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National Drug Threat Summary
The trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs inflict tremendous harm upon individuals,
families, and communities throughout the country. The violence, intimidation, theft,
and financial crimes carried out by drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), criminal
groups, gangs, and drug users in the United States pose a significant threat to
our nation. The cost to society from drug production, trafficking, and abuse is
difficult to fully measure or convey; however, the most recent data available are
helpful in framing the extent of the threat. For example:
- More than 35 million individuals used illicit drugs or abused prescription
drugs in 2007.
- In 2006 individuals entered public drug treatment facilities more than 1
million times seeking assistance in ending their addiction to illicit or prescription
- More than 1,100 children were injured at, killed at, or removed from methamphetamine
laboratory sites from 2007 through September 2008.
- For 2009 the federal government has allocated more than $14 billion for
drug treatment and prevention, counterdrug law enforcement, drug interdiction,
and international counterdrug assistance.
- In September 2008 there were nearly 100,000 inmates in federal prisons convicted
and sentenced for drug offenses, representing more than 52 percent of all federal
- In 2007 more than 1.8 million drug-related arrests in the United States
were carried out by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
- Mexican and Colombian DTOs generate, remove, and launder between $18 billion
and $39 billion in wholesale drug proceeds annually.
- Diversion of controlled prescription drugs costs insurance companies up
to $72.5 billion annually, nearly two-thirds of which is paid by public insurers.
DTOs rapidly adapt to law enforcement and policy initiatives that disrupt their
drug trafficking operations. Law enforcement and intelligence reporting revealed
several strategic shifts by DTOs in drug production and trafficking in 2007 and
early 2008, attributed in part to the success of counterdrug agencies in disrupting
the operations of DTOs. Many of these shifts represent immediate new challenges
for policymakers and resource planners. The National Drug Threat Assessment 2009
outlines the progress and emerging counterdrug challenges in detailed strategic
findings, including the following:
- Mexican DTOs represent the greatest organized crime threat to the
United States. The influence of Mexican DTOs over domestic drug trafficking
is unrivaled. In fact, intelligence estimates indicate a vast majority of the
cocaine available in U.S. drug markets is smuggled by Mexican DTOs across the
U.S.-Mexico border. Mexican DTOs control drug distribution in most U.S. cities,
and they are gaining strength in markets that they do not yet control.
- Violent urban gangs control most retail-level drug distribution nationally,
and some have relocated from inner cities to suburban and rural areas.
Moreover, gangs are increasing their involvement in wholesale-level drug distribution,
aided by their connections with Mexican and Asian DTOs.
- Cocaine is the leading
to society. Methamphetamine is the second leading drug threat, followed by marijuana,
heroin, pharmaceutical drugs, and MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also
known as ecstasy) respectively.
- Cocaine availability levels in the United States are lower than 2005
and 2006 levels. Domestic cocaine availability decreased in early 2007,
resulting in sustained cocaine shortages in 38 large and midsize domestic drug
markets by August 2007. Coca eradication, large cocaine seizures, increased
pressure on DTOs in Mexico, intercartel violence, expanded cocaine markets in
Europe, and U.S. border security all contributed to the cocaine shortages. By
early 2008 cocaine availability had returned to 2005 and 2006 levels in some
cities, but decreased availability continued in 14 U.S. drug markets, primarily
in the Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast Regions.
- Domestic methamphetamine production is projected to surpass 2007 levels.
Methamphetamine laboratory seizure data show that methamphetamine production
in the United States decreased each year from 2003 through 2007. However, many
users and distributors have been compelled to begin producing the drug domestically
again because of decreased flow of methamphetamine from Mexico. Methamphetamine
production in Mexico declined significantly in 2007, resulting in decreased
methamphetamine availability in many U.S. drug markets.
- To increase domestic methamphetamine production, individuals and criminal
groups are increasingly circumventing state and federal pseudoephedrine and
ephedrine sales restrictions. Individuals and criminal groups are making
numerous small-quantity pseudoephedrine and ephedrine product purchases from
multiple retail outlets, a diversion method known as "smurfing." In some instances,
pseudoephedrine brokers have established pseudoephedrine smurfing networks by
paying several individuals to make purchases on their behalf.
- The level of domestic outdoor cannabis cultivation is very high and
possibly increasing. Domestic outdoor cannabis eradication data show
that the number of cannabis plants eradicated increased 120 percent (2,996,225
to 6,599,599 plants) from 2004 through 2007, particularly eradication of plots
established by Mexican DTOs on public lands.
- Marijuana potency has increased to the highest level ever recorded.
