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Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis
May 2007

Strategic Drug Threat Developments

  • Mexican methamphetamine smuggling, transportation, and distribution continue to be the primary drug threats to the Arizona HIDTA region, despite successful precursor chemical control legislation, law enforcement pressure, and public awareness campaigns that have contributed to significant declines in local methamphetamine production and distribution over the last several years.
  • Several successful law enforcement interdictions, seizures, and arrests since December 2006 on both sides of the Arizona-Mexico border as well as legislation in Mexico pertaining to the importation of pseudoephedrine into that country have contributed to temporary methamphetamine shortages and dramatic price increases in Arizona and other U.S. locations that are supplied by traffickers in Arizona, including Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and criminal groups continue to smuggle illicit drugs, particularly marijuana, through remote areas of public and tribal lands to avoid law enforcement detection.
  • The number and severity of assaults targeting law enforcement personnel patrolling the Arizona-Mexico border have increased dramatically over the past year; some Mexican DTOs have ordered drug traffickers working for them or on their behalf to use violence to protect their drug shipments from law enforcement interdiction.
  • Mexican DTOs that smuggle illicit drugs across the Arizona-Mexico border continue to work closely with Mexican criminal groups that smuggle illegal aliens and U.S.-based gangs (street gangs, prison gangs, and/or outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs)).
  • High-level Mexican DTOs1 smuggle wholesale quantities of illicit drugs through existing subterranean infrastructures, such as drainage tunnels and sewage and irrigation systems, particularly in the Nogales area. They also continue to smuggle illicit drugs through ports of entry (POEs) in vehicles equipped with concealed compartments and in tractor-trailers with legitimate cover loads.
  • Several East Coast-based Jamaican DTOs operating in Arizona have formed alliances with Mexican DTOs to purchase wholesale quantities of marijuana for distribution in northeastern and southeastern drug markets. Additionally, these Jamaican DTOs increasingly smuggle wholesale quantities of marijuana north across the Arizona-Mexico border for distribution in Arizona, particularly in the Phoenix and Tucson areas.
  • The amount of Mexican black tar heroin smuggled into the Arizona HIDTA region from Mexico has increased dramatically, resulting in increased heroin availability in areas previously reporting little or no heroin availability. In addition, much of the heroin smuggled into Arizona is transshipped to other U.S. locations, including the Pacific Northwest and various areas east of the Mississippi River, an action contributing to increased availability of the drug nationwide.
  • Methamphetamine abusers in Arizona are increasingly committing identity theft to acquire funds to pay for the drug. The problem is so significant that Arizona ranked first in the number of identity theft victims per 100,000 residents in 2006; those victims are often migrant illegal aliens seeking employment within the Phoenix area as well as older citizens. Criminals who commit identity theft often target migrant illegal aliens because they view those individuals as more vulnerable because of language barriers or cultural differences; they view older citizens as more trusting about sharing their personal information with strangers.

Drug Trafficking Organizations, Criminal Groups, and Gangs

Drug trafficking organizations are complex organizations with highly defined command-and-control structures that produce, transport, and distribute large quantities of one or more illicit drugs.

Criminal groups operating in the United States are numerous and range from small to moderately sized, loosely knit groups that distribute one or more drugs at the retail and midlevels.

Gangs are defined by the National Alliance of Gang Investigators' Associations as groups or associations of three or more persons with a common identifying sign, symbol, or name, the members of which individually or collectively engage in criminal activity that creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

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HIDTA Overview

The Arizona HIDTA region encompasses the western and southern counties of Cochise, La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz, and Yuma and includes the entire Arizona-Mexico border. The HIDTA also includes a number of federal lands controlled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of the Interior: National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) relating to the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation, and the Department of Defense. Relatively recent economic and population growth in Arizona's two primary drug markets (Phoenix and Tucson), numerous highways connecting major metropolitan areas in Arizona with major illicit drug source areas in Mexico, and a remote, largely unprotected border area between Arizona's POEs are the primary factors contributing to the frequent and increasingly high levels of illicit drug smuggling into and through the Arizona HIDTA as well as to the return of drug proceeds to Mexico.

The Arizona HIDTA region is one of the most significant entry points for marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and Mexican black tar heroin distributed and abused in drug markets throughout the United States. Over the past decade, increased law enforcement pressure along the Texas-Mexico and California-Mexico borders has forced many highly organized and adaptable Mexican DTOs to exploit the Arizona-Mexico border to smuggle illicit drugs and illegal aliens into the United States and weapons back into Mexico. As a result, the level of drug-related crime and violence has also increased in the area. To counter this threat, officials have increased law enforcement presence along the Arizona-Mexico border and have identified and arrested members of major DTOs exploiting the border. Consequently, some Mexican DTOs are resorting to violence against law enforcement officers to facilitate the passage of their illicit cargo.

End Note

1. High-level Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) are affiliated with large drug cartels.

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