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Maryland Drug Threat Assessment
August 2002



Map of Maryland.

Note: This map displays features mentioned in the report.

With nearly 5.3 million residents, Maryland is the nineteenth most populous state, and with approximately 542 persons per square mile, it is the sixth most densely populated state. Seventy-two percent of Maryland's residents live in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, which includes the Maryland cities of Annapolis, Baltimore, Bowie, Gaithersburg, and Rockville.

Fast Facts
Population (2000) 5,296,486
U.S. population ranking 19th
Median household income (2000) $51,695
Unemployment rate (2000) 3.9%
Land area 9,775 square miles
Shoreline 3,190 miles
Capital Annapolis
Other principal cities Baltimore, Bowie, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Rockville
Number of counties 23
Principal industries Agriculture, tourism, manufacturing


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Maryland's population is growing and diverse. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Maryland's population increased 10.8 percent from 1990 to 2000. Baltimore's population, however, declined 11.5 percent from 736,014 in 1990 to 651,154 in 2000. In 2000, 64 percent of the state's residents were Caucasian, 28 percent were African American, 4 percent were Hispanic or Latino, and 4 percent were Asian.

Maryland's well-developed transportation infrastructure, consisting of over 29,000 miles of interstate, primary, and secondary roads, is used to transport drugs into and through the state. Maryland's proximity to New York City and its strategic location on the Interstate 95 corridor between New York City and Miami make it an important node in drug supply routes on the East Coast. Drugs typically are transported into and through Maryland on Interstates 95 and 81, two major north-south highways on the East Coast. Interstate 81, which extends through west-central Maryland, connects New York and Tennessee. Information gathered in 2000 by the Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) indicates that some couriers use less traveled routes such as U.S. Route 13 to US 50 to I-97 to avoid detection when transporting drugs to Baltimore. U.S. Route 13 in Maryland's southeast corner connects Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with Fayetteville, North Carolina, passing through Delaware and intersecting US 50 at Salisbury, Maryland. U.S. Route 301 in Maryland also intersects US 50 before continuing to Sarasota, Florida. Interstates 68, 70, 270, and 495 provide east-west transportation routes in Maryland. According to El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) data from Operations Pipeline and Convoy, I-695, US 140, and Maryland SR-24 also are used to transport drugs into, through, and within the state.

Operations Pipeline, Convoy, and Jetway

Operation Pipeline is a nationwide highway interdiction program that focuses on private vehicles and operates along the highways and interstates most commonly used to transport illegal drugs and drug proceeds.

Operation Convoy is also a highway interdiction program. It targets drug transportation organizations that use commercial vehicles to transport drugs.

Operation Jetway is a nationwide interdiction program that operates at airports, train stations, bus stations, package shipment facilities, post offices, and airport hotels and motels.

All three programs are supported by the El Paso Intelligence Center.

According to local law enforcement reports, Maryland's extensive public transportation network also is used to transport drugs into and through the state. Bus service links Annapolis, Columbia, Frederick, Hagerstown, and Washington, D.C., and carries over 250,000 passengers a day. Commuter rail lines provide transportation from Baltimore County through the city of Baltimore to Anne Arundel County. Two other commuter train lines run between the cities of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., carrying over 30,000 passengers daily. A fourth commuter line through Brunswick, Maryland, links Martinsburg, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The Baltimore Metro and the Washington Metrorail systems also serve the Baltimore-Washington area.

Drugs are transported into and through Maryland via commercial airlines as well. Maryland is serviced by the Baltimore-Washington International Airport and over 300 private and public airports and landing strips. With over 13 international airlines serving 58 domestic and 11 international destinations, Baltimore/Washington International Airport is the state's only international airport. In 1999 Baltimore/Washington International Airport serviced over 17.4 million passengers and 497 million pounds of air cargo (mail and freight) and 702 commercial flights daily. Most flights that require customs clearance at Baltimore/Washington International Airport arrive from the Caribbean region, a major transshipment area for illegal drugs. Drug shipments sent through Baltimore/Washington International Airport via package delivery services are a significant threat. There were 42 seizures of illicit drugs at Baltimore/Washington International Airport's package sorting facilities recorded by Operation Jetway in 2000. In addition, Maryland's many smaller airports and airstrips are well within the range of most twin- and single-engine aircraft traveling from domestic drug distribution centers such as New York City and Miami. Furthermore, the state's central East Coast location provides for easy transshipment of drugs destined for other states.

