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Drug Threat Overview

Cocaine distribution and abuse and methamphetamine production and abuse are the primary drug threats to the Atlanta HIDTA region. Cocaine is frequently abused in the region and is the illicit drug most often mentioned as the primary, secondary, or tertiary substance problem in treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities in Atlanta HIDTA counties in Georgia. Increased methamphetamine production poses increased environmental and health risks to the region. According to the NDIC National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2010b, 27 of 61 federal, state, and local law enforcement respondents in the Atlanta HIDTA region identify cocaine as the drug that poses the greatest threat to their jurisdictions and 22 respondents identify methamphetamine.

Cocaine availability has stabilized at the wholesale level in the Atlanta HIDTA region having recovered from the shortages reported in 2007. Atlanta HIDTA initiatives seized more than twice as much cocaine in 2009 (1,756 kg) as in 2008 (817 kg), suggesting increased availability of the drug. (See Table 1.) Even so, cocaine still remains less available than it was in 2006 and, during the first quarter of 2010, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Atlanta Division reported that the availability of cocaine remains restricted. Wholesale cocaine prices have decreased slightly as cocaine availability stabilized. For example, wholesale-level cocaine prices in Atlanta decreased slightly from $28,500 to $34,000 per kilogram at year end 2008 to $24,000 to $33,000 per kilogram in early 2010. At the high end of the price range, retail-level cocaine prices remained stable throughout the region at $100 per gram during the same period. In addition, Mexican cocaine traffickers in Gwinnett County, Georgia, are now fronting ounce quantities of cocaine to buyers, a further indication that traffickers have sufficient quantities of the drug on hand.

Table 1. Atlanta HIDTA Drug Seizures, by Initiative, in Kilograms, 2009

HIDTA Initiative Powder Cocaine Crack Cocaine Ice
Powder Metham-
Marijuana Hydroponic Marijuana Heroin OxyContin in dosage units MDMA
in dosage units
DeKalb 40.40 0.37 37.06 0.00 1,966.79 290.26 0.53 155.00 75,971.00
Metro (Groups 1-3, Financial, Transportation) 849.64 0.29 263.53 12.40 4,508.13 1,412.35 4.94 0.00 1,002.00
North Carolina Triangle 94.29 0.00 3.13 0.00 837.45 0.10 1.31 10,174.00 79.00
Domestic Highway Drug Enforcement (DHDE) 771.56 0.00 47.31 0.00 1,854.12 0.00 3.00 0.00 0.00
Total 1,755.89 0.66 351.03 12.40 9,166.49 1,702.71 9.78 10,329.00 77,052.00

Source: Atlanta High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

The increasing availability of Mexican ice methamphetamine coupled with increasing local methamphetamine production pose significant drug threats to the Atlanta HIDTA region. The amount of methamphetamine seized by Atlanta HIDTA initiatives increased 517 percent from 2008 (57 kg) to 2009 (351 kg). Almost half of that total was seized in May 2009, after HIDTA Task Force Group 1 discovered more than 159 kilograms of ice methamphetamine concealed in the walls of two residences in Duluth, Georgia. Moreover, the DEA reports that 5 of the 10 largest methamphetamine seizures in the country in 2009 occurred in the Atlanta HIDTA region. Increased production of methamphetamine in Mexico is the likely cause for increased Mexican ice methamphetamine availability in the Atlanta area. The Mexican government reported a dramatic increase in methamphetamine laboratory seizures from 2008 (51) through November 2009 (215) and, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the amount of methamphetamine seized along the Southwest Border in 2009 was the highest annual seizure total since 2005. Moreover, the number of methamphetamine laboratories seized in the Atlanta HIDTA region increased almost 63 percent from 2008 through 2009, specifically in Atlanta HIDTA counties in North Carolina. (See Table A1 in Appendix A.)

Marijuana is widely available and abused in the Atlanta HIDTA region. Most of the marijuana available in the region is commercial-grade Mexican marijuana. Marijuana produced locally at indoor and outdoor grow sites is available, and high-potency marijuana, principally from northern California and Canada, is increasingly available.

The diversion and abuse of CPDs pose a considerable and growing threat to the Atlanta HIDTA region. CPDs are readily available, abused at high levels, and are associated with a high number of overdose deaths in the region. NDTS 2010 data show that 39 of the 62 law enforcement agency respondents in the region report that CPDs are available at high levels in their jurisdictions. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) reports that 85 percent of drug overdose deaths in Georgia in 2008 involved CPDs or a combination of CPDs and illicit drugs. The threat from CPDs is intensified by the growing number of pain management clinics in the region that supply CPDs, particularly opioid pain relievers, to abusers in the region and surrounding states such as Kentucky and Tennessee.

Heroin remains a low threat to the Atlanta HIDTA. While heroin availability is low, the availability and abuse of Mexican brown powder heroin and Mexican black tar heroin, supplied by Mexican traffickers, have increased over the past year in the region, particularly in Atlanta HIDTA counties in North Carolina. According to NDTS data, 46 of 62 law enforcement respondents report that heroin is available at moderate to low levels in their jurisdictions. Atlanta Police Department officers report that increased amounts of Mexican brown powder heroin and white heroin of unknown origin were available in the city in 2009. Officers further reported that heroin distribution expanded to more locations in the city during the same period. Young Caucasians from suburban counties are increasingly traveling to Atlanta to purchase heroin. These individuals typically travel into the city every other day, purchase one gram of heroin for about $160, then return to their suburban areas, where they abuse some of the drug and sell the remaining portion.

Other drugs such as GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), khat, and MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy), pose low threats to the Atlanta HIDTA region. GHB is available at low levels throughout the region. Khat is transported via package delivery services into the region, where it is distributed and abused among African nationals living there. MDMA is moderately available in the region and is typically transported from Canada by Asian and Caucasian traffickers. Some distributors sell various chemical compounds, including BZP (N-benzylpiperazine) and TFMPP (1-(3-trifluoromethylphenyl)piperazine) as MDMA, increasing risks to abusers who may not know what compound they are ingesting.


b. NDTS data for 2010 cited in this report are as of March 3, 2010. NDTS data cited are raw, unweighted responses from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies solicited through either the NDIC or the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) HIDTA program. Data cited may include responses from agencies that are part of the NDTS 2010 national sample and/or agencies that are part of HIDTA solicitation lists.

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