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Mexican DTOs and criminal groups control the distribution of most illicit drugs available on reservations throughout Indian Country. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the wholesale distribution of illicit drugs available on reservations throughout much of Indian Country. These DTOs typically supply Native American and non-Native American drug traffickers with midlevel and retail quantities of Mexican marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine for distribution on reservations. Wholesale quantities of marijuana are commonly seized on reservations in the Southwest Region because of their proximity to the Southwest Border and wholesale suppliers in the region. Lesser quantities of marijuana, including gram, ounce, and kilogram quantities, are customarily seized on most other reservations.

Native American and independent traffickers are the primary retail-level distributors within Native American communities. Cocaine is frequently distributed in gram, ounce, and pound quantities by tribal members and independent traffickers. Smaller quantities of heroin, methamphetamine, and diverted pharmaceutical drugs are distributed by tribal members and independent traffickers on most reservations; however, larger quantities of these drugs are generally available on reservations in the Southwest.

Traffickers frequently use stash houses on reservations to facilitate drug trafficking activities. Stash houses are frequently used by Mexican, African American, Caucasian, and Native American drug traffickers on many reservations to offload and store wholesale drug shipments pending distribution to locations within and outside Indian Country. Traffickers generally use residences and/or outbuildings as stash locations to conceal or repackage illicit drug loads.

Retail-level drug distribution on reservations frequently takes place in casinos, hotels, and parking lots, and during special events. Casinos, hotels, and parking lots on reservations are commonly used by traffickers as retail distribution sites; retail-level distributors use these sites to supply cocaine, marijuana, and diverted pharmaceuticals to Native American abusers as well as tourists who visit Indian casinos and hotels. Illicit drug distribution also commonly occurs during special tribal events and social gatherings such as fairs, music concerts, Native Days, Pow-Wow Circuits, rodeos, motorcycle rallies, and Sun Dances.

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Marijuana is the most readily available and widely abused illicit drug on reservations;6 it is also the primary illicit drug for which Native Americans seek treatment, according to the latest data available from the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS). Additionally, current data from IHS reveal that marijuana is the most common illicit drug for which Native Americans seek treatment at IHS facilities. In fact, over the past 5 years, the number of Native Americans seeking treatment for marijuana abuse at IHS facilities increased overall from 1,119 in 2003 to 2,147 in 2007. The prevalence of methamphetamine abuse varies across reservations throughout the country; however, TEDS and IHS data reveal that methamphetamine is the second most frequently mentioned drug among Native Americans in drug-related treatment admissions. Cocaine and diverted pharmaceutical abuse also is prevalent throughout Indian Country; the drugs account for a significant number of drug-related treatment admissions. Heroin abuse in Indian Country appears to be relatively low; treatment admissions for heroin abuse are well below those for other illicit drugs. (See Tables 3, 4, and 5.)

Table 3. Percentage of Primary Illicit Drug Mentions Reported by American Indians at Time of Admission, 2002-2006

Substance 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Marijuana 38.0 38.6 38.2 37.9 37.9
Methamphetamine 12.6 13.6 14.1 15.8 17.4
Cocaine 14.4 16.2 15.3 14.9 14.5
Pharmaceuticals 9.2 10.2 10.6 10.4 7.8
Heroin 6.6 7.3 5.4 5.0 4.7

Source: Treatment Episode Data 2002-2006.
Note: Data for Alaska and Hawaii are excluded.

Illicit drugs are widely abused by Native Americans, more so than by any other population group. According to the NSDUH, the abuse of illicit drugs is more prevalent among Native Americans than any other population group. The latest available NSDUH data reveal that between 2002 and 2005 American Indians and Alaska Natives were more likely than members of other racial groups to report past year illicit drug use. During this time frame, approximately 18.4 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives7 aged 12 and older reported past year illicit drug use disorders versus 14.6 percent for members of other racial groups.

Table 4. Number of Illicit Drug Mentions by American Indians at Time of Treatment Admission, 2002-2006

Drug 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 Percent Change 2002-2006
Cocaine 5,181 5,546 5,671 5,987 6,093 17.6
Heroin 2,375 2,486 2,008 1,985 1,997 -15.9
Marijuana 13,704 13,249 14,168 15,200 15,959 16.5
Methamphetamine 4,550 4,666 5,226 6,347 7,308 60.6
Pharmaceuticals* 3,326 3,513 3,932 4,159 3,294 -1.0

Source: Treatment Episode Data Set 2002-2006.
* Pharmaceutical numbers include individuals reporting abuse of nonprescription methadone, other opiates, other amphetamines, other stimulants, benzodiazepines, other tranquilizers, barbiturates, and other sedatives at time of admission.
Note: Data for Alaska and Hawaii are excluded.

American Indians are increasingly abusing methamphetamine. According to TEDS data, methamphetamine-related treatment admissions increased over 60 percent between 2002 and 2006, the latest year for which such data are available. (See Table 4.) Moreover, the number of American Indians and Alaska Natives seeking treatment at IHS facilities increased overall between 2001 and 2007; admissions peaked in 2005 and declined thereafter, but remained well above earlier levels. (See Table 5.) Increased methamphetamine abuse is of particular concern to tribal leaders and police officials on many reservations, since they are experiencing increasing levels of methamphetamine-related violent crime in their communities.

Table 5. Number of American Indian and Alaska Native Individuals Treated for Substance Abuse at IHS Facilities 2001-2007

Year Amphetamine Cocaine Marijuana Heroin
2001 272 0 446 0*
2002 215 0 719 0
2003 345 0 1,119 0
2004 169 0 829 0
2005 693 0 1,091 0
2006 637 172 2,070 0
2007 621 0 2,147 0
Total 2,952 172 8,421 0

Source: Indian Health Service.
Note: Data include American Indian and Alaska Native individuals age 13 and older; data for Alaska and Hawaii are excluded.
* IHS services are administered through a system of 12 area offices and 163 IHS and tribally managed service units. For purposes of this data, any service unit with a count of less than 100 individuals was reported by IHS as a zero.

End Notes

6. Reservation-specific drug abuse data are difficult to assess because standardized reporting on abuse specific to reservations is either substandard or not reported at all. Additionally, Native Americans residing on reservations seek treatment for abuse at private or public treatment facilities where treatment admission data do not identify their reservation status. Nonetheless, national data sets such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) do provide some overall insight into abuse disorders among those individuals identifying themselves as American Indian. While these data are less than optimal, since they do not identify abuse specific to reservations, they do provide a general perspective on the abuse patterns present among Native Americans overall. Consequently, the data indicate a wide pattern of abuse that varies by region based on the availability of drugs, with marijuana being widely reported as a drug of abuse in all regions.
7. Data for Alaska Natives could not be excluded from this data set.

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