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National Drug Intelligence Center
Arizona Drug Threat Assessment
Cocaine is a significant drug threat to Arizona. Powdered cocaine and crack cocaine are widely available and frequently abused throughout the state; however, crack cocaine is more readily available in larger metropolitan areas such as Phoenix and Tucson. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the transportation of cocaine into Arizona. They generally smuggle cocaine from Mexico to Arizona through and between POEs along the U.S.-Mexico border. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups control wholesale powdered cocaine distribution. Hispanic street gangs and African American, Hispanic, and Caucasian independent dealers dominate retail powdered cocaine distribution in Arizona. African American and Hispanic street gangs and independent dealers control the retail distribution of crack cocaine.
Cocaine abuse is a concern to Arizona law enforcement agencies. However, there are several indications that cocaine abuse may be declining somewhat in Arizona. Of the 48 Arizona law enforcement respondents to the NDTS 2002, 14 reported high levels of powdered cocaine abuse in their jurisdictions, 13 reported medium levels of abuse, and 8 reported low abuse levels. Thirteen respondents did not rate the level of powdered cocaine abuse in their jurisdictions. In comparison, 14 of 48 law enforcement agencies reported that the levels of crack cocaine abuse were high in their jurisdictions, 8 reported medium levels of abuse, and 12 reported low levels of abuse. Fourteen agencies did not rate the level of crack cocaine abuse in their jurisdictions.
Cocaine-related admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities decreased in 2002. According to TEDS, the number of powdered cocaine-related treatment admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities in Arizona fluctuated between 257 in 1998 and 264 in 2001, then decreased to 200 in 2002. Treatment admissions for crack cocaine abuse more than doubled from 190 in 1998 to 457 in 2001, then decreased dramatically to 185 in 2002.
Cocaine-related emergency department mentions in Phoenix fluctuated between 1997 and 2002. According to DAWN data, cocaine-related ED mentions in the Phoenix metropolitan area increased from 1,337 in 1997 to 1,877 in 1999, then decreased to 1,752 in 2001 and 1,727 in 2002. In 2002 the rate of cocaine-related ED mentions per 100,000 population in the Phoenix metropolitan area (59) was lower than the rate nationwide (78).
The number of cocaine-related deaths in Arizona fluctuated in recent years, increasing from 98 in 1997 to 236 in 1999, then decreasing to 213 in 2000 and further to 175 in 2001, according to DAWN. Cocaine was a factor in more deaths from 1998 through 2001 than any other illicit drug.
Cocaine is the second most frequently detected illicit drug (after marijuana) in employment-related screenings in Arizona. According to the Arizona HIDTA, a private testing laboratory conducted 108,562 screenings in 1999, 155,559 in 2000, and 171,845 in 2001. Cocaine was present in 1,584 of the 8,338 positive results in 1999 (19%), 1,998 of the 12,258 positive results in 2000 (16.3%), and 1,926 of the 12,208 positive results in 2001 (15.8%).
Cocaine was the second most frequently detected drug (after marijuana) among adult male arrestees in Tucson and Phoenix in 2001. According to ADAM 2001 data, 35.5 percent of adult male arrestees who were screened for drug abuse in Tucson tested positive for cocaine use. In Phoenix 27.2 percent of adult male arrestees tested positive.
Cocaine abuse is prevalent among adolescents in Arizona. According to the ACJC 2002 State of Arizona Youth Survey, 8.0 percent of junior and senior high school students reported that they had used cocaine at least once in their lifetime. Of the students surveyed, 12.0 percent of Arizona twelfth grade students, 8.2 percent of tenth grade students, and 4.5 percent of eighth grade students reported using cocaine at least once in their lifetime.
