Drug Intelligence Center
Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis
Houston is a distribution center used by numerous traffickers to supply illicit drugs to major market areas throughout the United States as well as to supply dealers within the HIDTA region. Cocaine, marijuana and, to a lesser extent, heroin, methamphetamine, and MDMA are transshipped from Houston to major market areas such as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Once drug shipments arrive in Houston, they are often stored at local stash sites pending further distribution to drug markets. Drug trafficking operations are extremely vulnerable at these stash sites; seizures of illicit drugs from locations where large quantities are stored typically result in a much greater loss for DTOs.
Houston is one of the most significant cocaine distribution centers in the United States. According to Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) seizure data, the amount of cocaine seized in Harris County increased from approximately 14 kilograms in 2005 to 291 kilograms in 2006.3 (See Table 4.) Furthermore, the number of seizure incidents increased from 11 in 2005 to 40 in 2006. Cocaine seizure data show that large quantities of cocaine are distributed from Houston to numerous cocaine market areas, including Atlanta, Chicago, Columbus, Ohio; Jackson, Mississippi; and New Orleans.
Houston is one of the principal transshipment areas in the United States for marijuana, and the amount seized has increased over the past year. According to Texas DPS seizure data, the amount of marijuana seized in Harris County more than doubled from 2005 (887 kg) to 2006 (1,906 kg). (See Table 4.) These marijuana shipments were destined for markets such as Charleston, South Carolina; Jackson, Mississippi; Huntsville, Alabama; Miami, Orlando, and Tampa, Florida; and New Orleans. Furthermore, over the past year several large seizures of marijuana have occurred in the area, confirming Houston's role as a principal transshipment area. In March 2007 law enforcement seized over 9,000 kilograms of marijuana from two school buses and two rental vans on a property located in southeast Houston. In December 2006 the Harris County Sheriff's Office seized 502 bales of marijuana that weighed nearly 7,000 kilograms and had a street value of approximately $25 to $40 million. Additionally, in November 2006 the Houston Police Department seized approximately 10,000 kilograms of marijuana during a similar incident.
Houston has emerged as a significant transshipment area for ice methamphetamine transported from Mexico and distributed to market areas in the eastern and central United States. Houston is located in a prime area for methamphetamine transshipment; it is close to Mexican sources of supply and to major methamphetamine market areas in the southeastern and central United States.
Houston has also become a significant source for pharmaceutical drugs distributed to markets outside the Houston HIDTA region. The drugs, which primarily include hydrocodone and codeine, are diverted by distributors and abusers through doctor-shopping, theft, unscrupulous physicians and pharmacists, and purchasing of drugs on the Internet. Moreover, the number of pain clinics has increased in the Houston area, and these clinics are a source for diverted prescription narcotics such as hydrocodone. The Houston area has long been the epicenter of codeine cough syrup diversion nationwide and is commonly referred to by abusers as the "City of Syrup" and "City of Lean" because codeine cough syrup abuse by teenagers and young adults is widespread throughout the metropolitan area. A recent federal investigation uncovered a conspiracy among a Houston physician and three pharmacists who illegally distributed hydrocodone and promethazine with codeine (cough syrup) between 1999 and 2005. The physician allegedly charged individuals $500 for an initial office visit and $300 for each subsequent visit to issue the prescriptions. The physician also directed the individuals to particular pharmacies, where the prescriptions were filled by unscrupulous pharmacists. Once pharmaceutical drugs are diverted, they are distributed within the region and to markets outside Houston, including Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana.
As a result of Hurricane Katrina, associations between Houston and New Orleans drug traffickers are reportedly increasing. Approximately 150,000 Katrina evacuees relocated to the Houston area as a result of the hurricane. Some of these evacuees were drug traffickers from high-crime areas of New Orleans and, upon relocating to Houston, formed relationships with drug dealers and gang members. Many of these traffickers have returned home to New Orleans, and the relationships that they built with these Houston-based drug dealers and gang members have given them the ability to obtain significant quantities of illicit drugs directly from connections in Houston. For example, in May 2006 law enforcement officers seized approximately 50 kilograms of cocaine, 3,500 MDMA tablets, and 5 pounds of high-potency marijuana in Slidell, Louisiana, destined for St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, both suburbs of New Orleans. This was the largest cocaine seizure destined for local distribution in the history of St. Tammany Parish. The seizure resulted in the arrest of six individuals in Louisiana--three of which were Hurricane Katrina evacuees--and three individuals from Houston. After further investigation, law enforcement identified the traffickers' source of supply in Houston, where they executed search warrants for stash houses and seized wholesale quantities of cocaine, MDMA, and marijuana.
Significant quantities of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine, and MDMA are distributed in the Houston area at the wholesale level. Mexican DTOs, criminal groups, and prison gangs are the primary wholesale distributors in Houston; they dominate the wholesale distribution of cocaine, Mexican black tar and brown powder heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine. Colombian and Dominican DTOs and criminal groups also distribute wholesale quantities of cocaine, but to a lesser extent. Colombian and Dominican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the wholesale distribution of South American heroin. Asian DTOs and criminal groups distribute MDMA and marijuana.
Street and prison gangs, Mexican criminal groups, and local independent dealers distribute illicit drugs at the retail level. Street gangs, prison gangs, and local independent dealers are the primary retail-level distributors of powder and crack cocaine, Mexican black tar and brown powder heroin, South American heroin, and marijuana; however, Mexican criminal groups also distribute marijuana at the retail level.
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