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Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis
June 2007

Strategic Drug Threat Developments

  • Drug trafficking organizations (DTOs)1 in the Appalachia HIDTA region are traveling to Atlanta more frequently to obtain multipound quantities of cocaine, Mexican marijuana, and Mexican high-purity ice methamphetamine for distribution throughout the region.
  • Availability of Mexican black tar heroin is low but increasing in Tennessee and southeastern Kentucky; law enforcement officials in these areas report that demand for Mexican black tar heroin is growing among middle- and upper-income abusers.
  • Tennessee cannabis cultivators are changing their cultivation process from one planting per year to two plantings with shortened growing cycles in order to increase crop yields.
  • Cannabis cultivators in the region are harvesting as many plants as practical, including marginally mature plants, prior to the height of eradication season to lower the risk of a complete crop seizure.
  • Drug-related violence poses a significant threat to West Virginia. Law enforcement officials report escalating violence in the state as traffickers, particularly crack dealers, compete for drug territories. This increase in drug-related violence has also been attributed by law enforcement officials to the rising availability and abuse of methamphetamine, crack cocaine, and pharmaceutical drugs.

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HIDTA Overview

The Appalachia HIDTA was established in 1998 to address the threat posed by cannabis cultivation and marijuana distribution in 68 counties located in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia.2 (See Figure 1.) Although marijuana is its primary focus, the Appalachia HIDTA responds to the threat posed by the illicit trafficking of other drugs to the region.

The Appalachia HIDTA region has a combined population of approximately 2.5 million; Knoxville, Tennessee, is the largest metropolitan area (population 173,890). Most residents of the region are Caucasian (94%), followed by African American (4%), and Hispanic, Asian, and other races (2%). The number of Hispanics residing in the Appalachia HIDTA region tripled from 9,178 in 1990 to 27,454 in 2000 (the year for which the latest data are available). According to Appalachia HIDTA sources, this increase is largely due to illegal immigrants who came to the area seeking employment in the agricultural, construction, mining, and poultry-processing industries.

The Appalachia region is one of two primary outdoor cannabis cultivation regions in the United States; the other is the Western region.3 The Appalachia region consistently sustains high levels of outdoor cannabis cultivation because of its favorable climate and rich soil. As a result, Caucasian DTOs and independent growers have established long-standing growing operations. A relatively high poverty rate in these areas contributes to a cultural acceptance of cannabis cultivation and other illicit activity by many local residents. In some Appalachian counties, more than 30 percent of the population lives in poverty, and in impoverished communities some residents regard marijuana production as a necessary means of supplementing low incomes. In these communities cannabis cultivation is often a multigenerational trade, since young family members are introduced to the trade by older members who have produced the drug for many years.

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.

Knoxville is the primary metropolitan drug market in the Appalachia HIDTA region. DTOs in Knoxville, primarily Mexican DTOs, supply wholesale quantities of powder cocaine, Mexican marijuana, and high-purity ice methamphetamine to midlevel and retail-level traffickers for local distribution. Mexican traffickers also distribute these drugs as well as crack cocaine and Mexican black tar heroin at the retail level. These traffickers obtain most of the illicit drugs that they distribute from Mexican DTOs based in Atlanta, Georgia. In fact, law enforcement officials report that Atlanta has emerged as a key distribution center for illicit drugs available throughout much of the Appalachia HIDTA region.

End Notes

1. Some law enforcement officials in the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) region refer to drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) operating in the area as criminal groups or traffickers.
2. The Appalachia HIDTA is composed of the following counties: (Kentucky) Adair, Bell, Breathitt, Clay, Clinton, Cumberland, Floyd, Harlan, Jackson, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Lee, Leslie, Magoffin, Marion, McCreary, Monroe, Owsley, Perry, Pike, Pulaski, Rockcastle, Taylor, Warren, Wayne, and Whitley; (Tennessee) Bledsoe, Campbell, Claiborne, Clay, Cooke, Cumberland, Fentress, Franklin, Grainger, Greene, Grundy, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Jackson, Jefferson, Knox, Macon, Marion, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Rhea, Scott, Sequatchie, Sevier, Unicoi, Van Buren, and White; (West Virginia) Boone, Braxton, Cabell, Gilmer, Kanawha, Lewis, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, McDowell, Mingo, and Wayne.
3. According to national marijuana eradication data and law enforcement reporting, there are two primary outdoor cultivation regions in the United States: the Western region, composed of California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington, and the Appalachia region, composed of Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

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