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National Drug Intelligence Center
Washington Drug Threat Assessment
Methamphetamine is a primary drug threat to Washington. High purity, low cost methamphetamine is readily available, and the drug is abused throughout the state. Methamphetamine production in Washington has increased, as has the number of methamphetamine laboratories seized by law enforcement officials. Methamphetamine production is causing serious safety and environmental concerns in Washington. Further, the production, distribution, and abuse of methamphetamine are more commonly associated with violent crime than any other drug. Methamphetamine is produced in Washington primarily by Caucasian criminal groups and local independents, often in ounce quantities using the Birch reduction method. Local independent producers, however, have produced pound quantities using the hydriodic acid/red phosphorus production method. Mexican criminal groups also produce methamphetamine in the state, sometimes in pound quantities typically using the hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method. Methamphetamine produced by Mexican criminal groups in high volume laboratories in Mexico and California and, to a lesser extent, in Oregon and southwestern states, is readily available in the state as well. Mexican criminal groups are the dominant transporters and wholesale distributors of methamphetamine in Washington. Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers--primarily Caucasian and Mexican--are the principal retail distributors of methamphetamine in the state.
Methamphetamine abuse is widespread and increasing in Washington. In FY2002 law enforcement officials in Aberdeen, Blaine, Burlington, Hoquiam, Long Beach, Montesano, Pasco, Raymond, South Bend, and Westport reported that methamphetamine abuse was increasing significantly in their jurisdictions and that Caucasians were the primary abusers. Moreover, 45 of the 53 state and local law enforcement agencies that responded to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey 2002 (see text box) reported that rates of methamphetamine abuse were high in their jurisdictions, six reported medium rates of abuse, and two reported low rates of abuse.
Methamphetamine-related treatment admissions in Washington have increased. According to the Washington Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, the number of treatment admissions for methamphetamine abuse to publicly funded facilities increased overall from 980 in SFY1994 to 5,700 in SFY2001. Admission rates per 100,000 population increased from 18 to 95.4 over the same period. The number of treatment admissions for methamphetamine abuse was higher than any other drug in SFY2000, according to state substance abuse data. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), the number of methamphetamine-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities in Washington increased from 4,146 in 1997 to 8,155 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.)
The number of emergency department (ED) mentions for methamphetamine abuse in the Seattle metropolitan area decreased from 1997 through 2001. According to Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) data, the number of methamphetamine-related ED mentions decreased from 479 in 1997 to 394 in 2001. The Seattle metropolitan area ranked fifth in the number of methamphetamine-related ED mentions per 100,000 population among the 21 metropolitan areas reporting to DAWN in 2001.
Methamphetamine-related deaths in the Seattle metropolitan area increased significantly from 1996 through 1999, then decreased in 2000. According to DAWN mortality data, methamphetamine was a factor in a total of 11 deaths from 1996 through 1998. Thereafter, methamphetamine was cited in 30 drug-related deaths in the Seattle metropolitan area in 1999 and 15 drug-related deaths in 2000.
Methamphetamine was abused by a significant percentage of adult male arrestees in Spokane and Seattle in 2000. According to the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) Program, in 2001, 20.1 percent of adult male arrestees tested positive for methamphetamine use in Spokane, and 11.5 percent tested positive in Seattle.
In 1999 the percentage of Seattle high school students who reported having abused methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime was statistically comparable to the national percentage. According to responses to the 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 6.7 percent of high school students in Seattle reported that they had used methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime compared with 9.1 percent nationally. In addition, 6.9 percent of female high school students in Seattle reported using the drug at least once in their lifetime. This was slightly higher than the percentage of males (6.0%).
Methamphetamine is readily available throughout Washington. Most Washington respondents (45 of 52) to the NDTS 2002 reported that methamphetamine was readily available in their jurisdictions. Moreover, the DEA Seattle Division reported that the drug was readily available throughout Washington in FY2001, and the DEA Yakima Resident Office reported that methamphetamine was readily available in ounce to multipound quantities in the Yakima Valley area during the same year. Methamphetamine produced in Washington as well as Mexico, Oregon, California, and southwestern states is available throughout the state; however, no particular type dominates. Crystal methamphetamine, a highly pure form of the drug known as ice, is also available, primarily in the Seattle-Tacoma area.
