA $1,200 $25
Florence NA $800-$1,000 $5

Source: DEA Columbia Resident Office.

The Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS) indicates that the amount of cocaine seized in South Carolina during the first 3 months of FY2000 increased by 1,000 percent over the amount seized during all of FY1999. (See Table 3.) The El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) Pipeline Convoy database and the Jetway seizure program also recorded significant increases in the amount of cocaine seized in South Carolina from 1998 to 1999. State and local law enforcement indicate increases in the amount of cocaine seized and in the number of cocaine-related investigations and arrests from 1998 to 1999.

Table 3. Powdered and Crack Cocaine Seizures in South Carolina, 1998-2000

  1998 1999 2000
Drug Type   Kilograms
Powdered Cocaine Pipeline 3.000 15.791 NA
  Jetway 3.018 8.217 NA
Total   6.018 24.008 NA
Crack Cocaine Pipeline 0.155 0.554 NA
  Jetway 0.011 0.000 NA
Total   0.166 0.554 NA
Powdered and Crack Cocaine FDSS 2,149.500 41.000 449.500

Sources: EPIC Pipeline Convoy and Jetway Databases; Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS).
Note: 1999 Pipeline and Jetway data include only the first three quarters. FDSS data are based on fiscal year. A reason for the unusually large amount seized according to FDSS in 1998 has not yet been determined. FDSS 2000 data are only for the first 3 months of the fiscal year. An increase in seizures does not necessarily indicate an increase in availability.

Operations Pipeline and Convoy

Operation Pipeline, created in 1984, is the name given to a nationwide highway interdiction program that focuses on private vehicles. Operation Convoy was created 6 years later to target drug transportation organizations that use commercial vehicles to traffic drugs. Both programs were designed to coordinate training, real-time communication, and analytic support among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.  

The SLED reports that the total number of arrests for powdered and crack cocaine-related offenses increased from 6,980 arrests in 1990 to 7,539 arrests in 1999, an increase slightly less than the increase in state population (11%) during this time.

At the retail level, crack cocaine is one of the most available illicit drugs in the state. According to the SLED, in 1999 more people aged 17 and older were arrested for the simple possession of crack cocaine (2,853) than for any other drug except marijuana (14,497), and arrests for the simple possession of powdered cocaine (621) ranked third.

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Crack cocaine is the drug most often associated with violent crime throughout the state. Most law enforcement agencies in South Carolina cite the violent crime associated with cocaine trafficking and abuse as the most serious criminal threat to the state.

Cocaine trafficking and abuse are the catalyst for many crimes, including burglary, robbery, and firearm violations. Crack is the drug of choice in lower-income and high-crime areas such as public housing projects, and is becoming more popular in suburban and rural areas. Crack users, who often commit crimes to support their habits, fuel the increase in property and violent crime rates.

Street gangs involved in retail distribution of cocaine are responsible for a significant amount of the drug-related violence in metropolitan areas. The Insane Gangster Disciples, a multiethnic gang affiliated with the Gangster Disciples in Chicago, has a significant presence in Charleston. Insane Gangster Disciples members have been involved in assaults, homicides, home invasions, and weapons distribution. Two other violent gangs located in Charleston, the Mafia Gangster Disciples and South Side Piru Bloods, have been involved in assaults on law enforcement officers, drive-by shootings, carjackings, home invasions, homicides, and weapons distribution.



Coca is neither cultivated nor processed into cocaine in South Carolina. Cocaine consumed in South Carolina is produced in South America. State and local law enforcement agencies report that street gangs and local independent dealers convert most of the powdered cocaine into crack cocaine in the state.

Retail distributors in the state generally convert powdered cocaine into crack in areas where they intend to distribute it because federal sentences are lengthier for possessing crack cocaine than powdered cocaine. Most crack cocaine is converted in stash houses and gang members' homes. While most of the crack cocaine in South Carolina is converted locally, some crack is transported from neighboring states.

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Colombian criminal organizations use maritime conveyances to smuggle multihundred-kilogram shipments of powdered cocaine primarily from Florida and New York into South Carolina through the Port of Charleston. From there, the cocaine is transported overland throughout South Carolina, although most of these larger shipments are likely destined for other East Coast markets.

In 1998 and 1999, officials seized nearly 1,850 kilograms of cocaine on commercial vessels entering South Carolina ports--the Port of Georgetown, Port Royal, and the Port of Charleston. The Port of Charleston is the seventh busiest seaport in the United States in terms of container traffic, and commonly is used for trade between the United States and South America. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Port of Charleston is a primary transshipment point and distribution center for powdered and crack cocaine destined for South Carolina and other states along the eastern seaboard. In 1999, officials seized 46 kilograms of cocaine destined for foreign ports from commercial vessels intercepted at sea.

Maritime Seizures in South Carolina

During June 2000, U.S. Customs Service (USCS) agents seized 55.5 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated value of $1.1 million during an inspection of a container ship at the Port of Charleston. The cocaine was found in two bags concealed in a shipment of toilets aboard the 484-foot container ship. The vessel, registered in Germany, arrived in Charleston from San Antonio, Chile.

