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National Drug Intelligence Center
Rhode Island Drug Threat Assessment
Encompassing 1,045 square miles, Rhode Island is the smallest state in the nation in terms of land area. The state measures approximately 20 miles along its northern border and approximately 40 miles along its western border. However, it is the second most densely populated state with approximately 1,003 residents per square mile. Rhode Island's population is concentrated in and around Providence in the northeastern part of the state. According to 2000 U.S. Census Bureau data, 85 percent of Rhode Island's population is Caucasian, 4.5 percent is African American, 2.3 percent is Asian, and the remaining 8.2 percent is composed of individuals of other races or a combination of races. Nearly 9 percent of the state's population identifies itself as Hispanic or Latino. The state's population density and diversity make it attractive to drug distributors and allow various criminal groups to blend with the resident population.
Most drug distribution and abuse occur in and around the urban areas of the state. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Providence Resident Office reports that most drug-related arrests occur in Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence, Warwick, and Woonsocket, where collectively approximately 40 percent of the state's population resides. According to the Rhode Island State Police, drug distribution in rural areas of the state is rare. However, some individuals in rural areas cultivate cannabis and engage in other drug-related criminal activity.
Rhode Island's well-developed transportation infrastructure and its location between New York City and Boston make it a transit point and distribution area for illicit drugs. Law enforcement officials report that drug transporters primarily use private and commercial vehicles to transport illicit drugs into and through Rhode Island, most commonly via Interstates 95, 195, and 295. Interstate 95, the major north-south route on the East Coast, extends diagonally through the state from the southwest to the northeast, running through Providence and Pawtucket; it connects New York City and Boston and continues to the U.S.-Canada border. Interstate 195 extends east from Providence to Fall River and New Bedford, Massachusetts. Interstate 295 is a bypass around Providence, and connects to I-95 in Massachusetts. Criminal groups and local independent dealers sometimes transport drugs into and through Rhode Island on alternate routes including U.S. Routes 1, 6, and 44.
Drug transporters frequently intermingle drugs among legitimate goods such as produce and furniture when transporting drugs in commercial vehicles. Drug transporters such as Mexican criminal groups often use this method when smuggling marijuana from Mexico to Rhode Island. These groups exploit the high volume of legitimate trade between Mexico and the state to camouflage drug transportation activities. In 2000, the most recent year for which data are available, 44,431 metric tons of cargo were transported from Mexico to Rhode Island in tractor-trailers.
Drugs occasionally are transported into Rhode Island aboard commercial and private aircraft. The T.F. Green International Airport, located in Warwick, south of Providence, is the only international airport in the state and offers 160 daily flights to and from major cities throughout the United States, including New York, as well as Toronto, Canada, and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Passenger volume at this airport has increased from 4.6 million passengers in 1998 to 5.5 million passengers in 2001. According to Operation Jetway data, federal law enforcement officials in 2001 seized nearly 58 kilograms of marijuana and approximately 1 kilogram of cocaine from commercial airline flights arriving in the Providence area. In addition to T.F. Green International Airport, the state operates five additional public airports. There are also numerous private airfields and airstrips that can be used to transport drugs into the state.
Drugs infrequently are transported into Rhode Island aboard commercial maritime vessels. Drugs transported on such vessels typically arrive at Providence, Quonset Point/Davisville, or Newport, the state's primary seaports. Local law enforcement officials indicate that heroin is transported by crew members aboard commercial fishing vessels.
Various criminal groups transport drugs into Rhode Island. Dominican criminal groups are the dominant transporters of heroin and cocaine into the state. African American criminal groups and gangs, Colombian and other Hispanic criminal groups, as well as various local independent dealers also transport heroin and cocaine into Rhode Island. Mexican criminal groups are the primary transporters of marijuana into Rhode Island. These groups transport multikilogram shipments of marijuana into the state from sources in Mexico and transportation hubs in California and southwestern states. Caucasian, Dominican, and Jamaican criminal groups and various local independent dealers also transport marijuana into Rhode Island. Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers are the primary transporters of other dangerous drugs such as MDMA, GHB and its analogs, ketamine, and LSD into the state; they transport the drugs from New York City in private or rental vehicles or ship them through package delivery services.
