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North Dakota Drug Threat Assessment
May 2002


Methamphetamine is the most significant drug threat to North Dakota and is the drug-related investigative priority for federal, state, and local law enforcement officials. Treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities for methamphetamine abuse from 1994 through 1999 surpassed admissions for abuse of any other illicit drug except marijuana. Methamphetamine is readily available, and its availability is increasing throughout the state. Law enforcement officials seized more methamphetamine statewide in 1999 than during the previous 4 years combined. They report that Mexico-produced methamphetamine is the most common type available, followed by methamphetamine produced in California by Mexican criminal groups. High purity methamphetamine produced in small quantities in North Dakota is also of great concern. The number of methamphetamine laboratory seizures has increased since 1998. Mexican criminal groups transport multipound quantities of the drug from Mexico and California via Minnesota and Washington and distribute the drug at the wholesale level. Caucasian and Native American local independent dealers are the primary retail distributors of Mexico- and California-produced methamphetamine. Independent methamphetamine producers, primarily Caucasians, are the retail distributors of locally produced methamphetamine. In addition, the Sons of Silence outlaw motorcycle gang (OMG) transports small amounts of methamphetamine, primarily from transshipment points in Colorado, and distributes the drug at the retail level in North Dakota.


Methamphetamine abuse is a serious problem in North Dakota. However, federal abuse statistics indicate that methamphetamine treatment admissions may be decreasing. TEDS data indicate that methamphetamine treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities increased from 23 in 1994 to 95 in 1997, then decreased to 69 in 1999. (See Table 1.) Nevertheless, North Dakota health officials report that there were more methamphetamine treatment admissions between 1994 and 2000 than for any other illicit drug except marijuana. In North Dakota in 1999 males composed 62.3 percent of treatment admissions. In the same year 94.2 percent of treatment admissions were Caucasian, and 5.8 percent were Native American/Alaska Native. The age groups with the highest percentage of users--ages 18 to 20 and 31 to 35--each accounted for 23.2 percent of methamphetamine treatment admissions. According to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2001, officials from the Bismarck Police Department reported an increasing number of methamphetamine overdoses in their jurisdiction.

Table 1. Methamphetamine-Related Treatment Admissions to Publicly Funded Facilities, North Dakota, 1994-1999

Year Admissions
1994 23
1995 46
1996 60
1997 95
1998 88
1999 69

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Treatment Episode Data Set.

Methamphetamine abuse among North Dakota youth is a concern. According to the 1999 North Dakota Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), methamphetamine abuse among high school students in North Dakota is above the national average. Nearly 11 percent of high school students in North Dakota reported lifetime methamphetamine use compared with slightly more than 9 percent nationally.

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Methamphetamine availability is reportedly increasing throughout North Dakota. Methamphetamine produced in Mexico is the most prevalent type available in North Dakota, followed by methamphetamine produced in California by Mexican criminal groups. The amount of methamphetamine seized by the Mandan Police Department increased dramatically from 14.2 grams in 1993 to 3,402 grams in 2000. Methamphetamine-related investigations increased throughout North Dakota from 48 in 1995 to 119 in 1999. Arrests increased from 24 in 1995 to 116 in 1999. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, methamphetamine-related federal sentences in North Dakota increased overall from 10 in 1995 to 25 in 2000; nationally, sentences increased overall from 1,167 in 1995 to 3,397 in 2000.

Increases in the number of methamphetamine samples submitted to the North Dakota Crime Laboratory may further indicate increasing availability. The North Dakota Crime Laboratory reported an overall increase of methamphetamine samples submitted for analysis from 1992 through 2000--14 samples in 1992, 65 in 1993, 494 in 1999, and 1,218 in 2000.

Methamphetamine prices in North Dakota are decreasing, possibly indicating an increase in availability. Prices in FY1999 ranged from $125 to $200 per gram and $2,000 to $2,500 per ounce, while in FY2000, prices ranged from $100 to $120 per gram and $1,000 to $1,300 per ounce.



In North Dakota methamphetamine-related violence poses a threat to the safety of the population. Methamphetamine abusers can be violent and can endanger themselves and those around them, especially during the tweaking stage. Tweaking occurs at the end of a binge when nothing, not even additional methamphetamine, will relieve the abuser's feelings of emptiness and dysphoria. The tweaking stage is very uncomfortable for abusers, who often take depressants to ease the unpleasant feelings. Tweakers often are irritable and prone to unpredictable behavior. In 1996 a Fargo man under the influence of methamphetamine set his house on fire because he believed that the police had installed surveillance equipment in it. In May 2000 another methamphetamine abuser ripped the drywall off the entire inside of his house and kicked in his television set because he believed that police had invaded the house through the sewer and had installed listening devices in his walls and television set.