Seizure data also indicate that methamphetamine is readily available in Washington. According to respondents to the 2002 Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Threat Assessment Survey, state and local law enforcement officials in Washington seized 60 kilograms of methamphetamine in FY1998, 145 kilograms in FY1999, 282 kilograms in FY2000, and 114 kilograms in FY2001. In addition, federal law enforcement officials in Washington seized 46 kilograms of methamphetamine in 1998, 48 kilograms in 1999, 58 kilograms in 2000, and 46 kilograms in 2001, according to the Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS).
The percentage of federal drug sentences that were methamphetamine-related in Washington was higher than the national percentage in FY2001. According to USSC data, 31.5 percent of federal drug sentences in Washington in FY2001 were methamphetamine-related compared with 14.2 percent nationally. In addition, the number of methamphetamine-related federal sentences increased each year from 34 in FY1997 to 106 in FY2001.
In 2002 the price of methamphetamine in Washington varied depending on the area and level of distribution. The DEA Seattle Division reported that wholesale quantities of methamphetamine sold for $5,500 to $5,700 per pound in Blaine, $3,000 to $5,000 in Seattle, $4,000 to $9,000 in Spokane, $3,000 to $10,000 in Tacoma, and $3,500 to $10,000 in Yakima. Retail prices of methamphetamine also varied throughout the state. Methamphetamine sold for $500 to $800 per ounce in Blaine, $350 to $800 in Seattle, $550 to $750 in Spokane, $420 to $700 in Tacoma, and $300 to $600 in Yakima in 2002. The drug sold for $30 to $80 per gram in Blaine, $20 to $60 in Seattle, $40 in Spokane, $75 to $80 in Tacoma, and $40 in Yakima in 2002.
The purity of methamphetamine varies in Washington. Law enforcement agencies in Washington reported that the purity of methamphetamine ranged from as low as 14 to as high as 46 percent during 2002. According to the Northwest HIDTA, in 2002 the average purity of methamphetamine produced in Washington using the Birch reduction method was 95 percent compared with an average purity of 75 percent using the hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method. In Seattle the purity of retail quantities of crystal methamphetamine varied during 2002 but was reported as high as 99 percent.
Methamphetamine-related violence is a significant problem in Washington. The production, distribution, and abuse of methamphetamine are more commonly associated with violent crime than any other drug, and law enforcement agencies throughout the state report that violence associated with methamphetamine production, distribution, and abuse poses a significant threat to their jurisdictions. Moreover, distributors throughout the state have committed violent crimes to protect their operations.
Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that affects the central nervous system and can induce anxiety, insomnia, paranoia, hallucinations, mood swings, delusions, and violent behavior, particularly during the "tweaking" stage of abuse. Methamphetamine abusers have committed violent crimes to obtain money to purchase the drug.
OMGs known to distribute methamphetamine have committed violent crimes in Washington. In June 2000 a member of the Iron Horsemen OMG fatally shot a Bandidos OMG member in Yakima in a drug dispute. According to law enforcement officials in Yakima, both OMGs were involved in methamphetamine distribution. In Lakewood the Bandidos, Gypsy Jokers, and Iron Horsemen OMGs have distributed methamphetamine and committed violent crimes, including assault and homicide. The Hells Angels and Bandidos OMGs have been involved in methamphetamine distribution and violent crimes in Spokane.
Numerous street gangs that distribute methamphetamine also have committed violent crimes in Washington. According to responses to the NDIC National Gang Survey 2000, street gangs involved in methamphetamine distribution in Washington include the Varrio Sureņo Locos and Puro Mexicano Locos in Bellevue, Young Krew Piru in Longview, Insane Gangster Crips in Spokane, Maniac Gangster Crips in Thurston County, Norteņos and Sureņos in Vancouver, West Side 18th Street in Walla Walla, and West Side Hustlaz in Yakima. Violent crimes committed by these gangs include assault, drive-by shooting, home invasion, homicide, and robbery.
