National Drug Intelligence Center
The most significant drug threats to the Appalachia HIDTA region are the distribution and abuse of CPDs and cocaine as well as the cultivation of cannabis and the subsequent distribution and abuse of marijuana. According to data from the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2009,9 49 of the 92 law enforcement agency respondents in the Appalachia HIDTA region report that CPDs are the greatest drug threat to their jurisdictions, and 21 of the 92 report cocaine, particularly crack cocaine, as the greatest drug threat to their jurisdictions. Moreover, 80 of the 92 report that marijuana is available at high levels in their jurisdictions, and 88 of the 92 respondents report that cannabis is cultivated outdoors in their jurisdictions.
The diversion, distribution, and abuse of CPDs pose a significant and growing threat to the Appalachia HIDTA region, as evidenced by the wide availability, high abuse levels, and considerable number of property crimes associated with CPDs. According to NDTS 2009 data, 83 of the 92 law enforcement agency respondents in the Appalachia HIDTA region report that CPDs are available at moderate to high levels in their jurisdictions. CPDs are frequently abused in the region, particularly among Caucasian adolescents and adults. The most widely available and commonly abused CPDs are methadone, OxyContin, Valium, Vicodin, and Xanax (alprazolam). CPD abusers are drawn to the drugs, in part, by the ease with which they can be obtained over the Internet, through doctor-shopping, or from retail-level distributors. Law enforcement officials report that because of the effectiveness of prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs)10 in the region, some CPD traffickers and abusers are traveling from the Appalachia HIDTA region to areas such as South Florida, where they illicitly obtain CPDs and bring them back to the region to use or sell for profit.
Cocaine, particularly crack, poses a serious threat to the Appalachia HIDTA region because of the drug's wide availability, the high levels of violence associated with cocaine (particularly crack) distribution, and the high number of cocaine-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities. According to NDTS 2009 data, 64 of the 92 law enforcement agency respondents in the Appalachia HIDTA region report that powder cocaine is available at moderate to high levels in their jurisdictions, and 60 of these respondents report that crack cocaine is available at moderate to high levels. Officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Charleston Resident Office in West Virginia report that the availability and abuse of cocaine remained stable at high levels in 2008. Cocaine seizure totals are further evidence of the wide availability of the drug in the region; reporting from Appalachia HIDTA Initiatives11 indicates that nearly 76 kilograms of powder cocaine and almost 6 kilograms of crack cocaine were seized in 2008. (See Table 1.)
Table 1. Appalachia HIDTA Initiative Seizures, by Drug, in Kilograms, 2008
Source: Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
*The amount of high-potency marijuana seized in the Appalachia HIDTA region is calculated on the conversion of one cannabis plant, typically grown indoors, yielding approximately 1 pound (0.454 kg) of high-potency marijuana.
Cannabis cultivation and subsequent marijuana distribution and abuse pose a considerable threat to the Appalachia HIDTA region, as evidenced by the large amount of cannabis cultivated in the region, the level of violence associated with cannabis cultivation, and the number of marijuana-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities in the region. Marijuana is widely available throughout the HIDTA region and is abused by members of all racial/ethnic and social groups. Caucasian DTOs, criminal groups, and independent growers are the primary producers and distributors of locally produced marijuana. Most of the marijuana produced by smaller Caucasian criminal groups and independent growers in the region is abused within the region, and most of the marijuana produced by large Caucasian DTOs is transported to markets outside the area, including drug markets in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Law enforcement officials in Tennessee report that Mexican DTOs and criminal groups also cultivate cannabis at outdoor grow sites in the state; however, the distribution areas for marijuana produced by Mexican DTOs and criminal groups in the region are an intelligence gap. Additionally, large quantities of Mexican marijuana are available in the region. Mexican marijuana frequently supplements supplies of locally produced marijuana, particularly during periods of decreased local cultivation.
