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National Drug Intelligence Center
Nebraska Drug Threat Assessment
Methamphetamine is a principal drug threat to Nebraska, primarily because of the drug's ready availability and the harmful physical and environmental effects associated with its abuse and production. Law enforcement agencies throughout the state report that the level of methamphetamine availability in their jurisdictions is high. Many also reported the presence of methamphetamine laboratories in their areas, as well as an adverse environmental impact from the laboratories. Methamphetamine produced by Mexican criminal groups in Mexico, California, and southwestern states is the predominant type available in Nebraska. Methamphetamine produced in the state is also available, and seizures of small-scale methamphetamine laboratories have increased. Caucasian local independent producers using the Birch reduction method are the primary in-state methamphetamine producers. Mexican criminal groups transport methamphetamine from Mexico, California, and southwestern states into Nebraska in private and commercial vehicles. These criminal groups also are the primary wholesale distributors of methamphetamine in Nebraska. Mexican criminal groups, Caucasian local independent dealers, street gangs, and OMGs distribute retail quantities of methamphetamine from residences, parking lots, or business establishments. Violence associated with methamphetamine distribution and abuse is a concern within the state.
Law enforcement officials in Nebraska report that methamphetamine abuse is a significant problem throughout the state. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey 2002, all Nebraska respondents who reported methamphetamine abuse in their jurisdictions (18) indicated that abuse was at a high level.
The number of methamphetamine-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities more than doubled from 1997 through 2001. TEDS data indicate that methamphetamine-related treatment admissions in Nebraska increased from 567 in 1997 to 1,294 in 2001. In addition, there were more treatment admissions for abuse of methamphetamine than for abuse of any other illicit drug in 2000 and 2001. (See Table 1 in Overview section.)
Methamphetamine has been a factor in drug deaths in the Omaha metropolitan area. According to Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) mortality data, the number of methamphetamine-related deaths in the Omaha metropolitan area fluctuated from 1997 through 2001; seven deaths were reported in 1997, five in 1998, three in 1999, seven in 2000, and eight in 2001. (See text box.)
According to the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM), 11 percent of adult male arrestees in Omaha tested positive for methamphetamine in 2000. Over 20 percent of Caucasian, more than 8 percent of Hispanic, and nearly 2 percent of African American male arrestees tested positive for methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine is readily available throughout the state. Law enforcement officials throughout Nebraska report that methamphetamine availability is high. According to NDTS 2002, all of the 18 Nebraska law enforcement respondents who reported on methamphetamine availability in their jurisdictions indicated that availability was high. Methamphetamine produced in Mexico, California, and southwestern states is the predominant type available in Nebraska; however, the availability of locally produced methamphetamine is increasing. Crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as ice, also is available in the state. The South Sioux City Police Department occasionally seizes small quantities of crystal methamphetamine, and in September 2001 the Nebraska State Patrol seized 2 pounds of crystal methamphetamine on I-80.
The ready availability of methamphetamine in Nebraska also is reflected in seizure data. According to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Federal-wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS) data, federal law enforcement officials in Nebraska seized 33 kilograms of methamphetamine in 1998, 14 kilograms in 1999, 32 kilograms in 2000, and 48 kilograms in 2001. (See Table 3.) Law enforcement authorities that reported to Operation Pipeline seized over 5 kilograms of methamphetamine in 1999 and more than 23 kilograms in 2000. State and local seizures of methamphetamine also are significant. The Omaha Metro Task Force, composed of nine agencies (FBI, IRS, NSP, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Omaha Police Department, Sarpy County Sheriff's Department, La Vista Police Department, Papillion Police Department, and Bellvue Police Department), seized over 76 kilograms in 2000 and more than 38 kilograms in 2001. The Nebraska State Patrol seized 30 kilograms of methamphetamine in 2001.
The percentage of drug-related federal sentences that were methamphetamine-related in Nebraska in FY2001 was nearly five times the national percentage. According to USSC data in FY2001, 66 percent of drug-related federal sentences in Nebraska were methamphetamine-related--the second highest rate in the nation. (See Table 2 in Overview section.) The number of sentences for methamphetamine-related offenses in Nebraska increased dramatically from 51 in FY1997 to 185 in FY2001. Only four states--California, Texas, Iowa, and Missouri--had a higher number of methamphetamine-related sentences in FY2001.