During June 1998, at the Wando Terminal, the largest terminal at the Port of Charleston, authorities seized 1,403 kilograms of cocaine hidden in soft luggage inside a 40-foot shipping container on a Greek-flagged vessel. The ship arrived from Colombia, South America, by way of the Bahamas. The cocaine had an estimated street value of $100 million and was the largest seizure in South Carolina history. The leader of the drug smuggling ring was from Savannah, Georgia.

Source: Associated Press, 9 June 1999 and 6 July 2000.  

According to state and local sources, African American criminal groups and street gangs transport powdered and crack cocaine into and through South Carolina. Local independent dealers and, to a lesser extent, Haitian, Jamaican, and Mexican criminal groups and OMGs also transport significant quantities of cocaine into the state. They transit South Carolina because it is centrally located between major cities in the southeast and northeast. Interstate 95, which runs along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida, is a primary transportation route used by drug distributors. Distributors traveling north on I-95 transport cocaine to the northern United States and make the return trip south on I-95 with the drug proceeds.

During 1999, South Carolina law enforcement officials seized multikilogram quantities of cocaine from northbound travelers on I-95 who began their trips in Florida; they also seized more than $600,000 in currency from southbound travelers on I-95. Distributors also transport cocaine into and through South Carolina using I-85, which runs from Montgomery, Alabama, across northern Georgia and northwestern South Carolina before connecting to I-95 in central Virginia. In 1999, law enforcement officials seized more than 4 kilograms of cocaine that were transported from Georgia by distributors on I-85.

Crack Seizures on South Carolina Highways

In 1999, Virginia law enforcement officials seized 154 grams of crack cocaine from two men traveling south on I-95 from New York to South Carolina. The men were from Trinidad and Tobago, and the crack was concealed inside a bag in the trunk of the car.

In 1999, South Carolina law enforcement officers seized 554 grams of crack cocaine from an individual driving to North Carolina on I-85 north.

Source: EPIC Pipeline Convoy Seizure Statistics.  

Criminal groups commonly transport cocaine into and through South Carolina using private vehicles, commercial ships, buses, trains, aircraft, and parcel delivery services. According to the 1998 and 1999 EPIC Jetway database, law enforcement officials seized several powdered and crack cocaine shipments from distributors traveling on commercial buses from Miami and Orlando to Myrtle Beach, Beaufort, and Anderson, South Carolina. EPIC Jetway statistics also indicate law enforcement officials seized shipments of powdered cocaine ranging from 100 grams to 5 kilograms transported from Florida, New Mexico, and New York via passenger trains destined for South Carolina. Kilogram quantities of powdered cocaine are transported into South Carolina from California, Florida, and Nevada via mail and parcel delivery services. Powdered cocaine and crack also have been seized from airline passengers traveling from Houston to South Carolina.

In most of the cocaine seizures reported through the EPIC Pipeline Convoy program, transporters rarely used sophisticated concealment techniques to hide the drugs. Generally, the cocaine was placed either on the seat or the floor of the car, or in the trunk. In one instance, the powdered cocaine was concealed in the gas tank of the vehicle, and in another, it was bodycarried.

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African American street gangs and independent dealers are the predominant powdered and crack cocaine wholesale and retail distributors within South Carolina, primarily within the large cities. Local law enforcement agencies report that African American, Caucasian, Caribbean, Mexican, and Colombian criminal groups also supply cocaine to wholesale distributors in South Carolina after transporting the drugs into the state directly from source areas or from distribution centers across the country.

Retail and Wholesale Distribution

The sale of drugs to users is considered retail distribution. Everything above this level is considered wholesale distribution, for example, when drugs are distributed to street level dealers, when dealers travel out of state to obtain drugs, or when they receive drugs from international smugglers.

Law enforcement agencies report that African American street gangs and local independent dealers control the retail distribution of cocaine. Street gangs involved in retail crack sales in South Carolina are the New York Boys (Myrtle Beach), and the Insane Gangster Disciples and South Side Piru Bloods (North Charleston). African American, Caribbean, Caucasian, and Mexican criminal groups also are involved in retail cocaine distribution. African American street gangs such as the Port City Posse, South Side Piru Bloods, and the New York Boys and multiethnic street gangs such as the Insane Gangster Disciples and the Mafia Gangster Disciples have affiliations across South Carolina and are the primary retail distributors. The Insane Gangster Disciples and the Mafia Gangster Disciples obtain cocaine from suppliers in Florida and Chicago and sell the drug in Charleston. The Port City Posse and South Side Piru Bloods purchase cocaine from sources in New York. The New York Boys has sources in Georgia, Los Angeles, and New York. Local independent dealers also play a significant role in retail distribution.

Crack Cookie Distribution in South Carolina

Authorities recently have identified wholesale distribution of crack "cookies" in South Carolina. Wholesalers buy cookies of crack that range from 2 to 6 inches in diameter. Each cookie typically weighs between 4 and 5 ounces. The wholesalers sell cookies to retail distributors who break them into user-sized quantities for retail distribution.

Source: South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).  

Crack cocaine is distributed and sold primarily in metropolitan areas. Open-air markets and crack houses are common venues for crack cocaine distribution, where users make small purchases, generally one-quarter ounce or less. These street dealers typically carry between 1 ounce and 1.5 ounces of crack at any one time.

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