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Drug Threat Overview

The trafficking and abuse of methamphetamine, primarily ice methamphetamine, pose the most significant drug threats in the Central Valley HIDTA region. Twenty-seven of the 28 state and local law enforcement agencies in the region that responded to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 20091 identify methamphetamine as the greatest drug threat in their jurisdictions. Twenty-five of the respondents also indicate that methamphetamine is the drug that most contributes to violent crime in their jurisdictions. Most of the ice methamphetamine available in the area is produced by Mexican DTOs in Mexico and in domestic laboratories within the HIDTA region. In fact, the majority of California's domestic methamphetamine production occurs within the Central Valley HIDTA. In 2008, 56 percent of the methamphetamine laboratory-related seizures in California (208 of 374) occurred within the HIDTA region. HIDTA officials in Merced and Stanislaus Counties report an increase in domestic production. Moreover, in 2008, HIDTA officials noted an increase in the incidence of Mexican DTOs and criminal groups reestablishing domestic production sites in the region. Because of the escalating violence in Mexico over the past year and Mexican Government restrictions on precursor chemical imports, HIDTA officials believe that Mexican DTOs will move more of their production operations to the United States, including the Central Valley HIDTA region.

Cannabis cultivation operations are extensive and are increasing in magnitude throughout the HIDTA region, making the Central Valley of California one of the most significant marijuana production areas in the nation. According to law enforcement officials, this situation has resulted from high levels of abuse, increased demand for high-potency marijuana, and exploitation of state medical marijuana laws by illegal cannabis cultivators and drug traffickers. The favorable climate in central California, which supports the region's agricultural industry, also sustains widespread outdoor cannabis cultivation operations conducted by Mexican DTOs and, to a lesser extent, Asian criminal groups. Indoor cannabis cultivation is increasing in the region, primarily because of increased large-scale indoor grow operations established in residential neighborhoods by Asian DTOs. Indoor cannabis cultivation has also increased because some Caucasian growers have moved indoors to avoid improved detection and eradication of outdoor grow sites and to attain higher profit margins through the production of high-potency indoor marijuana.

The availability and abuse of other illicit drugs also cause significant concern to law enforcement officials and treatment providers in the Central Valley HIDTA region. Mexican DTOs transport wholesale quantities of powder cocaine, black tar heroin and, to a lesser extent, brown powder heroin from Mexico into the HIDTA region. Crack cocaine is distributed primarily by African American street gang members in the urban areas of the region. MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy) is typically distributed in nightclubs by Asian criminal groups and street gangs that also may be attempting to market other stimulants and hallucinogens to abusers in the region. For example, in late 2008, law enforcement officers in Fresno arrested an Asian male for attempting to sell tablets containing BZP (N-benzylpiperazine) near a local high school.2 GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), ketamine, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), PCP (phencyclidine), psilocybin, and Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) are distributed and abused to varying degrees throughout the region. Other illicit drugs, such as khat, are also abused within certain East African ethnic communities.

Diverted controlled prescription drugs (CPDs) are a growing threat, according to law enforcement officials and treatment providers in the HIDTA region. CPDs are abused across all age groups and at high levels in the region. Distributors and abusers commonly divert CPDs through doctor-shopping, drug thefts, prescription forgeries, and Internet purchases. The ease with which drug traffickers and abusers obtain CPDs through the Internet is a growing concern for law enforcement officials and treatment providers in the HIDTA region. Benzodiazepines, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and synthetic opioids are the most frequently abused CPDs.

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Drug Trafficking Organizations

Mexican and, to a lesser extent, Asian DTOs are the primary drug traffickers in the HIDTA region and are the greatest concern to Central Valley law enforcement officials. Other criminal groups, street gangs, and independent dealers operate in the area; however, the drugs that these groups and dealers distribute are generally supplied by Mexican and Asian traffickers.

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 represent the most significant organizational drug threat to the Central Valley HIDTA region because they control most illicit drug production, transportation, and distribution in the region. Members of these organizations control methamphetamine and marijuana production operations throughout the HIDTA region. Additionally, Mexican DTOs regularly transport bulk quantities of ice methamphetamine, marijuana, powder cocaine, and heroin from Mexico into the area for subsequent regional- and national-level distribution. Mexican DTOs in the region use multigenerational family networks that typically consist of members who reside in California, Mexico, or various cities throughout the United States. The Hispanic migrant worker population in the HIDTA region employed by central California's agricultural industry provides communities in which Mexican DTOs can operate with some anonymity.

Asian DTOs and criminal groups, primarily ethnic Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, and Vietnamese, are significant producers and distributors of illicit drugs in the Central Valley HIDTA region. The drug trafficking threat they pose to the area is increasing but is not as extensive as that posed by Mexican DTOs. Asian drug traffickers are increasingly cultivating cannabis at indoor grow sites, typically located at residences in new communities within the HIDTA region. Asian DTOs typically restrict involvement in their drug trafficking operations to individuals of similar race/ethnicity and familial affiliation. Asian DTOs transport Canadian high-potency marijuana and MDMA primarily from Canada for distribution in the region. They are also the primary MDMA distributors in many areas of the region.

Hispanic, African American, Asian, and Caucasian street gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) are of particular concern to law enforcement officials in the Central Valley HIDTA region. These gangs are extremely violent as they establish or maintain control of their drug trafficking activities. Hispanic street gangs, affiliates of the Sureņos and Norteņos gangs, and independent gangs such as the Fresno Bulldogs (see text box) are involved in midlevel and retail-level distribution of methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. African American street gang members, primarily affiliates of Bloods and Crips, distribute crack cocaine and marijuana at the retail level in the HIDTA region. Asian street gangs are involved primarily in retail-level MDMA and marijuana distribution. Members of OMGs, most notably Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC), are active in midlevel and retail-level distribution of powder cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana.

Fresno Bulldogs

Fresno Bulldogs is a street gang that originated in Fresno, California, in the late 1960s. Bulldogs is the largest Hispanic gang operating in central California, with membership estimated at 5,000 to 6,000. Bulldogs is one of the few Hispanic gangs in California that claim neither Sureņos (Southern) nor Norteņos (Northern) affiliation. However, gang members associate with Nuestra Familia members, particularly when trafficking drugs. The street-level distribution of methamphetamine, marijuana, and heroin is a primary source of income for gang members. In addition, members are involved in other criminal activity, including assault, burglary, homicide, and robbery.

Source: National Drug Intelligence Center, National Gang Threat Assessment 2009.


1. 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.
2. BZP is a common name for the synthetic stimulant N-benzylpiperazine. BZP tablets, especially those that also contain the hallucinogen TFMPP (1-(3-trifluoromethylphenyl)piperazine), are often sold as MDMA or promoted as an alternative to MDMA.

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