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Drug Threat Overview

The illicit drug threat to Indian Country varies geographically across Native American communities. (See Regional Perspectives section for regional variations.) Overall, marijuana is the most widely available illicit drug on reservations throughout the United States. Ice methamphetamine, powder and crack cocaine, diverted pharmaceuticals, heroin, and MDMA are also available to varying degrees on reservations throughout the nation. Drug production in Indian Country is limited. Traffickers transport most illicit drugs available on reservations from nearby cities; they also smuggle illicit drugs from Canada to reservations adjacent to the U.S.-Canada border and from Mexico to reservations adjacent to the U.S.-Mexico border. However, cannabis is cultivated by Mexican DTOs on a number of reservations, particularly those located in the Pacific Region, and methamphetamine is reportedly produced by abusers in personal use quantities on some reservations. Additionally, limited quantities of crack cocaine are converted from powder cocaine by African American criminal groups on some reservations, particularly those in the Southeast and Florida/Caribbean Regions.

Mexican DTOs and criminal groups are the primary significant transporters, wholesale distributors, and producers of illicit drugs in Indian Country, mirroring current national-level trends. These organizations vary in their operational sophistication and areas of operation. Canada-based Asian DTOs smuggle high-potency Canadian marijuana and MDMA into and through reservations, primarily those along the U.S.-Canada border. Various other traffickers, including Native American DTOs and criminal groups; African American and Caucasian criminal groups, street gangs, and independent dealers; and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) also transport and distribute illicit drugs throughout Indian Country.

Drug Trafficking Organizations

Mexican DTOs are the principal suppliers of most illicit drugs available on reservations throughout Indian Country, as is true throughout the nation. Mexican DTOs pose the greatest organizational threat to Indian Country. They supply wholesale and midlevel quantities of cocaine, marijuana, ice methamphetamine, and heroin to traffickers who distribute the drugs on reservations in many areas of Indian Country.

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 level and midlevel.

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.

Mexican DTOs are suspected to be the primary cultivators of marijuana on reservations in Indian Country. Mexican DTOs cultivate cannabis at outdoor grow sites on reservations, primarily in the Pacific and West Central Regions. Significant grow operations have been discovered on reservations in California and Washington.

Canada-based Asian DTOs smuggle high-potency Canadian marijuana and MDMA into the United States through Native American reservations, primarily in the New York/New Jersey and Pacific OCDETF Regions. Canada-based Asian DTOs, particularly Vietnamese DTOs, reportedly smuggle high-potency Canadian marijuana and MDMA onto and through reservations adjacent to the U.S.-Canada border for distribution on reservations and in drug markets throughout the United States.

Native American DTOs and criminal groups are actively engaged in drug trafficking on reservations throughout the county. Native American criminal groups transport and distribute wholesale quantities of marijuana, cocaine, and MDMA and lesser quantities of crack cocaine, and heroin.

Native American DTOs, criminal groups, and independent traffickers are the principal retail-level distributors of illicit drugs on reservations. Most retail drug distribution on reservations throughout the country is conducted by Native American traffickers. They generally travel to urban areas near reservations to acquire illicit drugs for distribution to Native American abusers.

African American criminal groups maintain varying levels of operation on reservations throughout the country; however, they dominate cocaine trafficking on reservations in the Florida/Caribbean Region. African American criminal groups routinely distribute illicit drugs, particularly powder and crack cocaine, on reservations and to other traffickers who supply abusers in Native American communities. The extent of their trafficking activities varies widely by reservation; however, law enforcement reporting reveals that they control all facets of cocaine trafficking on reservations in the Southeast and Florida/Caribbean Regions.

Members of various national and local street gangs distribute illicit drugs at the retail level throughout Indian Country. While many of these gangs claim affiliation with national gang structures such as Bloods and Crips, the majority are hybrid gang structures that have little or no affiliation with the national gang other than the names, symbolism, and representing style. Some national-level street gangs4 use members to distribute retail-level quantities of marijuana, powder and crack cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, MDMA, and diverted pharmaceuticals on reservations throughout the country; local street gangs5 also distribute these drugs within Native American communities.

Gang members who distribute illicit drugs on reservations are exposing certain members of Native American communities to gang culture. Some Native Americans have formed relationships with nontribal street gang members who distribute illicit drugs within their communities. As a result, an emulation of urban-based gang behavior is occurring in many tribal communities, including style of dress, body markings, and other manifestations of gang behavior.

Drug trafficking organizations, criminal groups, and gangs use a variety of methods to communicate and facilitate their drug trafficking operations. The use of communication devices is vital to drug trafficking groups in order to maintain their day-to-day operations. Drug trafficking groups, criminal groups, and gangs in some regions of Indian Country use various communication devices, including cell phones, disposable telephones, land lines, and trac phones where such service is available, to increase the security of their communication. Some criminal groups use more sophisticated methods, including electronic mail correspondence, Internet chat rooms, and text messaging, while others prefer the reliability of person-to-person communication.

End Notes

4. National-level gangs generally are highly structured, have a large number of members, and have ties to transnational criminal and drug trafficking organizations. They generally maintain loyal subgroups, commonly referred to as chapters or sets, located in communities in multiple states throughout the country.
5. A local street gang is one whose members develop in local communities but identify with nationally affiliated gangs through the use of traditional gang tattoos, signs, and colors; local street gangs typically have little or no actual affiliation to the national gang other than identifying with them by name.

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