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Strategic Drug Threat Developments

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HIDTA Overview

The Appalachia HIDTA region consists of 65 counties in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia.3 In 2008 the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) designated three additional counties as part of the Appalachia HIDTA region and removed six counties.4 According to Appalachia HIDTA officials, this geographic change in coverage area was made to facilitate the HIDTA's efforts to combat the threats posed by polydrug trafficking and abuse, which became part of its expanded mission in 2008.5 (See Figure 1.)

High levels of outdoor cannabis cultivation typically occur in the Appalachia HIDTA region, usually aided by a favorable growing climate and the presence of well-organized DTOs and criminal groups. However, late frosts and severe drought conditions throughout the southeastern United States in 2007 caused a sharp decrease in the amount of cannabis cultivated and eradicated in the Appalachia HIDTA region that year.6 In 2008, growing conditions improved slightly, and the amount of cannabis eradicated increased substantially in the region. Cannabis growers also adapted to the erratic weather conditions encountered in 2007 by establishing grow sites closer to natural water sources. Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) data for 20077 (the latest year for which such data are available) indicate that 93 percent (6,135,560 of 6,599,381) of outdoor cannabis plants eradicated in the United States were eradicated in only seven states--California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and West Virginia (commonly referred to as the Marijuana Seven, or M7, states); the Appalachia HIDTA region includes portions of three of those states--Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

A relatively high poverty rate throughout much of the Appalachia HIDTA region contributes to an acceptance of cannabis cultivation as a source of income by many local residents.8 In some Appalachia HIDTA counties, a large portion of the population lives in poverty. Some residents in impoverished communities regard marijuana production as a necessary means of supplementing low incomes. For instance, the poverty rate in Knox County, Kentucky, was 31.1 percent in 2007 (the latest year for which such data are available), much higher than the estimated national poverty rate of 13.0 percent for that year. Moreover, eradication data show that Knox County had one of the highest levels of outdoor cannabis eradication in the state from 2006 through 2008. (See Table A1 in Appendix A.) In many of these communities, cannabis cultivation is a multigenerational trade; young family members are introduced to the trade by older members who have produced marijuana for many years.

The Appalachia HIDTA region has a highly accessible transportation system, including major roadways that link it to many domestic drug markets, such as Atlanta, Georgia; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and to drug markets in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas. Drug traffickers exploit the region's geographic location between these areas to transport illicit drugs into, through, and from the HIDTA region.


1. Not all prescription drugs are controlled prescription drugs (CPDs) under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). However, many prescription drugs are listed in Schedules I through V of the CSA because of their high potential for abuse or addiction. Schedule I through V prescription drugs are primarily narcotic pain relievers and central nervous system depressants and stimulants. A complete list of CPDs, by schedule, is available on the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Office of Diversion Control web site at
2. Schedule II drugs include several prescription drugs such as Duragesic (fentanyl), methadone, morphine, OxyContin (oxycodone), and Percocet (oxycodone in combination with acetaminophen). Schedule III drugs include several prescription drugs such as Vicodin (hydrocodone in combination with acetaminophen). Schedule IV drugs include several prescription drugs such as Ambien (zolpidem), Ativan (lorazepam), Darvon (propoxyphene), Valium (diazepam), and Xanax (alprazolam).
3. The Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) is composed of the following 65 counties: (Kentucky) Adair, Bell, Breathitt, Clay, Clinton, Cumberland, Floyd, Harlan, Jackson, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Marion, McCreary, Owsley, Perry, Pike, Pulaski, Rockcastle, Taylor, Warren, Wayne, and Whitley; (Tennessee) Bledsoe, Campbell, Claiborne, Clay, Cocke, Cumberland, Fentress, Franklin, Grainger, Greene, Grundy, Hamblen, Hamilton, Hawkins, Jackson, Jefferson, Knox, Macon, Marion, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Rhea, Scott, Sequatchie, Sevier, Unicoi, Washington, and White; (West Virginia) Boone, Cabell, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, McDowell, Mingo, and Wayne.
4. The newly designated Appalachia HIDTA counties in 2008 were Letcher County, Kentucky, and Hamilton and Washington Counties, Tennessee. The undesignated Appalachia HIDTA counties in 2008 were Monroe County, Kentucky; Hancock and Van Buren Counties, Tennessee; and Braxton, Gilmer, and Lewis Counties, West Virginia.
5. The Appalachia HIDTA was established in 1998 and was originally composed of the predominant cannabis cultivation and marijuana trafficking areas in the tristate area of Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
6. Appalachia HIDTA officials report that fluctuations in the number of cannabis plants eradicated each year are frequently the result of reductions or increases in available eradication resources and do not necessarily indicate a change in the amount of cannabis cultivated in the region.
7. Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) data are available only at the state level; thus, the number of cannabis plants eradicated and seized reflects the entire states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, not just the Appalachia HIDTA region.
8. The Appalachia HIDTA reports that along with the high rates of poverty in the region, it also contends with high rates of unemployment, adult illiteracy, fragmented families, teenage pregnancy, public corruption, and an established tradition of "moonshining." These conditions have resulted in an acceptance of illegal drug activities by some individuals in the region.

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