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National Drug Intelligence Center
Tennessee Drug Threat Assessment
Cocaine, particularly crack, is the greatest drug threat to Tennessee. Crack cocaine is readily available and commonly abused. The distribution and abuse of crack are associated with more violent crime than any other drug. Tennessee has more cocaine-related treatment admissions and federal sentences than any other drug. Kilogram quantities of powdered cocaine generally are available only in the four major metropolitan areas of Tennessee--Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville. Mexican criminal groups and African American street gangs both based in Tennessee are the primary transporters and wholesale distributors of powdered cocaine. African American street gangs and local independent dealers convert most of the powdered cocaine in Tennessee to crack cocaine locally and are the primary retail distributors. Caucasian criminal groups and outlaw motorcycle gangs, among others, distribute retail quantities of powdered cocaine in Tennessee.
Treatment data indicate that cocaine is commonly abused in the state. The number of cocaine-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities in Tennessee increased from 1995 to 1999. According to TEDS data, treatment admissions for cocaine as the primary drug of abuse increased from 2,773 in 1995 to 3,809 in 1999 and exceeded admissions for any other drug during those years. (See Table 3.) In 1999 the number of treatment admissions per 100,000 in Tennessee for smoked cocaine (73) nearly equaled the national number per 100,000 (76). In 1999 the number of treatment admissions per 100,000 for cocaine abuse by another route of administration (10) was less than the national number per 100,000 (28). (See Table 2 in Overview section.)
State survey data also indicate that powdered cocaine and crack cocaine are commonly abused in Tennessee. According to the 1998 Tennessee Department of Health, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Use Survey, 7 percent of Tennessee residents surveyed reported having abused powdered cocaine and/or crack at least once in their lifetime, and 0.2 percent reported they were current abusers. Results from another survey by the same department that year indicated that 9 percent of emergency admissions surveyed reported they had abused cocaine at least once in their lifetime and 0.8 percent reported current abuse.
The percentage of Tennessee residents, particularly young adults, reporting having abused cocaine at least once in the past year is slightly higher than the national percentage. According to the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 2.0 percent of Tennessee residents surveyed reported they had abused cocaine in the past year compared with 1.7 percent nationally. Individuals aged 18 to 25 reported the highest rate (4.4%) of past year cocaine abuse in Tennessee that year.
The rates of cocaine abuse reported by high school students in Tennessee are comparable to the rates reported nationwide. According to the 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 3.8 percent of high school students surveyed in Tennessee reported having abused cocaine at least once in the past month compared with 4.0 percent nationwide. Rates of abuse among high school males and females in Tennessee were 5.0 percent and 2.7 percent respectively, compared with national rates of 5.2 percent and 2.9 percent.
Cocaine is readily available in Tennessee. Powdered cocaine is available at the wholesale and retail levels; however, most of the powdered cocaine is converted locally into crack. Kilogram quantities of powdered cocaine generally are available only in the four major metropolitan areas of Tennessee--Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville. Each of these areas is a distribution center for the rest of the state. Crack is available throughout Tennessee.
Prices for powdered and crack cocaine indicate that both drugs are available in Tennessee. Powdered cocaine sold for $14,000 to $30,000 per kilogram and $90 per gram in 2000, according to survey responses to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey 2000. The Jackson, Clarksville, and Knoxville Police Departments reported that crack generally sold for $20 per rock and weighed between 0.05 and 0.25 of a gram.
Purity levels for powdered cocaine vary widely throughout the state. Wholesale purity levels for powdered cocaine ranged from 50 to 98 percent. Retail purity levels for powdered cocaine ranged from 10 to 85 percent and for crack cocaine from 10 to 95 percent.
Seizure data reflect the ready availability of cocaine in Tennessee. Quantities seized by federal and state law enforcement agencies varied over the past 2 years. FDSS data indicate that federal law enforcement officials in Tennessee seized 558.6 kilograms of cocaine in 1999 and 319.5 kilograms in 2000. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation seized 44.8 kilograms of cocaine in 1999 and 329.2 kilograms in 2000. Law enforcement officials seized 10.7 kilograms of cocaine in 1999 and 6.1 kilograms in 2000 under Operation Jetway. They also seized 217.5 kilograms of cocaine in 1999 and 167 kilograms in 2000 under Operation Pipeline.
Tennessee had more cocaine-related federal sentences than any other drug each year from 1997 through 2000. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the number of cocaine-related federal sentences increased 32 percent from 200 in 1997 to 263 in 2000. (See Table 1 in Overview section.)
