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National Drug Intelligence Center
Tennessee Drug Threat Assessment
Methamphetamine is the third greatest drug threat to Tennessee. Methamphetamine increasingly is available; however, the number of methamphetamine-related treatment admissions and federal sentences is significantly lower than those associated with cocaine and marijuana. Methamphetamine production, distribution, and abuse frequently are associated with violent crime in Tennessee, but considerably less often than cocaine distribution and abuse. Mexican drug trafficking organizations and criminal groups based primarily in Mexico, Arizona, California, and Texas produce most of the methamphetamine sold in Tennessee, primarily using the hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method. Mexican criminal groups based in Tennessee usually transport the drug to the state; however, Tennessee has a large number of independent methamphetamine producers as well. Methamphetamine produced in central and eastern Tennessee using the iodine/red phosphorus method and in western Tennessee using the Birch reduction method also is available. Mexican criminal groups based in Tennessee are the primary wholesale distributors of methamphetamine produced in Mexico and southwestern states by Mexican drug trafficking organizations and criminal groups. These Tennessee-based criminal groups distribute methamphetamine to a variety of criminal groups, street gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs that, in turn, distribute the drug at the retail level. Local independent Caucasian producers consume most of what they themselves produce, although they distribute a small amount of methamphetamine to established customers--usually family and friends--to fund further methamphetamine production.
Methamphetamine is increasingly abused in Tennessee; however, the rate of abuse is significantly lower than the national rate. According to TEDS data, the number of treatment admissions reporting methamphetamine as the primary drug of abuse increased dramatically from 8 in 1995 to 134 in 1999. (See Table 3 in Cocaine section.) Despite this increase, there were 3 methamphetamine-related treatment admissions per 100,000 in Tennessee in 1999, significantly fewer than the 32 per 100,000 nationwide. (See Table 2 in Overview section.)
The rate of methamphetamine abuse reported by high school students in Tennessee is slightly higher than the rate reported nationwide. According to the 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 10.2 percent of high school students surveyed in Tennessee reported having abused methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime compared with 9.1 percent of high school students surveyed nationwide. Rates of abuse among high school males and females in Tennessee were 10.5 percent and 10.0 percent respectively, compared with national rates of 9.9 percent and 8.4 percent.
Most methamphetamine available in Tennessee is produced by Mexican DTOs and criminal groups in Mexico and southwestern states. This methamphetamine frequently is diluted with a cutting agent such as MSM resulting in a less pure, less expensive drug than is locally produced. Although average purity levels are not recorded, the DEA Chattanooga Resident Office reported that methamphetamine produced in Mexico and southwestern states ranged from 9 to 40 percent pure and sold for approximately $900 an ounce in early 2000. Wholesale quantities sold for $8,000 to $20,000 per pound.
Locally produced methamphetamine also is increasingly available in Tennessee. The DEA Chattanooga Resident Office estimated that locally produced methamphetamine sold for $100 per gram at the retail level and was 80 percent pure.
Seizure data reflect the ready availability of methamphetamine in Tennessee, although the quantities seized by federal and state law enforcement agencies varied over the past 2 years. According to FDSS data, federal law enforcement officials in Tennessee seized 26.9 kilograms of methamphetamine in 1999 and 66.9 kilograms in 2000. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation seized 22.5 kilograms of methamphetamine in 1999 and 7.8 kilograms in 2000. Law enforcement officials seized 3.0 kilograms of methamphetamine in 1999 and 6.5 kilograms in 2000 under Operation Jetway, and 31.1 kilograms of methamphetamine in 1999 and 2.4 kilograms in 2000 under Operation Pipeline.
The number of methamphetamine-related federal sentences ranked third to cocaine and marijuana in 1999 and 2000. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the number of methamphetamine-related federal sentences nearly tripled from 35 in 1997 to 91 in 2000. (See Table 1 in Overview section.)