Methamphetamine poses an increasing drug threat to the region. Locally produced powder and high-purity ice methamphetamine and Mexican powder and ice methamphetamine are available to varying degrees throughout the Appalachia HIDTA region. For instance, the DEA London Resident Office reports that the availability of Mexican ice methamphetamine has surpassed the availability of locally produced and Mexican powder methamphetamine in Kentucky counties in the Appalachia HIDTA region. Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force officials report that locally produced powder methamphetamine, which they refer to as ice methamphetamine because of the high purity of the drug, is the type most available in Tennessee HIDTA counties,12 and the DEA Charleston Resident Office reports that locally produced methamphetamine is the type most available in West Virginia HIDTA counties. Methamphetamine laboratory seizure data suggest rising methamphetamine production in the region. The number of reported methamphetamine laboratory seizures in the region decreased overall from 2004 through 2007; however, 2008 seizure data indicate that methamphetamine production is increasing. Caucasian DTOs, criminal groups, and independent dealers are the principal powder methamphetamine producers in the region; they are also responsible for the very limited conversion of ice methamphetamine that takes place in the region.
Heroin and other dangerous drugs (ODDs) pose low drug threats to the Appalachia HIDTA region. Heroin is available and abused at low levels in the Appalachia HIDTA region; Mexican black tar and brown powder heroin and South American (SA) heroin are available in small quantities throughout most of the region. In 2007, officials with the FBI Huntington Violent Crime Task Force reported rising availability and abuse of Mexican black tar heroin in Huntington, West Virginia. Effective law enforcement investigations in 2008 resulted in the arrests of local heroin distributors and subsequent decreases in the availability and abuse of Mexican black tar heroin in the area. In response to this decreased heroin availability, many abusers reverted to abusing prescription narcotics such as OxyContin. ODDs such as MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy), GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) are available in the region on a limited and sporadic basis.
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Mexican DTOs and criminal groups13 are the principal wholesale drug distributors in the Appalachia HIDTA region; African American, Caucasian, and Mexican DTOs and criminal groups as well as street gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) distribute a variety of drugs at the retail level and midlevel throughout the region. In 2008, law enforcement officials affiliated with Appalachia HIDTA Initiatives had 230 DTOs under investigation; 48 of these organizations were dismantled, and 33 others were disrupted. Many of the 230 investigated DTOs are polydrug organizations that transport and distribute drugs such as cocaine (100 organizations), marijuana (82), CPDs (80), powder and ice methamphetamine (32), heroin (7), and MDMA (1).14 Most of the organizations targeted through the HIDTA Initiatives were African American, Caucasian, or Mexican/Hispanic; in addition, two were Asian, and one was Middle Eastern.
Drug Trafficking Organizations, Criminal Groups, and Gangs
Drug trafficking organizations are complex organizations with highly defined command-and-control structures that produce, transport, and/or distribute large quantities of one or more illicit drugs.
Criminal groups operating in the United States are numerous and range from small to moderately sized, loosely knit groups that distribute one or more drugs at the retail level and midlevel.
Gangs are defined by the National Alliance of Gang Investigators' Associations as groups or associations of three or more persons with a common identifying sign, symbol, or name, the members of which individually or collectively engage in criminal activity that creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups routinely supply wholesale quantities of powder cocaine, Mexican marijuana, and Mexican ice methamphetamine to distributors in the region. They also distribute these drugs at the retail level, along with Mexican brown powder and black tar heroin and powder methamphetamine. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups operating in the region typically obtain their supplies of illicit drugs from Atlanta-based Mexican DTOs. In addition, they cultivate cannabis in Tennessee HIDTA counties, according to the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Tennessee law enforcement officials report that the increase in the number of Mexican DTO-operated cannabis cultivation sites discovered in the state is most likely the result of greater awareness by law enforcement officers in detecting and investigating large outdoor grow sites commonly associated with Mexican traffickers, rather than an actual increase in the number of Mexican DTOs that cultivate cannabis in the state. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups sometimes cultivate cannabis on behalf of Caucasian DTOs. Appalachia HIDTA officials report that Mexican DTOs and criminal groups use cultural and social connections among the growing Hispanic population in the region to expand their distribution networks.15
Caucasian DTOs, criminal groups, and independent dealers are the principal cannabis cultivators and methamphetamine producers in the HIDTA region; they are also the principal retail-level and midlevel drug distributors in many rural areas. Caucasian DTOs distribute locally produced marijuana, Mexican marijuana, powder methamphetamine, ice methamphetamine, powder cocaine, CPDs and, to a lesser extent, heroin. Caucasian DTOs generally produce the marijuana and methamphetamine they distribute; they obtain their supplies of most other illicit drugs from Mexican DTOs and criminal groups operating in the region. Caucasian traffickers also are increasingly traveling to Atlanta; Asheville, North Carolina; and Phoenix, Arizona, to purchase large amounts of ice methamphetamine that they distribute in the HIDTA region.