Methamphetamine production is increasing throughout Washington. According to the Northwest HIDTA, federal, state, and local law enforcement officials in Washington seized 308 methamphetamine laboratories in 1998, 525 in 1999, 831 in 2000, and 939 in 2001. Moreover, according to the EPIC Clandestine Laboratory Database, 1,043 methamphetamine-related events were reported for Washington in 2002. A methamphetamine-related event includes laboratories and equipment seized and dumpsites encountered. The state ranked third behind California (1,481) and Missouri (1,094).
Methamphetamine laboratories in Washington often are established in apartments, garages, motel rooms, and private residences as well as in mobile conveyances including stolen vehicles. Methamphetamine laboratories increasingly are being established on public lands such as national parks and national and state forests. The number of methamphetamine laboratory sites discovered by State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officers on state trust lands increased from 10 in 1998 to 36 in 2000. In April 2001 the DNR in conjunction with the Washington State Patrol discovered a methamphetamine laboratory in the Tahoma State Forest near Mount Rainier National Park. The DNR reported that this methamphetamine production site was the second largest ever found on state trust lands--the laboratory equipment, precursor chemicals, and toxic waste were spread over 2 acres. State officials closed the 26,000-acre preserve for 6 weeks for cleanup operations.
Caucasian criminal groups and local independent operators--often using the Birch reduction method--are the primary producers of methamphetamine in Washington. Mexican criminal groups and local independent operators produce methamphetamine using the hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method. They also use the iodine/red phosphorus method, but to a lesser extent.
Most of the laboratories seized in Washington have been small, capable of producing only 1 to 2 ounces of methamphetamine per cook. However, larger laboratories capable of producing pound quantities of methamphetamine also have been seized in the state, particularly in the Yakima and Tri-City areas. For instance, larger methamphetamine laboratories--operated by Mexican criminal groups and capable of producing multipound quantities of methamphetamine--have been seized in the Tri-City area. In May 2001 law enforcement officials in Whitstran (in Benton County near the Tri-City area) seized and dismantled a methamphetamine laboratory and seized 34 pounds of the drug packaged in 34 one-gallon plastic storage bags. This methamphetamine laboratory seizure was the largest ever in Benton County and resulted from the concerted effort of several law enforcement agencies. The Benton County Sheriff's Department, Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force (Pasco), Law Enforcement Against Drugs Task Force (Zillah), and Washington State Patrol's Incident Response Team all participated in the investigation of the laboratory site and resulting seizure.
Methamphetamine production poses serious safety and environmental concerns to Washington. The production process creates toxic and hazardous waste that endangers law enforcement personnel, emergency response teams, children (particularly those who reside in the homes of methamphetamine producers), and the environment.
Methamphetamine production often occurs in Washington homes, posing a direct threat to the safety of children and adults. Because of the presence of caustic and flammable chemicals used in methamphetamine production, methamphetamine laboratories in homes typically result in deplorable conditions that render the home unsafe for its residents. In 2001 the state's Child Protective Services took into custody 228 children who were living in residences with methamphetamine laboratories. The average age of the children was 8 years.
Methamphetamine laboratories may contain a variety of highly flammable chemicals and produce 5 to 7 pounds of toxic waste for every pound of methamphetamine. Most of the toxic residue from methamphetamine production is dumped in the local area, often contaminating groundwater and killing vegetation. Cleanup of seized laboratories is costly and difficult because of the hazardous chemicals used in production, and chemical contamination often is detected at laboratory sites 2 years after methamphetamine production has ended.
The number of methamphetamine-related cleanup operations has increased in Washington. The Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) reported cleanup operations at 789 laboratories and dumpsites in 1999, 1,449 in 2000, 1,886 in 2001, and 1,568 in 2002. Nearly one-half of the cleanup operations in 2001 were in three counties in western Washington: Pierce (407), King (223), and Thurston (111). Pierce County had the most cleanup operations of any county in the state during 2002.