Methamphetamine production, distribution, and abuse frequently are associated with violent crime in Tennessee, although violence is more frequently associated with cocaine distribution and abuse. Methamphetamine producers often booby-trap laboratories, which results in increased danger to unsuspecting civilians and law enforcement personnel. The DEA Chattanooga Resident Office reports that agents have seized methamphetamine laboratories booby-trapped with dynamite and jugs of gasoline equipped with blasting caps. The Crips and Vice Lords street gangs in Columbia, the Outlaws OMG in Chattanooga, and the Hells Angels OMG in Union City commonly distribute methamphetamine, among other drugs, and also have committed crimes such as assault and black market weapons distribution. Chronic methamphetamine abusers often display paranoia, experience hallucinations or mood disturbances, and are prone to violence.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups based primarily in Mexico, Arizona, California, and Texas produce most of the methamphetamine sold in Tennessee, principally using the hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method.
Tennessee has a large number of independent methamphetamine producers as
well. Law enforcement officials in Tennessee seized an increasing number of
methamphetamine laboratories from 1999 through 2001. DEA seized 122
methamphetamine laboratories in Tennessee in FY1999, 235 laboratories in FY2000,
and 631 laboratories in FY2001. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation seized 78
methamphetamine laboratories in 1999 and 85 in 2000.
Most of the methamphetamine produced in Tennessee is from laboratories in the Appalachia-Cumberland Plateau region in central and eastern Tennessee. The most common methamphetamine production method used in this region is the iodine/red phosphorus method, locally known as the Red P method. Most laboratories are small and capable of producing 5 to 10 grams of methamphetamine per cook. Laboratories have been seized in private residences, motel rooms, cars, trucks, trailers, and secluded wooded areas.
Some methamphetamine is produced in western Tennessee using the Birch reduction method, also known as the Nazi method. The DEA Memphis Resident Office reports that every methamphetamine laboratory seized in western Tennessee since FY1998 used the Birch reduction method. This method does not require extensive knowledge of chemistry and does not use heat. The laboratory can fit into something as compact as a small cardboard box. Methamphetamine--usually an ounce or less with a purity level of 90 percent--can be produced in less than an hour using the Birch reduction method. In April 2001 the Shelby County Sheriff's Office in Memphis seized a Birch reduction method laboratory and multiple ounces of methamphetamine at a residence in a suburban neighborhood close to a major shopping mall.
Methamphetamine production raises serious safety and environmental concerns. The chemicals used in the production process are volatile and laboratories usually contain a variety of highly flammable toxic chemicals and vapors. For every pound of methamphetamine produced, 5 to 7 pounds of hazardous waste materials result. Toxic waste--dumped onto the ground, into rivers, or placed in containers that will eventually corrode and leak--can contaminate soil, kill vegetation, and poison local water supplies. Farmers could unwittingly use contaminated water to irrigate crops and water livestock. Rural areas are more at risk of water contamination than urban areas because municipal water supplies are chemically treated and frequently monitored.
Mexican criminal groups based in Tennessee, some associated with Mexican DTOs, transport methamphetamine into and through Tennessee from distribution centers primarily in Mexico, Arizona, California, and Texas. These criminal groups commonly transport methamphetamine in tractor-trailers and private vehicles.
Mexican criminal groups also transport methamphetamine through the Memphis International Airport using package delivery services. Methamphetamine sometimes is concealed in packages that contain auto parts or stuffed animals or is hidden between the glass and the backing of picture frames.
Local methamphetamine producers generally transport small quantities of the product in privately owned vehicles. They transport it within a small radius of the production site to established customers.
Mexican criminal groups based in Tennessee are the primary wholesale
distributors of methamphetamine produced in Mexico and southwestern
states. These groups purchase methamphetamine from Mexican DTOs in Mexico
and criminal groups primarily in Arizona, California, and Texas and supply
a variety of other criminal groups, street gangs, and OMGs that distribute
the drug at the retail level. Methamphetamine usually is distributed in
Tennessee at open-air drug markets and on street corners. Local
independent Caucasian producers distribute a small amount of
methamphetamine to established customers--usually family and friends--to
help fund further methamphetamine production.
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