Drugs also are transported into Maryland through the Port of Baltimore, the third busiest container port in the Mid-Atlantic region. The port serves over 50 maritime shipping companies with approximately 1,800 vessels arriving annually. In 1999 Baltimore's port facilities handled 6.4 million tons of cargo. There are five separate facilities within the Port of Baltimore, making it difficult for law enforcement officers to monitor the entire port. The Port of Baltimore, the most inland major port on the East Coast, is easily accessible from major land-based distribution routes, and port facilities offer direct access to rail service and I-95. Law enforcement reporting and seizure activities indicate that drug smuggling through the port appears to present a relatively low threat; however, intelligence regarding smuggling activity at the port is limited. Container shipments represent the greatest threat. According to federal law enforcement, cocaine is the drug most often seized at the Port of Baltimore, although marijuana and heroin shipments smuggled by crew members also have been seized.

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Colombian and Dominican criminal groups are the dominant transporters of drugs into Maryland. These groups primarily recruit couriers to transport drugs via private vehicles, buses, trains, and commercial aircraft. In addition, local independent dealers often travel to New York City or Philadelphia or sometimes to southwestern states to purchase drugs and transport them back to Maryland. Local independent dealers also transport drugs into Maryland using private vehicles, buses, and rail systems and, to a lesser extent, through Baltimore/Washington International Airport.

Baltimore serves as the primary distribution center for illicit drugs in Maryland. Salisbury serves as a secondary distribution city. Local independent dealers, loosely organized gangs and, in some cases, individual abusers conduct most of the retail drug distribution in Maryland.

Gangs distribute drugs, particularly heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, at the retail level in Maryland. According to the Washington/Baltimore HIDTA, 60 percent of the gangs in Maryland are African American, 20 percent are Caucasian, and the remaining 20 percent are Asian, Hispanic, or Jamaican. The Baltimore Police Department has identified 242 neighborhood gangs, 95 percent of which distribute drugs--predominantly heroin, powdered and crack cocaine, and marijuana. The Mid-Atlantic Gang Investigators Network reports that gangs involved in drug distribution have migrated from Florida and New York and have formed drug distribution networks in western Maryland.

Bloods and Crips

Bloods and Crips are violent street gangs that formed in Los Angeles in the 1960s. The gangs are primarily African American in composition. Both gangs comprise loosely organized factions or sets that are typically turf- or neighborhood-oriented. Generally, gang sets are established by an entrepreneurial individual who runs the set and recruits members to distribute drugs, primarily cocaine. Bloods and Crips distribute drugs in California and in other states, including Maryland. Although Bloods and Crips sets are located throughout the United States, not all gangs that claim to be Bloods or Crips are affiliated with the Los Angeles-based Bloods or Crips. Bloods and Crips embrace the principles of individualism, loyalty to their own members, and violence against other gangs. Bloods and Crips harbor deep hatred toward each other and each considers the other a rival. The two gangs will, however, cooperate in criminal ventures for profit.

Latin Kings

Latin Kings is a predominately Hispanic street and prison gang with two major factions, one in Chicago and the other in the northeast. This gang started as a social group in Hispanic communities but later evolved into an organized criminal enterprise involved in drug trafficking and violent crime. Latin Kings is a highly structured gang that relies on strict, detailed charters to maintain discipline. The Chicago-based Latin Kings is the foundation upon which all Latin Kings gangs are based. The gang operates drug distribution enterprises on the North and Southeast Sides of Chicago and has expanded throughout Illinois and the nation. Latin Kings in the Northeast started in the Connecticut prison system in the late 1980s as an offshoot of the Chicago-based Latin Kings. This gang operates drug distribution enterprises in Maryland and surrounding states. The Latin Kings has attempted to consolidate the Chicago- and northeast-based factions.