Various criminal groups sell drugs at the wholesale level in Rhode Island. Dominican criminal groups are the primary wholesale-level distributors of heroin and powdered cocaine in Rhode Island. Colombian criminal groups, among others, also distribute wholesale quantities of heroin and powdered cocaine. No specific group controls the distribution of marijuana in Rhode Island. Caucasian criminal groups, as well as Dominican, Jamaican, Mexican, and other Hispanic criminal groups and various local independent dealers distribute marijuana at the wholesale level in Rhode Island. Caucasian local independent dealers are the dominant wholesale distributors of other dangerous drugs such as MDMA, GHB and its analogs, LSD, and diverted pharmaceuticals.
Retail drug distribution in Rhode Island is conducted by various criminal groups, gangs, and local independent dealers. Dominican criminal groups are the dominant retail distributors of heroin and powdered cocaine. African American and Hispanic criminal groups, gangs, and various local independent dealers also distribute significant amounts of heroin at the retail level, while Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers distribute powdered cocaine at the retail level. African American criminal groups and gangs, Hispanic gangs, Caucasian criminal groups, and various local independent dealers distribute crack cocaine at the retail level. Various criminal groups, gangs, and local independent dealers engage in retail-level marijuana distribution in Rhode Island. Caucasian criminal groups and local independent dealers are the dominant retail-level distributors of other dangerous drugs such as MDMA, GHB and its analogs, ketamine, LSD, and diverted pharmaceuticals. Caucasian local independent dealers distribute the limited quantities of methamphetamine available in Rhode Island.
Members of African American and Hispanic street gangs distribute drugs at the retail level in most large cities in Rhode Island and, to a lesser extent, in smaller cities, suburban areas, and rural communities. Generally, gangs in Rhode Island are local in nature and not connected to or affiliated with large, nationally recognized street gangs in other U.S. cities. According to the Providence Police Department Narcotics Unit, Bloods, Crips, Eastside, Latin Kings, Southside, Taylor Street, and Westend are the primary street gangs that distribute drugs in Providence. In Providence street gangs that were traditionally African American and Hispanic are becoming multiethnic by accepting members of various ethnic groups. These gangs almost always distribute multiple types of drugs, typically at public locations such as restaurants, shopping centers, and motels.
The number of statewide drug-related arrests in Rhode Island remained relatively steady from 1997 through 2001. According to Rhode Island Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data, there were 4,239 drug-related arrests in 1997 compared to 4,394 in 2001. The 4,394 drug-related arrests in 2001 accounted for over 10 percent of all arrests in the state that year. Further, Providence Police Department officials and Warwick law enforcement officials report that drug distributors in their jurisdictions commonly commit violent crimes to protect their turf, and drug abusers frequently commit crimes such as residential break-ins to support their drug addiction.
The percentage of federal sentences that are drug-related in Rhode Island is similar to the percentage nationwide. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), in fiscal year (FY) 2001 drug-related federal sentences in Rhode Island accounted for 39.2 percent of all federal sentences in the state, compared to 41.2 percent nationwide. In Rhode Island the majority (65%) of the drug-related federal sentences resulted from powdered or crack cocaine offenses. (See Table 1.)
The rate of drug-related treatment admissions in Rhode Island is significantly higher than the national rate, and the number of admissions is increasing. According to the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), the rate of drug and alcohol-related treatment admissions per 100,000 population in Rhode Island was 1,498 compared with the rate nationwide (704) in 2000, the most recent year for which data are available. Further, substance abuse-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities in Rhode Island increased from 9,146 in 1997 to 13,427 in 2001, according to TEDS. (See Table 2.)
Illicit drugs are frequently abused in Rhode Island. According to the 1999 and 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), 8.1 percent of individuals aged 12 and over surveyed in Rhode Island reported having abused an illicit drug at least once in the month prior to the survey, compared with 6.3 percent of individuals surveyed nationwide.
The number of drug deaths reported in the Providence metropolitan area decreased overall from 1997 through 2001. According to Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) mortality data, there were 60 drug deaths in the Providence metropolitan area in 1997 and 52 in 2001. All of the 52 drug deaths reported by DAWN in 2001 were drug-induced (overdoses), and many (69%) involved more than one drug.
The financial impact on Rhode Island's government from substance abuse-related costs and services is significant. Rhode Island officials spent nearly $300 million on substance abuse-related programs in areas including justice, education, health, child-family assistance, mental health/development disabilities, public safety, and state workforce in 1998, the last year for which these data are available. This figure amounted to 11 percent of the total expenditures for state agencies. The state government spent approximately $303 per resident on substance abuse programs that year, the ninth highest rate in the nation. When factoring in the cost of lost productivity and nongovernmental expenses by private social services, estimates for total substance abuse-related costs were even higher.
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