Prices for methamphetamine in Nebraska vary by location and amount sold. In 2003 methamphetamine sold for $3,500 to $8,000 per pound throughout Nebraska. Ounce prices were as low as $300 in Grand Island and as high as $1,200 in Omaha. The Nebraska State Patrol in North Platte reported that methamphetamine sold for $65 to $85 per gram. Throughout Nebraska, prices for Mexico- and locally produced methamphetamine were approximately the same.
The purity of methamphetamine in Nebraska varies depending on its origin and level of distribution. For example, in 2002 the Omaha Police Department reported that locally produced methamphetamine had a higher retail purity level--75 to 90 percent--than methamphetamine produced in Mexico, California, and southwestern states. According to the Grand Island Police Department and the Tri-City Drug Task Force, the retail purity level of Mexican source methamphetamine decreased from an average of 55 percent in 1997 to 14 percent in 2000, 11 percent in 2001, and less than 10 percent in 2002. The reason for this significant decline in purity is not known.
The potential for violence resulting from methamphetamine abuse is a concern within the state. Individuals addicted to methamphetamine are unpredictable and often violent, endangering themselves and others. These users are most dangerous during the tweaking stage, the point at which the euphoric effects of methamphetamine diminish. Methamphetamine abusers often are paranoid and delusional and frequently arm themselves against perceived threats. According to ADAM data, almost 10 percent of adult men arrested in Omaha for violent offenses in 2000 tested positive for methamphetamine.
Violence associated with methamphetamine distribution also is a concern in Nebraska. Methamphetamine distributors sometimes commit violent crimes to protect their territory. Street gangs that distribute methamphetamine have reportedly committed aggravated assault, drive-by shooting, and homicide. Respondents to the NDIC National Gang Survey 2000 reported that the following gangs distribute methamphetamine and commit violent crimes in Nebraska: East Side Locos in Grand Island; 18th Street, Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, and Lomas 13 in Lincoln; and Sureņos 13 in Omaha.
Mexican criminal groups using the hydriodic acid/red phosphorus reduction method in high volume laboratories in Mexico, California, and southwestern states produce most of the methamphetamine available in Nebraska. (See text box.) Local independent producers, most of whom are Caucasians, also produce methamphetamine in Nebraska, but to a lesser extent. They use the Birch reduction method to produce gram and ounce quantities of methamphetamine for personal use and for limited distribution to friends and associates. In Cass County Hispanic local independent dealers with ties to street gangs in Omaha, particularly the Lomas street gang, also produce methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine laboratory seizures in Nebraska are increasing. According to the EPIC National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System, there were 41 methamphetamine laboratories seized in Nebraska in 2000 and 133 in 2001. Laboratory seizures include operational laboratories as well as chemicals/glassware/equipment and dumpsites. The Nebraska State Patrol seized 213 methamphetamine laboratories, dumpsites, or chemicals and glassware statewide in 2001 (some of these seizures may have been reported to EPIC). The Omaha Metro Task Force seized 21 methamphetamine laboratories in 2000 and 36 laboratories in 2001. In Plattsmouth--a city with 7,500 residents located south of Omaha in Cass County--police seized more than 50 laboratories or dumpsites in 2000, earning the city the nickname "Plattsmeth." Most methamphetamine laboratories are relatively small, rudimentary, and portable, making detection a challenge for law enforcement authorities. In Nebraska law enforcement authorities seize laboratories from apartments and homes, hotel rooms, vehicles, and abandoned barns and farmhouses.
Chemicals used in methamphetamine production are readily available in Nebraska. Anhydrous ammonia often is stolen from farms and farm supply outlets. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine can be extracted from diet pills and many over-the-counter cold medicines using coffee filters, coffeepots, tabletop grills, and microwave ovens. Iodine can be purchased at local feed stores, and lithium often is extracted from camera batteries. In Omaha law enforcement authorities have asked store clerks at convenience stores, gas stations, and grocery stores to limit the sale of common household items such as cold medicines containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, gasoline additives, rubbing alcohol, drain cleaner, distilled water, lye, and coffee filters in an effort to help curb the illegal use of such items by methamphetamine producers.
The Birch reduction method of methamphetamine production is common in Nebraska, as well as in most other agricultural states, because of the wide availability of anhydrous ammonia, which is legitimately used as a fertilizer. Methamphetamine abusers in Otoe County refer to locally produced methamphetamine as Annie because it is produced with anhydrous ammonia using the Birch reduction method. In an attempt to curb anhydrous ammonia diversion, the state legislature enacted a law in September 2001 that makes it illegal for a person to possess anhydrous ammonia with the intent to produce methamphetamine.