Mara Salvatrucha

Mara Salvatrucha is a violent street gang with a strong presence in California, Maryland, New York, Texas, and Virginia. Original members were refugees from the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s; many were former soldiers and guerrillas well-trained in weapons and warfare tactics. Current members include second generation Salvadorans as well as other Hispanics. Mara Salvatrucha members have distributed drugs, primarily marijuana, and committed aggravated assaults, assaults on law enforcement officials, homicides, home invasions, auto thefts, and black-market weapons violations. Gang members sometimes trade marijuana for weapons, particularly handguns. Some of the weapons are retained for personal use and some are smuggled to El Salvador.

Law enforcement officials in Maryland have identified gangs that are affiliated with nationally recognized gangs such as Bloods and Crips; however, the extent to which these local gangs are influenced by their national counterparts is limited. Law enforcement officers from Montgomery County and from the cities of Hagerstown and Cumberland have identified gangs affiliated with Bloods, and officials from the city of Frederick have identified three gangs affiliated with Crips. Police officials in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties have identified members of Mara Salvatrucha (MS, MS-13) in their counties. In 1997 the local Mara Salvatrucha gang reportedly was loosely knit and lacked an organized central structure. In 2000 the Mid-Atlantic Gang Investigators Network reported that MS-13 and Latin Kings graffiti had appeared in Capitol Heights, Forestville, and Suitland as well as in Frederick and Harford Counties. The number of Asian gangs also is reported to be increasing in Maryland.

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Outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) also distribute drugs, especially cocaine and marijuana, in Maryland. Pagan's is the predominant OMG in the state; however, Thunderguards, Iron Horseman, and Blitzkrieg (a branch club of Pagan's) also are active. The Pagan's OMG has an estimated 25 members in Maryland belonging to four chapters located in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore, Frederick, and Ocean City.

Pagan's Motorcycle Club

Pagan's is a regional OMG that was founded in Prince George's County in 1959. Pagan's expanded throughout the 1960s, generating new chapters and absorbing smaller OMGs, and is now the predominant OMG in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Pagan's is governed by a "mother chapter" that acts as the central leadership and policymaking authority for the gang. Individual chapters have a leadership structure with positions similar to the mother chapter. The Pagan's OMG has produced and distributed methamphetamine since its inception and later began to distribute cocaine. Pagan's members also have committed homicides, vehicle thefts, black-market firearm violations, and extortion.

Survey data indicate that the rate of drug abuse in Maryland is slightly lower than the national average. According to the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), 5.2 percent of individuals surveyed in Maryland report having abused an illicit drug in the previous month compared with 6.3 percent nationwide. The percentage of individuals in Maryland in the 18 to 25 age group reporting past month illicit drug abuse (15.2%) was higher than in any other age group.

Drug treatment data indicate that drugs and alcohol frequently are abused in Maryland. According to the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), the number of admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities increased from 56,885 in 1994 to a 6-year high of 59,091 in 1995 then decreased to 56,161 in 1999. (See Table 1.) Despite this decrease, treatment admissions for drug and alcohol abuse in Maryland remain high; in 1999 the number of treatment admissions per 100,000 population (1,308) ranked eighth in the nation.

Table 1. Drug-Related Treatment Admissions to Publicly Funded Facilities, Maryland, 1994-1999
Year Total* Heroin Cocaine Marijuana Methamphetamine
1994 56,885 11,741 10,433 4,644   58
1995 59,091 13,457 10,007 6,533   77
1996  57,681 13,049   9,325 7,196   50
1997  58,058 14,077   8,389 7,090 121
1998 57,358 15,032   8,142 7,011     1
1999 56,161 15,823   7,571 6,862     0

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

*Total includes all drug- and alcohol-related treatment admissions.

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According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), in Baltimore the number of drug-related emergency department (ED) episodes fluctuated from 15,863 in 1994 to 14,171 in 1999, then decreased to 11,505 in 2000. ED mentions followed a similar trend, fluctuating from 26,892 in 1994 to 24,772 in 1999 then decreasing to 19,874 in 2000. Emergency department mentions for heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana decreased in 2000. 

Drug Abuse Warning Network Reporting

The Maryland jurisdictions reporting to DAWN include the city of Baltimore and the counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard, and Queen Anne's. Almost one-half--48.2 percent--of Maryland's population lives in these counties.


Figure 1. Maryland Counties

Map showing Maryland broken up into  23 counties.

