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National Drug Intelligence Center
Arizona Drug Threat Assessment
Heroin poses a considerable threat to Arizona. Mexican black tar heroin is the predominant type available in the state; however, Mexican brown powdered heroin is becoming increasingly available. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups control the transportation and wholesale distribution of Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin. Mexican criminal groups, Hispanic street gangs, prison gangs, and local independent dealers dominate retail heroin distribution in Arizona. African American street gangs and OMGs also distribute heroin at the retail level, albeit to a lesser extent.
Heroin abuse is a considerable threat to Arizona. Eight of the 48 Arizona law enforcement respondents to the NDTS 2002 reported high levels of heroin abuse in their jurisdictions, 13 reported medium levels of abuse, and 15 reported low levels of abuse. Twelve respondents did not rate the level of heroin abuse in their areas.
TEDS data indicate fluctuating heroin-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities from 1998 through 2002: 838 in 1998, 294 in 1999, 380 in 2000, 813 in 2001, and 263 admissions in 2002. However, these data reportedly do not accurately reflect the situation in Arizona due to problems in reporting. The Arizona Department of Health Services Division of Behavioral Health reports that heroin-related admissions have increased from 1998 through 2002, although data are unavailable.
The number of ED mentions for heroin abuse in the Phoenix metropolitan area fluctuated from 1997 through 2002. According to DAWN, there were 827 heroin-related ED mentions in 1997, 873 in 1998, 839 in 1999, 841 in 2000, 777 in 2001, and 672 in 2002. In 2002 the rate of heroin-related ED mentions per 100,000 population in the Phoenix metropolitan area (23) was lower than the rate nationwide (36).
The number of deaths in which heroin was a factor increased from 1997 through 2000, then decreased in 2001. According to DAWN mortality data, the number of heroin-related deaths increased from 106 in 1997 to 171 in 1998, 177 in 1999, and 181 in 2000. Heroin-related deaths then decreased to 140 in 2001. Phoenix ranked seventh in the number of heroin-related deaths among the 33 metropolitan areas reporting to DAWN in 2001.
Employment-related drug screenings reveal a 50 percent increase in positive results for heroin over the past 2 years 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. Heroin was present in 659 of the 8,338 positive results in 1999 (7.9%), 1,201 of the 12,258 positive results in 2000 (9.8%), and 1,465 of the 12,208 positive results in 2001 (12%).
A relatively small portion of adult male arrestees in Tucson and Phoenix tested positive for opiate use in 2001. According to ADAM program data for 2001, 6 percent of adult male arrestees who were screened for drug abuse in Tucson tested positive for opiate use, and 6 percent of adult male arrestees tested positive in Phoenix.
Among adolescents in Arizona the abuse of heroin is relatively low compared with other illicit drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana. According to the ACJC 2002 State of Arizona Youth Survey, 2.9 percent of junior and senior high school students surveyed reported that they had used heroin at least once in their lifetime. Of the students surveyed, 3.8 percent of Arizona twelfth grade students, 3.2 percent of tenth grade students, and 1.9 percent of eighth grade students reported using heroin at least once in their lifetime.
Heroin is available to varying extents throughout Arizona. Twenty-three of the 48 Arizona law enforcement respondents to the NDTS 2002 reported that heroin was readily available in their jurisdictions while 14 reported low availability. Eleven respondents did not rate the level of heroin availability in their jurisdictions. Mexican black tar heroin is the most prevalent type available in the state. Mexican brown powdered heroin is readily available in Phoenix and Tucson and is becoming increasingly available in other areas of the state. In addition, in some areas, particularly in the southern part of the state, Mexican brown powdered heroin is the predominant type available.
The amount of heroin seized in Arizona is relatively small in comparison with methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana. According to FDSS data, law enforcement officials in Arizona seized 66 kilograms of heroin in 1998, 17 kilograms in 1999, 60 kilograms in 2000, 7.9 kilograms in 2001, and 7.5 kilograms in 2002. Much of this heroin was seized within 150 miles of the Arizona portion of the U.S.-Mexico border. Further, EPIC reports that heroin seizures within 150 miles of the border totaled 12 kilograms in 1999, 59 kilograms in 2000, 6.3 kilograms in 2001, and 8.7 kilograms in 2002. The large amount of seized heroin reported for 2000 in both total seizures and seizures within 150 miles of the Arizona portion of the U.S.-Mexico border includes a 46-kilogram seizure that occurred in the fourth quarter of that year.