Cocaine is available throughout Arizona. Powdered cocaine is generally available in most areas of the state. Twenty-nine of 48 Arizona law enforcement respondents to the NDTS 2002 reported that powdered cocaine was readily available in their jurisdictions. Crack cocaine is also available in the state, primarily in urban areas such as Phoenix and Tucson. Twenty-five of the 48 Arizona law enforcement respondents to the NDTS 2002 reported that crack cocaine was readily available in their areas.
Cocaine seizures in Arizona have fluctuated in recent years. According to FDSS data, federal law enforcement officials in Arizona seized 6,983 kilograms in 1998, 5,463 kilograms in 1999, 2,579 kilograms in 2000, 3,272 kilograms in 2001, and 2,393 kilograms in 2002. FDSS data indicate that Arizona ranked sixth in the country in terms of the amount of cocaine seized by law enforcement in 2002. In addition, EPIC, which reports drug seizures within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, also reported fluctuating cocaine seizures in the state. Seizures in Arizona decreased from 5,265 kilograms in 1999 to 2,252 in 2000, increased to 3,034 in 2001, and then decreased to 2,538 in 2002. (See Table 2.)
According to USSC data for FY2001, the percentage of federal drug sentences in Arizona that were cocaine-related (13.9%) was lower than the national percentage (42.5%). Powdered cocaine-related federal sentences in Arizona (105) were more common than crack cocaine-related federal sentences (18).
Cocaine prices are relatively stable in Arizona. In FY2002 cocaine prices throughout the state varied depending on the area and level of distribution. DEA reported that in the fourth quarter of FY2002, powdered cocaine sold for $14,500 to $17,500 per kilogram in Phoenix, $14,000 to $18,000 per kilogram in Tucson, and $10,000 to $15,000 per kilogram in Yuma. Powdered cocaine sold for $400 to $800 per ounce in Phoenix, $500 to $650 per ounce in Tucson, and $600 to $1,000 per ounce in Yuma. An eight-ball (one-eighth ounce) of powdered cocaine sold for $120 to $150 in Phoenix and $80 to $130 in Tucson. (Eight-ball prices were unavailable for Yuma.) Crack cocaine sold for $500 to $600 per ounce in Phoenix, $500 to $700 per ounce in Tucson, and $20 per rock in Phoenix, Tucson, and Yuma.
Violent criminal activity in Arizona has been associated with cocaine distribution, a large percentage of which results from competition among distributors for control of market areas. Arizona law enforcement officials throughout the state report that much of the cocaine-related violent crime in Arizona involves street gangs, particularly those involved in the distribution of cocaine.
Coca is not cultivated nor is cocaine produced in Arizona. Most of the cocaine smuggled into Arizona is produced in South America, primarily Colombia. Retail distributors, however, convert powdered cocaine into crack within the state.
Most of the crack cocaine available in Arizona is converted from powdered cocaine in Phoenix and Tucson, which serve as distribution centers for smaller cities, towns, and communities throughout Arizona. A wide range of distributors, including Mexican DTOs, Hispanic and African American street gangs, and Hispanic, African American, and Caucasian independent dealers, convert powdered cocaine into crack.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the transportation of cocaine into and through Arizona. These organizations smuggle cocaine into the state, primarily at or between Arizona POEs along the U.S.-Mexico border. These organizations then transport the drug to stash houses in or near Phoenix and Tucson where it is stored prior to being transported to drug markets within Arizona or in cities outside the state, such as Chicago, Denver, Detroit, and New York.
Cocaine transporters primarily smuggle cocaine overland through Arizona POEs using private and commercial vehicles. The drug typically is concealed in trunks, gas tanks, quarter panels, engines, tires, floors, and seats of private vehicles and in sleeper areas, cargo areas, and modified compartments of tractor-trailers. In 2002, 39 percent of cocaine seized within 150 miles of the Arizona portion of the U.S.-Mexico border was seized at the POEs.