The potential for violence associated with methamphetamine production in North Dakota is significant. Methamphetamine producers go to great lengths to prevent discovery of laboratory sites, often endangering the lives of others including law enforcement personnel. In April 2000 Burleigh County law enforcement officials arrested a 17-year-old male for producing methamphetamine and allegedly threatening to kill coworkers if they disclosed the location of his laboratory. Three other individuals, ranging in age from 18 to 20, also were arrested in connection with the laboratory. The 20-year-old possessed a weapon and had a prior criminal record for methamphetamine distribution.

Possible Methamphetamine
Related Executions

In September 2001 a Native American father and son, ages 19 and 40, were found murdered on a township road in rural Grand Forks County. The two were each shot multiple times. Their executions are believed to be linked to their involvement with a Mexican criminal group and the distribution of methamphetamine. The Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department is continuing the investigation into their murders.

Source: Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department.

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Most of the methamphetamine seized by law enforcement officials in North Dakota is produced in Mexico or California. Mexico- and California- produced methamphetamine usually is identified by the presence of the cutting agent MSM, which reduces purity levels. Local independent producers--primarily Caucasians--dominate state methamphetamine production.

MSM as a Cutting Agent

MSM is the common commercial name for the chemical methylsulfonylmethane. Alternate names for the same compound are methylsulfone and dimethylsulfone (DMSO 2 ).

MSM is marketed as a nutritional supplement for both humans and horses and is available in bulk quantities at veterinarian supply stores, feed stores, and through equine supply catalogs. MSM also is available for purchase in health food stores and via the Internet. Mexico- and California-based methamphetamine producers use the easily obtained MSM as an inexpensive cutting agent.

Methamphetamine production in North Dakota is low but increasing. Seizures of methamphetamine laboratories in North Dakota increased overall from 5 in 1998 to 46 in 2000, and preliminary 2001 reporting indicates that seizures are likely to increase again. Of the 46 laboratories seized in 2000 by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), 22 were located in rural areas, 17 were in urban areas, and 7 were in small towns. All North Dakota respondents to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2001 reported increases in laboratory seizures. During the second quarter of 2001, 19 laboratories were seized state-wide in North Dakota compared with 9 during the same period in 2000. Officers from the Northwest Narcotics Task Force--encompassing Divide, Williams, and McKenzie Counties located along the state's northwestern border with Montana--typically seize 4 laboratories per year; however, by June 2001 the task force had seized 12.

Methamphetamine Laboratory
Discovered in Residence

In February 2001 officers from the North Dakota BCI, the Northwest Narcotics Task Force, and the Williston Police and Sheriff's Departments arrested three individuals for producing methamphetamine in their residence. The house was wired with a monitoring system and motion detectors. When the officers entered the house through the front door, one of the laboratory operators threw the still-active laboratory out a rear window, splashing officers with chemicals. Officers seized a loaded handgun.

Source: Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, May 2001.


Methamphetamine Laboratories in
Rural North Dakota

North Dakota law enforcement officials are discovering that methamphetamine producers are creating laboratories small enough to fit into briefcases, allowing ease in mobility and concealment. Other operators produce methamphetamine in junked cars, basements, caves built beneath garages, abandoned farm buildings, apartment buildings, and even in babies' bedrooms.

Source: North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Most methamphetamine production in North Dakota takes place in large national forests and wilderness areas. The North Dakota Forest Service manages five state forests totaling 13,278 acres, nine national wildlife reserves, and two national grassland areas. These remote locations are well suited for methamphetamine production and the disposal of toxic waste.

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Most of the methamphetamine laboratories seized in North Dakota are small Birch reduction method operations capable of producing ounce quantities. North Dakota respondents to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey 2001 as well as other law enforcement officials reported that, in their jurisdictions, the Birch reduction method was the most prevalent. In 2000, 43 of the 46 laboratories seized statewide used the Birch reduction method; 3 used the hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method.

