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Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis
June 2007

Strategic Drug Threat Developments

  • Houston is one of the most significant cocaine and marijuana distribution centers in the United States. Large quantities of cocaine and marijuana are distributed from Houston to numerous market areas, including Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Miami, Florida; and New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • Houston has emerged as a principal transshipment center for Mexico-produced ice methamphetamine supplied by Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) to major drug markets in the southeastern and central United States. Transshipment through Houston will increase as demand for high-purity ice methamphetamine continues to rise in these markets as well as throughout the United States.
  • Houston has become a significant source for pharmaceutical drugs distributed to markets outside the HIDTA region. The drugs, which primarily include hydrocodone and codeine, are diverted in Houston and distributed to markets in the southeastern United States, including Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
  • As a result of Hurricane Katrina, associations between Houston and New Orleans drug traffickers are increasing. Many evacuees have returned home to New Orleans and are using the relationships that they built with Houston-based drug traffickers to obtain significant quantities of illicit drugs for distribution in Louisiana.
  • Methamphetamine production has considerably decreased over the past 3 years in the Houston HIDTA region. This decrease is attributed to several factors, including precursor chemical control legislation enacted in Texas, the influx of ice methamphetamine from Mexico, and successful law enforcement programs.

Drug Trafficking Organizations, Criminal Groups, and Gangs

Drug trafficking organizations are complex organizations with highly defined command-and-control structures that produce, transport, and/or 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 Houston HIDTA region, which encompasses 16 counties along the Gulf of Mexico in southeastern Texas, is a key distribution and transshipment area for illicit drugs supplied to drug markets in the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast and a consolidation point for the smuggling of drug proceeds into Mexico. The proximity of the Houston HIDTA region to the U.S.-Mexico border and the Gulf of Mexico makes the area susceptible to drug trafficking as well as other national security and law enforcement threats such as alien smuggling, weapons trafficking, and terrorist entry into the United States. Houston, located in Harris County, is the principal drug market area in the HIDTA region; however, other smaller, outlying drug markets exist in the area, including Corpus Christi and Beaumont/Port Arthur.

Mexican DTOs exploit the geography and economy of the Houston HIDTA region to smuggle illicit drugs from Mexico and to launder their illicit proceeds. The HIDTA region's geographic makeup varies from sparsely populated ranchland in the south to major metropolitan areas in the north--including Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States. A large segment of the HIDTA region is located along undeveloped areas of the Gulf Coast, which are susceptible to maritime drug smuggling from Mexico. Well-developed economic and financial infrastructures in metropolitan areas of the HIDTA region, particularly in Houston, provide DTOs with the means to launder drug proceeds through traditional financial institutions and money services businesses (MSBs).

The Houston HIDTA region has a dynamic transportation infrastructure that offers DTOs extensive land, sea, and air modes of transportation. Overland transportation through an intricate network of interstates, highways, advanced secondary routes, and railroads provides DTOs with numerous means by which to smuggle illicit drugs into and through the area. Moreover, Houston is a major hub for the trucking industry; tractor-trailers are commonly used by DTOs to smuggle large drug shipments from Mexico through the HIDTA region to markets throughout the United States. The Houston HIDTA region's transportation system also is supported by four major railroads in Houston, Beaumont/Port Arthur, and Corpus Christi, which provide access to Mexico. Drug smuggling by sea and air conveyances poses a moderate threat to the Houston HIDTA region, which contains or immediately borders 10 seaports. The sheer volume of maritime traffic and foreign cargo that passes through these ports offers another avenue for drug smuggling. The Port of Houston has long been the nation's leading port for foreign tonnage and is the sixth-largest seaport in the world. The Padre Island National Seashore (PINS), an undeveloped natural barrier island that extends south from Corpus Christi to the Mansfield Channel, poses an additional maritime smuggling threat to the area. Commercial aircraft are also used by traffickers to smuggle drugs and U.S. currency through the three major international airports in the Houston HIDTA region; however, increased security at these facilities since September 11, 2001, has decreased drug trafficking by aircraft.

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