Many chemicals can be purchased legally in Washington, and precursors frequently are stolen. Lithium often is extracted from batteries sold at many retail stores, and iodine often is purchased at local feed stores. Anhydrous ammonia is purchased by laboratory operators from agricultural supply stores and marinas. Thefts of anhydrous ammonia also have occurred from farms and farm supply stores across the state, especially in eastern Washington. The Walla Walla County Sheriff's Department reported at least 25 thefts of anhydrous ammonia during 2000. Ephedrine or pseudoephedrine is commonly extracted from cold pills by laboratory operators. In July 2001 the Washington State Legislature implemented a law restricting the sale of products containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, or phenylpropanolamine. However, illegal sales continue. In December 2001 two Tri-City convenience store owners--one in Kennewick and another in Richland--were cited for the illegal sale of a product containing ephedrine. The store owners allegedly sold bulk quantities of cold medicine containing the drug. Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force officers purchased a total of 60 bottles of decongestant from the stores in a series of undercover transactions. Precursor and other essential chemicals also are smuggled into the state from Canada and other states.
Methamphetamine is transported into Washington primarily from California. Methamphetamine also is transported into the state from Mexico, Oregon, and southwestern states, but to a lesser extent. Mexican criminal groups are the primary transporters of methamphetamine into the state. Caucasian criminal groups, OMGs, and Caucasian and Mexican local independent dealers also transport methamphetamine into and throughout the state.
Methamphetamine typically is transported into Washington in private vehicles on I-5 and I-82, as well as US 97. Methamphetamine also is transported into the state on passenger trains, commercial vehicles, commercial and private maritime vessels, commercial and private aircraft, buses, and via package delivery services. During a routine traffic stop in April 2000, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) seized more than 3 pounds of methamphetamine concealed inside a false compartment of a private vehicle driven by a Mexican national en route to Tacoma on I-5. In February 2000 CHP officers seized nearly 11 pounds of the drug from a Caucasian male in a rental vehicle en route to Washington on I-505--a north-south route that connects I-5 and I-80. The drug was sealed in plastic, covered with baby wipes, and concealed in a backpack. In addition, in January 2000 state and local law enforcement officials in Seattle under Operation Jetway seized more than 5 pounds of methamphetamine from a package mailed from Los Angeles and destined for Everett.
Methamphetamine also is transported from Washington to other states and Canada. Law enforcement officials in Washington and other states report that multipound quantities of the drug are transported from Yakima and, to a lesser extent, Spokane and the Tri-City area to Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Canada. Methamphetamine most commonly is transported from Washington in private vehicles along I-5 and I-90 and US 2 and US 97. In April 2002 the South Dakota Highway Patrol seized 18 pounds of methamphetamine and arrested four Mexican nationals who were transporting the drug from Pasco to Illinois via I-90. The methamphetamine was concealed in hidden compartments in each of the rear doors of the vehicle. In September 2000 the Montana Highway Patrol seized more than 1.5 pounds of methamphetamine and arrested an illegal Mexican national male who was transporting the drug from Washington to Bismarck, North Dakota, on I-90. The methamphetamine was concealed in the speakers of the automobile.
Mexican criminal groups are the primary wholesale distributors of methamphetamine produced outside the state. Mexican independent dealers also distribute wholesale quantities of methamphetamine in the state, but to a lesser extent. Law enforcement officials in Spokane and Yakima report that Mexican independent dealers are the primary methamphetamine wholesale distributors in those cities. Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers are the primary wholesale distributors of methamphetamine produced in Washington.
Caucasian criminal groups as well as Caucasian and Mexican local independent dealers are the principal retail distributors of methamphetamine in Washington. Street gangs, primarily African American and Mexican, and OMGs also distribute the drug at the retail level. Law enforcement officials responding to the NDIC National Gang Survey 2000 reported that numerous street gangs distribute methamphetamine at the retail level in the state. These gangs include Varrio Sureņo Locos and Puro Mexicano Locos in Bellevue, Young Krew Piru in Longview, Insane Gangster Crips in Spokane, Maniac Gangster Crips in Thurston County, Norteņos and Sureņos in Vancouver, West Side 18th Street in Walla Walla, and West Side Hustlaz in Yakima. The Bandidos, Gypsy Jokers, and Iron Horsemen OMGs in Lakewood and the Bandidos and Hells Angels OMGs in Spokane also serve as retail level methamphetamine distributors.
Methamphetamine packaging varies depending on the amount distributed. Wholesale quantities of methamphetamine are often packaged in large plastic storage bags for distribution, while retail quantities often are packaged in small plastic bags, cellophane, and wallet-size tins.
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