Methamphetamine Production Methods

   Ephedrine/Pseudoephedrine Reduction:

Hydriodic acid/red phosphorus. The principal chemicals are ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, hydriodic acid, and red phosphorus. This method can yield multipound quantities of high quality d-methamphetamine and often is associated with Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Iodine/red phosphorus. The principal chemicals are ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, iodine, and red phosphorus. The required hydriodic acid in this variation of the hydriodic acid/ red phosphorus method is produced by the reaction of iodine in water with red phosphorus. This method yields high quality d-methamphetamine. Another iodine/red phosphorus method, limited to small production batches, is called the cold cook method because the chemicals, instead of being heated, are placed in a hot environment such as in direct sunlight.

Birch. The principal chemicals are ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, anhydrous ammonia, and sodium or lithium metal. Also known as the "Nazi" method, this method typically yields ounce quantities of high quality d-methamphetamine and often is used by independent dealers and producers.


P2P. The principal chemicals are phenyl-2-propanone, aluminum, methylamine, and mercuric acid. This method yields lower quality dl-methamphetamine and has been associated with outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Birch reduction method laboratories are unsophisticated and easy to assemble, and the precursor chemicals associated with this method are readily available. Typical laboratory equipment includes ordinary beverage containers (thermos jugs, soda containers, and large plastic cups), kitchen utensils (spatulas, stirrers, plastic bowls), and other household items. The precursor chemical pseudoephedrine may be obtained from products purchased over the counter at any convenience store or pharmacy. A second precursor chemical, anhydrous ammonia, often is stolen from agricultural suppliers or from storage tanks in farm fields. Other essential chemicals used in methamphetamine production are found in products such as starter fluid, denatured alcohol, drain cleaner, lye, and lithium batteries, which are available at local hardware and discount stores. Often laboratory operators purchase these products in small quantities to avoid arousing suspicion. Officials from the Bismarck Police Department report increasing thefts of over-the-counter medications and chemicals used in methamphetamine production.

North Dakota law enforcement officials also are concerned with increasing thefts of precursor chemicals throughout the state. Officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Fargo Resident Office report that thefts of anhydrous ammonia increased significantly during 2000 and 2001. Officials report that during the week of November 12, 2001, they seized six Birch reduction method laboratories--all were seized along with stolen anhydrous ammonia containers. In the fall of 1999 Cavalier County law enforcement officials arrested an Idaho woman in possession of equipment commonly used to steal anhydrous ammonia. According to the Cavalier County sheriff, the woman said that she was "in heaven" with all the anhydrous ammonia tanks and if producers knew of the ready availability of the chemical, more would come to North Dakota. The woman's arrest led officials from the Cavalier County Sheriff's Department to a methamphetamine laboratory in the small town of Hansboro on the U.S.-Canada border. In addition, North Dakota BCI officers have documented eight instances in which individuals traveled from Minnesota to steal anhydrous ammonia to use in methamphetamine production in that state.

North Dakota's proximity to Canada provides advantages for local laboratory operators and challenges to law enforcement authorities. Intelligence reports indicate that chemicals used to produce methamphetamine are likely transported into North Dakota from Canada. Precursor chemicals such as ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and P2P are more readily available, less expensive, and regulated less restrictively in Canada than in the United States. Burke County Sheriff's Department officers report that there has been an influx of individuals with criminal records for methamphetamine production from California and other western states. These individuals are suspected of smuggling precursor chemicals across the U.S.-Canada border and producing methamphetamine in North Dakota.

Methamphetamine laboratories pose hazards to local residents, 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 thousands of dollars every year. The national average cost of cleaning one site is $5,000; however, costs can exceed $100,000 for larger sites.

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Mexican criminal groups transport multipound quantities of methamphetamine into North Dakota. Officials from the North Dakota BCI and the DEA Fargo Resident Office report that these groups are the primary transporters of methamphetamine into North Dakota from source areas in Mexico as well as California. Minnesota and Washington are distribution centers for methamphetamine transported to North Dakota. The Office of the State's Attorney and law enforcement officials in Fargo and Grand Forks agree that Mexican criminal groups are responsible for most of the Mexico-produced methamphetamine transported into their jurisdictions.

Eight Indicted for Transporting Methamphetamine and Cocaine

Eight individuals, ages 19 to 49, from North Dakota, Minnesota, and Washington were indicted for transporting methamphetamine and cocaine from Washington into Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota. The suspects transported 5 to 10 pounds of methamphetamine and 1 pound of cocaine from Washington during five trips from April to September 2000.

Source: U.S. Attorney's Office.

Bismarck Police officers report that some Mexican males--most of whom are in the United States illegally--transport an estimated 15 to 20 pounds of methamphetamine into their jurisdiction every 2 weeks via private vehicles licensed in California or Washington. Some of this methamphetamine likely is distributed throughout the state.