The increase in marijuana potency has been fueled by increased indoor cultivation
of high-potency marijuana and improvements in outdoor cultivation techniques.
Much of the increased cultivation of high-potency marijuana is attributed to
Asian DTOs that have increased indoor operations in many states. Many of these
Asian DTOs are linked in a nationwide network.
- Lucrative northeastern white heroin markets are attracting Mexican
DTOs that distribute Mexican black tar or brown powder heroin. Mexican
DTOs have increased Mexican heroin availability in these traditionally white
heroin markets, and they have gained market share among the heroin-user population.
Mexican heroin distributors have been able to extend distribution farther into
northeastern heroin markets because of rising heroin production in Mexico and
decreasing heroin production in Colombia.
- Southwest and Southeast Asian heroin availability and distribution
are limited. However, some Nigerian criminal groups distributing Southwest
Asian heroin are attempting to increase heroin distribution in some drug markets
where Southwest Asian heroin had not been available previously.
- The level of prescription drug abuse is very high, and individuals
are able to acquire these drugs from numerous sources. Individuals usually
acquire Schedule II prescription drugs (OxyContin and Percocet) through traditional
diversion methods such as prescription fraud and doctor-shopping. However, Schedule
III (Vicodin) and IV (Xanax and Valium) prescription drugs are often acquired
in large quantities through the Internet. Law enforcement reporting also indicates
that prescription drug distribution by gangs has increased since 2004.
- Asian DTOs are producing MDMA in large clandestine laboratories in
Canada. In fact, the high and possibly increasing level of MDMA production
in Canada is contributing to increased distribution of the drug in U.S. drug
markets. Moreover, distribution of MDMA tablets that have been adulterated with
highly addictive drugs, particularly methamphetamine, is increasing.
DTOs, gangs, and drug users continually adapt to changes in drug policy, counterdrug
initiatives, and numerous other factors that affect their operations. Although forecasting
strategic drug trends is difficult because of significant intelligence gaps, the
National Drug Threat Assessment 2009 presents several predictive estimates regarding
drug trafficking and abuse, including the following:
- Sporadic cocaine shortages will most likely continue in several U.S.
drug markets in 2009. The sustained pressure against DTOs in Mexico
as well as high cocaine seizure totals from shipments in transit toward the
United States continued through mid-2008 and will most likely result in supply
interruptions and wholesale shortages in some U.S. drug markets through early
- Domestic methamphetamine production will most likely increase moderately
in 2009. The decreased flow of methamphetamine from Mexico, the relocation
of some Mexican methamphetamine producers from Mexico to California, and the
emergence of large-scale ephedrine and pseudoephedrine smurfing operations throughout
the country have created conditions conducive to a moderate increase in domestic
- Asian DTOs will very likely expand their domestic indoor cannabis
cultivation operations beyond traditional operating areas in the Pacific Northwest
and, to a lesser extent, New England. Asian DTOs expanded their indoor
cannabis cultivation operations in 2007 to new areas, including Cleveland, Denver,
Houston, and Los Angeles. Expansion of indoor cannabis cultivation operations
will most likely continue in 2009.
- Southwest Asian heroin availability may increase in some U.S. cities
that were not previously considered Southwest Asian heroin markets.
West African couriers have been arrested with significant amounts of heroin
in U.S. cities after having departed from countries commonly used to transship
Southwest Asian heroin, such as Nigeria. Some of the cities in which these couriers
were apprehended are those where the availability of Southwest Asian heroin
has been low or nonexistent, such as Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Mexican DTOs will most likely continue to establish new markets for
Mexican heroin in northeastern states. Recent encroachments by Mexican
heroin distributors into more northeastern drug markets most likely indicate
a determination on the part of Mexican DTOs to expand Mexican heroin distribution
in new market areas.
- The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 was
enacted in October 2008 and will most likely reduce the number of rogue Internet
pharmacies selling controlled prescription drugs. The federal law amends
the Controlled Substances Act and prohibits the delivery, distribution, or dispensing
of controlled prescription drugs over the Internet without a prescription written
by a doctor who has conducted at least one in-person examination of the patient.
- Treatment admissions for MDMA addiction may increase. Treatment
admissions for MDMA addiction may increase as the distribution of MDMA tablets
adulterated with highly addictive substances, such as methamphetamine, increases.
relative threat posed by a specific drug requires
a subjective analytic assessment based on many considerations, such as the cost
of interdiction, seizure, and eradication; the number of individuals using or addicted
to the drug; the level of availability in U.S. drug markets; the extent and organization
of distribution groups; the level of violence associated with distribution and use
of the drug; the level of property crime associated with use of the drug; and the
level of involvement by international drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and
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