 According to mortality data from DAWN, in the Baltimore metropolitan area the number of deaths in which drugs were a factor increased from 436 in 1996 to 557 in 1999 then decreased to 532 in 2000. In 2000, 445 deaths were drug-induced (overdoses) and the remaining 87 were drug-related (drugs were a contributing factor but not the sole cause of death). Most of the deaths occurred in the city of Baltimore; 360 drug-induced deaths and 54 drug-related deaths were reported in 2000.

Drug abuse has resulted in an increase in the number of new HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) cases in Maryland. The Community Epidemiology Work Group reported in June 2000 that the number of individuals diagnosed with AIDS in Baltimore increased from 11,394 in 1997 to 13,541 in 1999 and that intravenous drug abuse is cited as the primary cause of infection among HIV and AIDS patients in Maryland. Over one-half of Maryland's drug-related AIDS deaths have occurred in Baltimore.

The number of drug-related arrests in Maryland fluctuated between 1997 and 2001. According to the Uniform Crime Report (UCR), drug abuse arrests in Maryland decreased 57.2 percent from 40,026 in 1997 to 17,142 in 1999, and increased to 36,150 in 2000. Juvenile drug-related arrests decreased 63.7 percent from 9,191 in 1997 to 3,314 in 1999, then increased to 6,600 in 2000. The increase in arrests in 2000 is largely attributed to an increase in the number of agencies reporting UCR data (from 137 to 144) and the population increase during that year.

The percentage of federal drug-related sentences in Maryland was lower than the national percentage in fiscal year (FY) 2000. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), drug-related sentences represented 34.1 percent of federal sentences in the state in FY2000 compared with 39.8 percent nationwide. Drug-related federal sentences in Maryland increased from 113 in FY1995 to 173 in FY2000. Cocaine-related violations accounted for nearly 73 percent of the drug-related federal sentences in Maryland in FY2000.

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The link between drug abuse and crime is well established in Maryland. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland reported in 1998 that an estimated 75,000 hardcore drug offenders who abused heroin, cocaine, or marijuana were responsible for a substantial number of crimes in Maryland, especially violent crimes. According to the 1998 Maryland Crime Control and Prevention Strategy, the violence associated with drug markets accounts for a large portion of the most violent crimes in the state. Drug abusers commit robbery, burglary, and breaking and entering, as well as shoplifting and theft from automobiles to support their drug habits. The Baltimore Police Department estimates that 40 percent to 60 percent of the homicides in Baltimore are drug-related. Nonetheless, the level of violent crime in Maryland decreased 6 percent from 1998 through 1999, with homicides decreasing 9 percent and aggravated assaults decreasing 2 percent. The number of reported homicides in Baltimore decreased from 308 in 1999 to 261 in 2000. Although final statistics are not available, news reporting indicates that there were 259 homicides in 2001. Additionally, in 2000 nonfatal shootings were down 29 percent in Baltimore, and assaults were down 16 percent.

Break the Cycle Initiative

In 1998 Maryland implemented the Break the Cycle initiative, a program designed to reduce drug-related crime, reduce the number of drug violators, manage correctional populations, and reduce court caseloads by using testing, treatment, and sanctions to retain drug-involved offenders in treatment services. Break the Cycle provides the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services with effective treatment and supervisory tools to manage approximately 25,000 substance abuse offenders on probation, parole, or mandatory release. The highly successful program was implemented in seven jurisdictions with $2.9 million in funding. Achievements in the first 9 months of the program included a 53 percent reduction in the number of positive drug tests and, in Baltimore, a 23 percent reduction in the number of drug-involved offenders rearrested during the first 90 days of supervision.

Source: Bureau of Governmental Research, University of Maryland, "Process Evaluation of Maryland's Break the Cycle: First Year Activity," 5 January 2000.


The financial impact on the Maryland government from substance abuse-related costs and services is significant. In 1998 Maryland officials spent nearly $1.3 billion on substance abuse-related programs in the areas of justice, education, health, child-family assistance, mental health-developmental disabilities, public safety, and substance abuse prevention, treatment, and research. This figure amounted to 10.2 percent of total state expenditures. When factoring in the cost of lost productivity and nongovernmental expenses by private social services, estimates for total substance abuse-related costs are even higher.


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