In 2000 an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation targeted a Mexican criminal group that used private vehicles to transport methamphetamine into the Fargo/Moorhead area. In July 2001 Grand Forks Area Narcotics Task Force officers seized 10 pounds of methamphetamine hidden in the gas tank of a private vehicle. Three Mexican males who were arrested in association with the seizure had transported the methamphetamine from Minneapolis, Minnesota, into Grand Forks.

Mexican criminal groups primarily use Interstates 29 and 94 to transport methamphetamine into the state. Interstate 29 connects the eastern cities in North Dakota to Sioux City, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska, which are methamphetamine distribution centers for the region, according to the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Interstate 94 links North Dakota with interstates that extend to California, Minnesota, and Washington as well as Denver, Colorado. These groups also use US 2, 83, 85, and 281 as secondary routes to transport methamphetamine into North Dakota.

Transporters sometimes use other modes, such as package delivery services, tractor-trailers, and passenger trains, to transport methamphetamine into North Dakota. Officials from the Stutsman County Task Force report that in one methamphetamine investigation, transporters concealed the drug in stuffed animals and mailed them via package delivery services from California.

The Sons of Silence OMG also transports small amounts of methamphetamine for distribution in North Dakota, primarily from chapters in Colorado. Members of Colorado chapters transport Mexico-produced methamphetamine to North Dakota chapters, or North Dakota chapter members transport the drug from Colorado. Sons of Silence maintains chapters in Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks, and Minot.

Sons of Silence, with chapters in eight states, is the fifth largest OMG in the United States; total membership is estimated to be between 200 and 250. Sons of Silence maintains an alliance with Hells Angels, primarily due to their mutual rivalry with the Outlaws OMG. Sons of Silence is structured much like Hells Angels--each chapter maintains a self-governing hierarchy, which typically consists of a president, vice president, secretary-treasurer, and sergeant at arms.

Source: International Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators Association.

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Mexican criminal groups transport methamphetamine and control the drug's wholesale distribution in North Dakota. DEA and state law enforcement agencies report that these groups distribute multiounce and larger quantities of methamphetamine in the state. When arrested, members of these groups are deported to Mexico, where they often obtain new identities and then return to the United States.

Caucasian and Native American local independent dealers are the primary retail distributors of Mexico- and California-produced methamphetamine. Independent methamphetamine producers, primarily Caucasians, are the retail distributors of locally produced methamphetamine. Officials from the Metro Area and Northwest Narcotics Task Forces as well as the Stutsman and Ward County Task Forces report that Caucasian local independent dealers are the primary retail methamphetamine distributors in their jurisdictions. Officials from the North Dakota BCI report that Native American local independent dealers distribute methamphetamine at the retail level throughout the state. Dickinson Police Department and BCI officers indicate that local independent producers, who produce methamphetamine primarily for their own personal use, also are involved in the retail distribution of their product.

Mexican criminal groups often form associations with Native Americans to distribute methamphetamine. North Dakota BCI officers report that groups of Mexican migrant workers use Indian reservations as a place of refuge. Once there, the Mexican group members seldom leave the reservations to distribute drugs; rather, they employ Native Americans to distribute the drugs for them. These Native Americans then distribute the drugs to Caucasian abusers in cities such as Bismarck, Fargo, and Grand Forks. Caucasian abusers also go to the reservations to purchase methamphetamine. An investigator with the Turtle Mountain Reservation Drug Task Force identified four groups of Native Americans with ties to Mexican criminal groups.

The Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, located in Rolette County near the U.S.-Canada border, includes numerous roads and trails that provide easy access to the border. In May 2001 a methamphetamine distributor living on the Turtle Mountain Reservation was arrested as part of a major drug distribution network with connections to Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, and Washington. Eight individuals were arrested during the 3-year investigation.

Source: Dickinson Police Department.

The Sons of Silence OMG also distributes methamphetamine at the retail level throughout North Dakota. It typically uses smaller, affiliated OMGs to distribute the drug at the retail level, which insulates it from law enforcement scrutiny, according to officials from the DEA Fargo Resident Office and the North Dakota BCI.

There are no specific locations within North Dakota cities in which to purchase user quantities of methamphetamine. Retail sales are arranged by word of mouth and take place in private residences. According to the BCI and the DEA Fargo Resident Office, if an individual wants to purchase user quantities of methamphetamine, that person must have a contact; there are no "cold buys."


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