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Southwest OCDETF Region

Figure 5. Federally recognized Native American reservations within the Southwest OCDETF Region.

Map of the Southwest OCDETF Region showing federally recognized Native American reservations.

Source: Bureau of Indian Affairs; U.S. Census Bureau.

Key Findings

Southwest OCDETF Region Indian Country Fast Facts
States Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, southern California, and Texas
Number of Reservations 109
Population on Reservations 415,368
Area (Square Miles) 47,077.93
Per Capita Income $7,642-$19,767
Poverty Level 13.2-43.5%
Unemployment 5.6-18.3%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

Drug Threat Overview

Marijuana and methamphetamine, both powder and ice, are the most widely available illicit drugs on reservations in the Southwest Region. Powder and crack cocaine, Mexican black tar and brown powder heroin, and diverted pharmaceuticals are also available to varying degrees on reservations. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups routinely use reservations adjacent to or near the U.S.-Mexico border as arrival and/or transit zones for illicit drugs destined for drug markets throughout the United States; they smuggle illicit drugs through these areas in private vehicles, by backpackers, and by couriers on horseback. Mexican drug traffickers control wholesale drug distribution on reservations in the region; they supply various retail-level distributors, including Native American traffickers, who distribute the drugs in Native American communities.

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Mexican DTOs control the transportation and wholesale distribution of most illicit drugs to reservations within the region. Mexican DTOs transport marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine to reservations in the region and distribute wholesale quantities of the drugs through established distribution networks; they also transport lesser quantities of Mexican black tar and brown powder heroin. Mexican DTOs typically supply illicit drugs to retail-level distributors who sell the drugs on reservations; however, they sometimes employ various criminal groups and street gang members to transport and distribute midlevel to retail-level quantities of illicit drugs on many reservations within the region on their behalf.

Street gangs pose a significant threat to reservations in the region as a result of their drug distribution activities, violent tendencies, and the disruptive effect they have on Native American communities.12 Nationally affiliated and local street gangs are active on a number of reservations in the region; they transport and distribute illicit drugs within most Native American communities. National-level gangs such as 18th Street, Bloods, Crips, and MS 13, which have ties to transnational criminal and drug trafficking organizations, are present on reservations in the region, as are a number of local street gangs. Gang members generally distribute retail-level quantities of marijuana, powder and crack cocaine, MDMA, and powder and ice methamphetamine that they obtain from various wholesale traffickers, including Mexican DTOs and African American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American criminal groups, on many reservations in the region. Gangs are extremely disruptive and attempt to intimidate members of Native American communities by displaying gang-related graffiti markings and wearing bandanas with gang colors to publicly symbolize and represent their gang affiliations. Moreover, many gang members engage in myriad criminal activities on reservations, including personal crimes (threats, intimidation, and sexual assault), property crimes (tagging, stealing, and arson), violent crimes (murder, homicide, and physical assault), and weapons offenses. Additionally, on some reservations in the region, gang members reportedly engage in credit card and check fraud.


Retail-level distributors, including Native American and independent traffickers, transport illicit drugs that they receive from Mexican DTOs into Native American communities for distribution. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups generally supply Native American and independent retail-level distributors with illicit drugs for distribution on reservations in the region. Retail-level distributors typically receive illicit drugs from wholesale suppliers off reservations or at remote reservation sites. After receiving drug supplies, retail distributors transport the drugs to Native American communities, distributing them on their own behalf or, less frequently, on behalf of Mexican DTOs.

Mexican traffickers frequently use remote stretches of land on reservation in the region to smuggle illicit drugs into the United States. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups regularly use reservations along the U.S.-Mexico border as transshipment areas for illicit drugs, primarily Mexican marijuana, Mexican methamphetamine, and cocaine. They typically transport illicit drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border at remote sites on reservations.


Mexican DTOs and criminal groups control wholesale drug distribution; they generally supply Native American distributors, independent dealers, and street gang members. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups smuggle significant quantities of marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine to locations on reservations in the region; they also smuggle lesser quantities of Mexican black tar and brown powder heroin. Mexican traffickers provide retail-level quantities of illicit drugs to Native American traffickers, independent dealers, and street gang members for distribution within Native American communities. Most retail-level traffickers purchase illicit drugs from Mexican traffickers and distribute them on their own behalf.

Drug traffickers use a variety of communication devices that facilitate their drug operations. DTOs, criminal groups, gangs, and independent traffickers routinely use communication devices including cellular telephones, text messaging, and two-way radios to advance their operations where such services are available.


Mexican marijuana and methamphetamine are commonly abused throughout reservations in the Southwest. Mexican marijuana is readily available on reservations throughout the region; it is the most widely abused illicit drug. Powder and ice methamphetamine are prevalent on most reservations, including at casinos, where patrons purchase the drug from Native American traffickers or bring their own supplies. Powder and crack cocaine are typically available within Native American communities; Mexican black tar and brown powder are also available on some reservations, but to a limited extent. Law enforcement officials in the region report that some abusers use illicit drugs in combination, including heroin and methamphetamine; this combination is typically smoked or inhaled. Diverted pharmaceuticals, including OxyContin, Percocet, Lortab, Valium, and Vicodin, are commonly abused on some reservations. Abusers obtain pharmaceuticals through the diversion of legitimate prescriptions, doctor-shopping, and theft, as well as from family members.

Methamphetamine and marijuana are the primary illicit substances of abuse for which Native Americans in the Southwest seek treatment. According to TEDS data, American Indians in the Southwest who sought treatment for illicit drug abuse reported the use of methamphetamine (31.5%) and marijuana (30.1%) at treatment admission more than the use of any other illicit drug during 2006, the latest year for which such data are available. Cocaine, heroin, and pharmaceutical abuse were also reported, but to a much lesser degree. (See Table 8.)

Table 8. Primary Illicit Drug Mentions by American Indians Seeking Treatment for Abuse in the Southwest Region, 2002-2006

Drug 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Cocaine 11.0% 12.2% 9.7% 9.3% 9.8%
Heroin 9.1% 9.8% 8.0% 7.2% 6.9%
Marijuana 31.8% 33.6% 29.9% 29.8% 30.1%
Methamphetamine 29.9% 34.3% 27.5% 31.3% 31.5%
Pharmaceuticals 6.5% 7.2% 6.7% 6.7% 6.4%

Source: Treatment Episode Data Set.

End Note

12. 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.

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