Cocaine transporters also smuggle cocaine overland between the Arizona POEs using backpackers (the most common method), private vehicles, and couriers on horseback. Backpackers usually work at night in teams of three to eight and are paid $1,000 to $1,300 per trip to smuggle cocaine into the United States. One member of the team functions as the guide and is equipped with a gun and a cellular telephone. These teams enter the United States through remote canyons that provide cover for smuggling activities. Once in Arizona the backpackers stash the cocaine at predetermined sites. Usually, one individual remains with the contraband until transporters residing in the United States retrieve the drug. The transporters then move the drug by vehicle to stash locations, primarily in Phoenix or Tucson, or directly to drug markets within and outside Arizona. Mexican DTOs that smuggle cocaine between POEs by private vehicle or by couriers on horseback operate in a similar manner.
Seizure data indicate that cocaine smuggling between Arizona POEs is common. Law enforcement officials seized a larger percentage of cocaine from smugglers operating between POEs in Arizona than any other state along the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2002 cocaine seized between POEs accounted for 11 percent (279 kg) of total cocaine seizures (2,538 kg) in the Arizona border area. (See Table 3.) Along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, cocaine seized between POEs accounted for only 3 percent of seizures.
Cocaine transporters use other means such as tunnels, couriers aboard commercial aircraft and buses, pedestrians, and package delivery services to smuggle cocaine across the U.S.-Mexico border into Arizona. Some Mexican DTOs smuggle cocaine through tunnels that extend from Mexico to buildings in Arizona--particularly Nogales but also Naco and Douglas--where it is stored until it can be transported to stash houses in the state. In February 2001 USCS officials in Nogales seized 381 kilograms of cocaine in a house containing the entrance to a tunnel leading into Mexico. Mexican DTOs that employ couriers on commercial airlines and buses to smuggle cocaine into the state typically route the couriers to Phoenix and Tucson. In 2002 more than 10 pounds of cocaine were seized from passengers at the Phoenix and Tucson airports. Mexican traffickers use pedestrians to smuggle cocaine on their bodies and increasingly use package delivery services to transport the drug into the state.
Cocaine is transported into Arizona from other states, particularly California. According to law enforcement officials in Phoenix and Flagstaff, cocaine is transported into their jurisdictions from California, particularly Los Angeles. Operation Pipeline data indicate that Arizona law enforcement officials conducted 22 highway cocaine interdictions and seized more than 226 kilograms of cocaine in 2001. California was identified as the state of origin for six of the shipments, ranking second only to Arizona.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups are the primary wholesale distributors of powdered cocaine in Arizona. Caucasian criminal groups, Hispanic street gangs, and local independent dealers also distribute wholesale quantities of cocaine in the state, but to a lesser extent. Crack cocaine typically is not distributed in wholesale quantities in Arizona.
Hispanic street gangs and African American, Hispanic, and Caucasian independent dealers distribute powdered cocaine at the retail level in Arizona. African American and Hispanic street gangs and independent dealers are the primary retail distributors of crack cocaine in the state. The Phoenix Police Department reports that retail powdered and crack cocaine distribution in its jurisdiction is conducted by African American street gangs such as West Side City, Hispanic street gangs including Wetback Power 21st Street and Wetback Power Hispanic, and independent dealers. The Phoenix Police Department further reports that many retail cocaine distributors in Phoenix sell multiple drugs. The East Side Los Cuatro Milpas gang, a particularly violent Hispanic street gang with approximately 130 members, is involved in retail sales of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana in Phoenix. According to the Tucson Police Department, Hispanic street gangs such as Barrio Libre Brown Mexican Pride and South Park Family Bloods and Caucasian and Hispanic independent dealers distribute crack cocaine at the retail level in Tucson.
Most retail-level powdered cocaine distribution occurs through street sales and in social venues such as nightclubs. Retail quantities of powdered cocaine typically are packaged in folded papers called bindles, small vials, zip-top bags, or snap-lid plastic containers. Retail-level crack cocaine distribution typically occurs through street sales and in private residences, particularly in rental housing complexes. Crack cocaine generally is packaged in small plastic bags.
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