Cocaine, primarily crack, is the drug most commonly associated with violent crime in Tennessee. Distributors frequently commit assaults, drive-by shootings, and homicides to protect their turf. Most federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in Tennessee report that violent crime associated with gang-related crack distribution is the most serious criminal threat in their jurisdictions. In October 1999 law enforcement officials arrested the former head of Gangster Disciples in Memphis for ambushing and shooting to death two high-ranking fellow gang members over a disputed cocaine deal. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Chattanooga Resident Office reports that most crack dealers carry guns. Cocaine abusers frequently commit burglaries and thefts, among other crimes, to support their habits.
Coca is not cultivated nor is cocaine produced in Tennessee. The cocaine consumed in Tennessee is produced in South America, primarily Colombia. Street gang members and local independent African American dealers convert most of the powdered cocaine in Tennessee to crack cocaine locally.
Mexican criminal groups--some associated with Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs)--and African American street gangs, both based in Tennessee, are the primary transporters of cocaine into and through the state. The Mexican criminal groups employ couriers who transport cocaine from distribution centers in Mexico, Arizona, California, and Texas using private vehicles and tractor-trailers. African American street gangs in western Tennessee transport cocaine in private vehicles primarily from Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin via I-55, and members based in central Tennessee transport cocaine in private vehicles from Chicago via I-65 and from Los Angeles via I-40. African American street gangs based in the eastern part of the state generally transport cocaine in private vehicles from Jacksonville via I-75 and New York State via I-81.
Local independent African American dealers also transport powdered cocaine into Tennessee in private vehicles from Arizona, California, and Texas, and occasionally on commercial buses from Texas. DEA agents in Chattanooga arrested a local independent dealer in April 2000 traveling in his private vehicle from Atlanta, Georgia, to Athens, Tennessee. The dealer was transporting approximately half a kilogram of powdered cocaine hidden in his clothing.
Cocaine transported into and through Tennessee in private vehicles and tractor-trailers is concealed using a variety of methods. Cocaine has been concealed inside door panels, in gas tanks, and in vacuum-sealed inner tubes inside tires. The drug often is wrapped in tape and coated with grease to mask the odor from drug-detection dogs. Cocaine transported in tractor-trailers frequently is concealed among legitimate cargo.
Cocaine also is transported into and through Tennessee concealed in packages sent through package delivery services. Some items used to conceal cocaine include automobile parts, cookie tins, document packs, stuffed animals, and toy trucks. More elaborate concealment techniques include hiding cocaine in books with hollowed centers, between the corrugated sections of packing boxes, and in cored-out sections of 4- by 4-inch wooden blocks. Liquid cocaine--cocaine hydrochloride dissolved in water--has been packaged in bottles labeled as shampoo and in souvenir snow globes, among other items, and transported through the state using package delivery services.
Mexican criminal groups and African American street gangs are the primary wholesale distributors of powdered cocaine in Tennessee. Both distribute kilogram quantities, most of which are converted to crack cocaine. Mexican criminal groups purchase powdered cocaine from Mexican DTOs in Mexico and other criminal groups primarily in Arizona, California, and Texas. Street gangs such as Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, and Vice Lords located primarily in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville distribute wholesale quantities of powdered cocaine, among other drugs. Bloods and Crips generally purchase kilogram quantities of powdered cocaine from street gangs based in California, and Gangster Disciples and Vice Lords purchase kilogram quantities of powdered cocaine from street gangs based in Chicago.
African American street gangs and local independent African American dealers are the primary retail distributors of cocaine in Tennessee. Street gang members primarily distribute crack cocaine, although they also distribute small amounts of powdered cocaine. Local independent African American dealers purchase retail quantities of powdered cocaine from Mexican criminal groups and, to a lesser extent, from street gang members in Tennessee.
Caucasian criminal groups and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), among others, also purchase powdered cocaine from Mexican criminal groups and street gangs in Tennessee and distribute retail quantities of the drug. Law enforcement officials in Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Nashville report that Caucasian criminal groups distribute powdered cocaine in their areas. The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office reports that the Outlaws OMG distributes powdered cocaine in its area.
Crack cocaine is sold primarily at open-air drug markets and on street corners. Small amounts of powdered cocaine also are sold at these locations. Crack also is sold in houses in metropolitan areas and distributed in smaller municipalities throughout much of the state. The Memphis Police Department reports that street gangs commonly paint graffiti with a dollar sign to indicate that crack is sold at a particular location.
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