The iodine/red phosphorus method is used less frequently to produce methamphetamine in Nebraska. Red phosphorus laboratories have been seized in Cass, Nance, and Platte Counties and Columbus, Fremont, and South Sioux City.
Methamphetamine production creates serious safety and environmental concerns. The production process creates toxic and hazardous waste that endangers law enforcement personnel, emergency response teams, children (particularly those in the homes of methamphetamine producers), and the environment. The chemicals used in the production process are toxic, highly flammable, and yield poisonous vapors. Production of 1 pound of methamphetamine yields approximately 5 to 7 pounds of toxic waste. Methamphetamine laboratory operators often dump chemicals in areas accessible to the public. These chemicals contaminate soil, streams and rivers, and public sewer systems. Remediation of laboratory sites costs federal, state, and local governments millions of dollars every year. The average cost of cleaning one site is $5,000; however, costs can exceed $100,000 for larger sites.
Mexican criminal groups are the primary transporters of methamphetamine into Nebraska. These groups transport the drug from Mexico, California, and southwestern states in hidden compartments in private and commercial vehicles. U.S. Highways 77 and 81 frequently are used to transport the drug to the eastern half of Nebraska. Law enforcement authorities report that Mexican criminal groups transport methamphetamine from Mexico and California to Fremont. In addition, Mexican criminal groups in Michoacan and Juarez as well as Sinaloan Cowboys in Mexico and in Modesto and Los Angeles, California, transport methamphetamine to South Sioux City. Typically, Mexican criminal groups that supply methamphetamine to Lincoln transport the drug through Albuquerque, New Mexico, and cities in Colorado including Denver, Fort Collins, and Greeley, and then travel eastward along I-80. Members of Hispanic street gangs--18th Street, Florencia, Sureņos 13, and Lomas--transport methamphetamine obtained from associates in Southern California to the Omaha area for distribution.
Hispanic immigrants, primarily Mexican nationals who have relocated to Nebraska seeking employment in the meatpacking industry, are heavily recruited by Mexican criminal groups to transport methamphetamine. Cities in Nebraska where meatpacking operations are located such as Grand Island, Lexington, Lincoln, Omaha, and South Sioux City have become primary destinations for methamphetamine produced in Mexico, California, and southwestern states. In South Sioux City Mexican criminal groups also recruit Native Americans from the Omaha and Winnebago Reservations as couriers. Transporters and distributors affiliated with Mexican criminal groups frequently hide on reservation property to avoid detection by law enforcement.
Nebraska is a transit area for methamphetamine intended for distribution in other states. Law enforcement officials in Nebraska indicate that methamphetamine bound for Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan is transported through Nebraska on I-80. In September 2000 the Nebraska State Patrol searched a private vehicle heading east on I-80 and seized 19 pounds of methamphetamine hidden in the speaker compartment. The vehicle was en route from Los Angeles to Minneapolis.
Mexican criminal groups are the primary wholesale distributors of methamphetamine in the state. Mexican criminal groups provide wholesale quantities of methamphetamine to distributors--often Hispanic immigrants working in meatpacking plants--whom they recruit. These distributors blend easily with the large Hispanic population that has been drawn to the state because of employment opportunities in the meatpacking industry. Caucasian local independent dealers also distribute methamphetamine at the wholesale level in Nebraska, but to a lesser extent. Law enforcement officials in Beatrice and Sidney identified Caucasian local independent dealers as wholesale distributors of methamphetamine in those jurisdictions.
Law enforcement respondents to the NDTS 2002 in Omaha and Lincoln reported that Mexican criminal groups and local independent dealers distribute methamphetamine at the retail level in their areas. Also in Lincoln some Vietnamese and Laotian independent dealers distribute methamphetamine at the retail level, while in Omaha Hispanic gangs such as Sureņos 13, 18th Street, Florencia, and Lomas serve as retail distributors of the drug. Street gangs such as Must Be Criminals in Omaha and West Side Locos in South Sioux City--which are multiethnic gangs composed of Caucasian and Hispanic members--also distribute methamphetamine at the retail level. Caucasian local independent dealers distribute retail quantities of locally produced methamphetamine throughout the state. Members of the Hells Angels OMG distribute methamphetamine to close associates. Retail distribution of methamphetamine in Nebraska typically occurs in residences, parking lots, or business establishments such as bars, strip clubs, and taverns.
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