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National Drug Intelligence Center
Washington Drug Threat Assessment
Heroin poses a significant problem to Washington, particularly in larger cities such as Seattle, Tacoma, and Yakima. The drug is readily available, and heroin abuse is a significant problem. Violence associated with heroin distribution and abuse is a concern to law enforcement officials. Mexican black tar heroin is the predominant type available in the state. Mexican criminal groups are the dominant transporters of heroin into and through the state. These groups transport the drug primarily from Mexico and California into Washington and are the primary wholesale heroin distributors in the state. Mexican local independent dealers are the primary retail heroin distributors.
Heroin abuse is a significant problem in Washington, particularly in larger cities such as Seattle, Tacoma, and Yakima. According to the Washington Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, the number of treatment admissions for heroin abuse to publicly funded facilities increased each year from 2,083 in SFY1994 to 3,664 in SFY2000, then deceased to 3,172 in SFY2001. Admission rates per 100,000 population also increased each year from 39 to 62.2 in SFY2000, then deceased to 53.1 in SFY2001. According to TEDS data, the number of heroin-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities in Washington increased each year from 6,118 in 1997 to 6,889 in 1999, then decreased to 5,965 in 2001. (Disparities between state and federal reporting regarding admissions to substance abuse treatment programs are likely a result of differences in data collection and reporting methodologies.)
In the Seattle metropolitan area, heroin-related ED mentions have decreased over the past several years. The number of heroin-related ED mentions decreased from 2,894 in 1997 to 1,927 in 2001. The Seattle metropolitan area ranked ninth in the number of heroin-related ED mentions per 100,000 population among the 21 metropolitan areas reporting to DAWN in 2001.
The number of deaths in which heroin was a factor in the Seattle metropolitan area also decreased from 150 in 1996 to 118 in 2000, according to DAWN mortality data. In spite of this decrease, heroin was a factor in more drug-related deaths in 2000 than any other illicit drug. Of the heroin-related deaths reported in 2000, 16 were heroin-induced (overdoses).
A significant number of adult male arrestees in Seattle and Spokane abused heroin in 2001. According to ADAM data, 10.3 percent of adult male arrestees tested positive for heroin use in Seattle in 2001, and 8.1 percent tested positive in Spokane.
In 1999 the percentage of Seattle high school students who reported having abused heroin at least once in their lifetime was comparable to the national percentage. According to responses to the 1999 YRBS, 2.8 percent of high school students in Seattle reported that they had used heroin at least once during their lifetime compared with 2.4 percent nationally. In addition, the percentage (3.1%) of female high school students in Seattle who reported that they had used heroin at least once during their lifetime was higher than the percentage (2.1%) of males.
Heroin is readily available throughout Washington, particularly in Seattle, Tacoma, and Yakima. Mexican black tar heroin is the predominant type. Approximately 95 percent of heroin purchased in Seattle in 2000 under the auspices of the DEA Domestic Monitor Program (DMP) was Mexican black tar. Mexican brown powdered, Southeast Asian, and Southwest Asian heroin also are available, but in very limited quantities.
The amount of heroin seized in Washington has fluctuated in recent years. According to respondents to the 2002 Northwest HIDTA Threat Assessment survey, state and local law enforcement officials in Washington seized 39 kilograms of heroin in FY1998, 24 kilograms in FY1999, 30 kilograms in FY2000, and 11 kilograms in FY2001. According to FDSS data, federal law enforcement officials in Washington seized 14 kilograms of heroin in 1998, 27 kilograms in 1999, 14 kilograms in 2000, and 15 kilograms in 2001.
The percentage of federal drug sentences in Washington that were heroin-related was higher than the national percentage in FY2001. According to USSC data, 11.9 percent of federal drug sentences in Washington were heroin-related in FY2001 compared with 7.2 percent nationally. Heroin-related federal sentences decreased from 20 in FY1997 to 16 in FY1998. Thereafter, heroin-related federal sentences increased to 19 in FY1999, to 26 in FY2000, and then to 40 in FY2001.
The price and purity of Mexican black tar heroin varies throughout the state. According to the DEA Seattle Division, in FY2002 Mexican black tar heroin sold for $35,000 to $45,000 per kilogram in Seattle and $12,000 to $16,000 per kilogram in Tacoma. During that same time frame, 25 grams or "piece" quantities of heroin sold for $400 to $800 in Seattle, $300 to $800 in Tacoma, and $500 to $700 in Yakima. In FY2002 retail quantities of heroin sold for $50 to $100 per gram in Seattle, $180 per gram in Spokane, and $80 to $100 per gram in Tacoma. Purity levels of retail quantities of heroin ranged from as low as 5 to as high as 70 percent in Washington in FY2002.
Violence has been associated with heroin distribution and abuse in Washington. According to responses to the NDIC National Gang Survey 2000, several street gangs that are involved in heroin distribution also have committed violent crimes such as assault, drive-by shooting, and home invasion, some of which were related to their heroin distribution operations. These gangs include the Norteņos and Sureņos in Vancouver and the West Side 18th Street in Walla Walla.
In January 2002 a West Seattle resident pleaded guilty to five counts of robbery--four bank robberies and one carjacking involving a woman and her two children during an attempt to flee after a robbery. The perpetrator told law enforcement officials he robbed banks to support his heroin addiction. In October 2001 another Seattle resident pleaded guilty to four bank robberies during the summer of 2001 in the Seattle area. This perpetrator also told law enforcement officials he robbed banks to support his heroin addiction.
Opium is not cultivated nor is heroin produced in Washington. Heroin is produced in four primary source regions: Mexico, South America, Southeast Asia, and Southwest Asia. Most of the heroin available in Washington is produced in Mexico; however, a very limited amount of Southeast and Southwest Asian heroin is available.
Mexican criminal groups are the dominant transporters of wholesale quantities of Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin into Washington. These groups transport the drug primarily from Mexico and California into the Seattle-Tacoma area and Yakima. Mexican independent dealers also transport heroin into the state from California.
Heroin transporters use a variety of means to transport the drug into the state. Mexican criminal groups primarily transport Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin to Washington in private vehicles on I-5 and US 97 and 101. They also use commercial flights, buses, boats, passenger trains, and private courier services.
Heroin transporters use Washington as a transshipment point for heroin destined for other states and Canada. Mexican black tar heroin reportedly has been transported from Seattle and Yakima to drug markets in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, and British Columbia, Canada. Shipments of Southeast Asian and Southwest Asian heroin transit through the Puget Sound commercial port facilities to drug markets on the East Coast.
Mexican criminal groups are the dominant wholesale distributors of Mexican black tar heroin in Washington. Seattle and Yakima are primary distribution centers for heroin in the state, according to the Northwest HIDTA.
Mexican local independent dealers are the primary retail heroin distributors in Washington. Criminal groups, street gangs, and local independent dealers, primarily African American and Caucasian, also distribute heroin at the retail level in the state.
Heroin generally is sold at the retail level at open-air drug markets. One such open-air market, known as the Blade, is located in a section of Seattle frequented by tourists, according to the Northwest HIDTA. Retail quantities of heroin often are distributed in small, clear cellophane bags.
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