The percentage of federal drug sentences that were heroin-related in Arizona was lower than the national percentage in FY2001. According to USSC data, 1.7 percent of federal drug sentences in Arizona in FY2001 were heroin-related compared with 7.2 percent nationally. Moreover, the number of heroin-related federal sentences decreased from 24 in FY1997 to 15 in FY2001.
Heroin prices vary throughout the state depending on the area and level of distribution; prices in Phoenix, Tucson, and Yuma are lower than in rural areas, suggesting higher availability in those cities. According to DEA, in the fourth quarter of FY2002 prices for Mexican black tar heroin ranged from a low of $60 per gram in Tucson to a high of $220 per gram in Sierra Vista/Douglas. Prices for ounce quantities of Mexican black tar heroin ranged from $1,075 to $2,000, while kilogram quantities ranged from $25,000 to $50,000 within the state. (See Table 4.) Prices of Mexican brown powdered heroin are equivalent to those of Mexican black tar heroin.
Heroin-related violence occurs throughout Arizona, primarily in connection with heroin distribution. Mexican DTOs, criminal groups, street gangs, and independent dealers often engage in violent criminal activity to protect their heroin distribution operations. In March 2000 a man suspected of being a member of a Mexican heroin trafficking group was shot and killed by three men who kicked their way into his home. Phoenix Police Department officials identified the three suspects as members of a rival heroin trafficking group suspected of smuggling large quantities of black tar heroin into the Phoenix area from Mexico.
Heroin abuse generally is not associated with violent criminal activity in Arizona; however, heroin abusers periodically commit property crimes in an attempt to acquire money to purchase heroin. According to the DEA Phoenix Division, heroin is the least likely drug to be detected in a homicide victim or recovered from a homicide scene.
Opium is not cultivated nor is heroin produced in Arizona. Heroin is produced in four primary source regions: Mexico, South America, Southeast Asia, and Southwest Asia. According to Arizona law enforcement authorities, the heroin available in Arizona is produced in Mexico.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate the smuggling of Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin into Arizona. These DTOs and criminal groups typically smuggle Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin into Arizona through and between POEs along the Arizona portion of the U.S.-Mexico border. In addition, Mexican DTOs and criminal groups transport heroin into Arizona from other states, particularly California. For instance, law enforcement officials in Mohave and La Paz Counties report California as the primary source area for Mexican black tar heroin in their jurisdictions. Much of the heroin smuggled into Arizona is destined for markets outside the state.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups use a variety of methods to smuggle heroin into Arizona. They primarily smuggle Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin into the state using couriers who conceal the drug on their bodies and cross the border on foot or in private vehicles. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups also smuggle heroin into the state concealed in hidden compartments within commercial and private vehicles, concealed in luggage, and intermingled with legitimate cargo. Typical concealment areas in vehicles include bumpers, engine compartments, gas tanks, and spare tires. Traffickers also transport heroin into Arizona using couriers aboard commercial aircraft and buses as well as via package delivery services.
Mexican DTOs and criminal groups are the primary wholesale distributors of Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin throughout Arizona. Jamaican criminal groups, Hispanic street gangs, prison gangs such as the Mexican Mafia, and local independent dealers also distribute heroin at the wholesale level, but to a lesser extent. In June 2000 DEA and FBI reported the arrest of approximately 270 individuals involved in a Mexico-based black tar heroin distribution organization. The organization supplied 36 kilograms of heroin each month to distribution cells in 22 U.S. cities, including Phoenix and Yuma. Also in 2000 DEA Phoenix Division officials disrupted a Jamaican criminal group based in Arizona that used sophisticated drug cells to distribute heroin and marijuana throughout Arizona. The group also transported these drugs to distribution networks in the Midwest and on the East Coast.
Mexican criminal groups, Hispanic street gangs, prison gangs, and local independent dealers dominate retail heroin distribution in Arizona. African American street gangs and OMGs also distribute heroin at the retail level. In Phoenix Mexican criminal groups, African American street gangs such as West Side City, Hispanic street gangs such as Sinaloan Cowboys and Wetback Power 21st Street, and Hispanic local independent dealers distribute heroin at the retail level. In Tempe the Hispanic street gang La Victoria Locos is a primary retail distributor of heroin. In Tucson Hispanic local independent dealers control most retail distribution; the Devils Diciples OMG also distributes heroin at the retail level, but to a lesser extent.
Heroin packaging varies depending on the amount distributed. Wholesale quantities of heroin typically are wrapped in cellophane, masking tape, or black electrical tape. Retail quantities typically are packaged in either "bindles" or balloons. A bindle is a dosage unit of heroin wrapped in packaging paper, often cellophane, and tied at one end.
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