African American DTOs and criminal groups are the principal midlevel and retail-level distributors in many urban areas of the Appalachia HIDTA region. They typically distribute powder and crack cocaine, marijuana, CPDs, and heroin, among other drugs. In 2008, Appalachia HIDTA officials reported that local African American DTOs were distributing high-purity ice methamphetamine in Kentucky; they had obtained the drug from an African American DTO in Georgia. In addition, African American DTOs and criminal groups based outside the Appalachia HIDTA region frequently transport illicit drugs into the region for further distribution. For instance, African American criminal groups based in Columbus and Detroit frequently travel to the region to distribute powder and crack cocaine.
Local and nationally affiliated street gangs and, to a lesser extent, OMGs distribute illicit drugs in the Appalachia HIDTA region. The level of drug distribution by street gangs in the region is generally low; however, law enforcement officials in Hamilton County, Tennessee, and in Charleston, Cedar Grove, Huntington, and Welch City, West Virginia, report that the level of drug distribution by street gangs in their jurisdictions is high. Street gang activity is prevalent among African American and Hispanic youths in the region. Local street gangs commonly adopt multiple facets of gang culture from national-level street gangs, often by observing them over the Internet rather than through contact with these gangs. Moreover, local gangs usually do not exhibit the organizational structure, written code, or defined member roles associated with national-level street gangs. African American street gangs such as Black Gangster Disciples (BGD) and 304 Crew typically distribute significant quantities of powder and crack cocaine, marijuana, and lesser quantities of CPDs and MDMA. Hispanic street gangs such as Sureņos, Vatos Locos, Mara Salvatrucha (MS 13), and Latin Kings are active in the Tennessee counties of the Appalachia HIDTA region; these gang members typically distribute significant quantities of powder cocaine, Mexican marijuana, Mexican black tar heroin and, to a lesser degree, Mexican ice methamphetamine. OMGs such as Outlaws, Southern Sons, and Black Pistons distribute illicit drugs in the Appalachia HIDTA region to a limited extent. OMG members typically distribute small quantities of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine, MDMA, and CPDs.
National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) data for 2009 cited in this report are as of
February 12, 2009. NDTS data cited are raw, unweighted responses from federal, state,
and local law enforcement agencies solicited through either the National Drug Intelligence
Center (NDIC) or the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) High Intensity
Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. Data cited may include responses from agencies
that are part of the NDTS 2009 national sample and/or agencies that are part of
HIDTA solicitation lists.
10. Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) are systems in which CPD data are collected in a database, centralized by each state, and administered by an authorized state agency to facilitate the early detection of trends in diversion and abuse. As of October 2008, 38 states, including Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, had enacted legislation permitting PDMPs or had operational PDMPs. Each state controls the language of its PDMP with regard to how the prescription information gathered as part of the program will be shared, not only in the state but also with other states.
11. The Appalachia HIDTA has designated 18 law enforcement initiatives or program areas (eight in Kentucky, five in Tennessee, and five in West Virginia), including marijuana eradication task forces in Kentucky and West Virginia, a national forest marijuana investigative task force in Kentucky, and a public corruption initiative in Kentucky.
12. Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force officials report that for prosecutorial purposes ice methamphetamine is defined as methamphetamine that is more than 80 percent pure. Based on this definition, most of the locally produced methamphetamine available in their area is ice methamphetamine.
13. Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and criminal groups in the Appalachia HIDTA region are frequently composed of illegal immigrants from Mexico, Americans of Mexican descent, or a combination of both.
14. The total exceeds 230 because an organization may traffic in more than one drug.
15. According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2000 (the latest year for which such data are available), Caucasians account for 93 percent of the Appalachia HIDTA population, followed by African Americans (5%), Hispanics and Asians (2%), and other races (less than 1%). Further, the Hispanic population in the Appalachia HIDTA region increased 69 percent from 34,114 in 2000 to an estimated 57,578 in 2007.
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