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Less Cocaine on Street, But Still Greatest Threat, Says NDIC

WASHINGTON (Dec. 15) -- The National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), a component of the Department of Justice and the nation's principal center for strategic drug intelligence, has released the National Drug Threat Assessment 2009, detailing drug trafficking and abuse trends within the United States. The assessment identifies the primary drug threats to the nation, tracks drug availability throughout the country, and analyzes trafficking and distribution patterns of illicit drugs within the United States. It evaluates the threat posed by illegal drugs, comparing availability, production and cultivation, transportation, distribution, and demand.

The National Drug Threat Assessment 2009 details these emerging threats based on the most currently available law enforcement, intelligence, and public health reporting and data.

Key findings of the report are as follows:

-- Mexican DTOs represent the greatest organized crime threat to the United States.
The influence of Mexican DTOs over domestic drug trafficking is unrivaled. In fact, intelligence estimates indicate a vast majority of the cocaine available in U.S. drug markets is smuggled by Mexican DTOs across the U.S.-Mexico border. Mexican DTOs control drug distribution in most U.S. cities, and they are gaining strength in markets that they do not yet control.

-- Violent urban gangs control most retail-level drug distribution nationally, and some have relocated from inner cities to suburban and rural areas.
Moreover, gangs are increasing their involvement in wholesale-level drug distribution, aided by their connections with Mexican and Asian DTOs.

-- Cocaine is the leading drug threat to society.
Methamphetamine is the second leading drug threat, followed by marijuana, heroin, pharmaceutical drugs, and MDMA (3,4- ethylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy) respectively.

-- Cocaine availability levels in the United States are lower than levels in 2005 and 2006.
Domestic cocaine availability decreased in early 2007, resulting in sustained cocaine shortages in 38 large and midsize domestic drug markets by August 2007. Coca eradication, large cocaine seizures, increased pressure on DTOs in Mexico, intercartel violence, expanded cocaine markets in Europe, and U.S. border security all contributed to the cocaine shortages. By early 2008 cocaine availability had returned to 2005 and 2006 levels in some cities, but decreased availability continued in 14 U.S. drug markets, primarily in the Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast Regions.

-- Domestic methamphetamine production is projected to surpass 2007 levels.
Methamphetamine laboratory seizure data show that methamphetamine production in the United States decreased each year from 2003 through 2007. However, many users and distributors have been compelled to begin producing the drug domestically again because of decreased flow of methamphetamine from Mexico. Methamphetamine production in Mexico declined significantly in 2007, resulting in decreased methamphetamine availability in many U.S. drug markets.

-- The level of domestic outdoor cannabis cultivation is very high and possibly increasing.
Domestic outdoor cannabis eradication data show that the number of cannabis plants eradicated increased 120 percent (2,996,225 to 6,599,599 plants) from 2004 through 2007, particularly eradication of plots established by Mexican DTOs on public lands.

-- Marijuana potency has increased to the highest level ever recorded.
The increase in marijuana potency has been fueled by increased indoor cultivation of high-potency marijuana and improvements in outdoor cultivation techniques. Much of the increased cultivation of high-potency marijuana is attributed to Asian DTOs that have increased indoor operations in many states. Many of these Asian DTOs are linked in a nationwide network.

-- Southwest and Southeast Asian heroin availability and distribution are limited.
However, some Nigerian criminal groups distributing Southwest Asian heroin are attempting to increase heroin distribution in some drug markets where Southwest Asian heroin had not been available previously.

-- The level of prescription drug abuse is very high, and individuals are able to acquire these drugs from numerous sources.
Individuals usually acquire Schedule II prescription drugs (OxyContin and Percocet) through traditional diversion methods such as prescription fraud and doctor-shopping. However, schedule III (Vicodin) and IV (Xanax and Valium) prescription drugs are often acquired in large quantities through the Internet. Law enforcement reporting also indicates that prescription drug distribution by gangs has increased since 2004.

The National Drug Threat Assessment 2009 presents several predictive estimates regarding drug trafficking and abuse, including the following:

-- Sporadic cocaine shortages will most likely continue in several U.S. drug markets in 2009.
The sustained pressure against DTOs in Mexico as well as high cocaine seizure totals from shipments in transit toward the United States continued through mid-2008 and will most likely result in supply interruptions and wholesale shortages in some U.S. drug markets through early 2009.

-- Domestic methamphetamine production will most likely increase moderately in 2009.
The decreased flow of methamphetamine from Mexico, the relocation of some Mexican methamphetamine producers from Mexico to California, and the emergence of large-scale ephedrine and pseudoephedrine smurfing operations throughout the country have created conditions conducive to a moderate increase in domestic methamphetamine production.

-- Asian DTOs will very likely expand their domestic indoor cannabis cultivation operations beyond traditional operating areas in the Pacific Northwest and, to a lesser extent, New England.

-- Asian DTOs expanded their indoor cannabis cultivation operations in 2007 to new areas including Cleveland, Denver, Houston, and Los Angeles.
Expansion of indoor cannabis cultivation operations will most likely continue in 2009.

-- Southwest Asian heroin availability may increase in some U.S. cities that were not previously considered Southwest Asian heroin markets.
West African couriers have been arrested with significant amounts of heroin in U.S. cities after having departed from countries commonly used to transship Southwest Asian heroin, such as Nigeria. Some of the cities in which these couriers were apprehended are those where the availability of Southwest Asian heroin has been low or nonexistent, such as Raleigh, North Carolina.

-- Mexican DTOs will most likely continue to establish new markets for Mexican heroin in northeastern states.
Recent encroachments by Mexican heroin distributors into more northeastern drug markets most likely indicate a determination on the part of Mexican DTOs to expand Mexican heroin distribution in new market areas.

-- The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 was enacted in October 2008 and will most likely reduce the number of rogue Internet pharmacies selling controlled prescription drugs.
The federal law amends the Controlled Substances Act and prohibits the delivery, distribution, or dispensing of controlled prescription drugs over the Internet without a prescription written by a doctor who has conducted at least one in-person examination of the patient.

-- Treatment admissions for MDMA addiction may increase. Treatment admissions for MDMA addiction may increase as the distribution of MDMA tablets adulterated with highly addictive substances, such as methamphetamine, increases.

In preparing the 2009 assessment, NDIC partnered with federal, state, and local agencies in the collection of data and information. NDIC conducted thousands of field interviews with law enforcement and public health officials regarding all aspects of illicit drug activities in their jurisdictions. Another significant source of data and information is the National Drug Threat Survey. NDIC annually surveys a national, statistically representative sample of more than 3,450 state and local law enforcement agencies. Data from the survey are used to produce national-, regional-, and state-level statistical estimates, which NDIC intelligence analysts employ when preparing the national assessment.

In addition to the National Drug Threat Assessment, NDIC annually produces nine regional drug threat assessments in cooperation with the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force of the Department of Justice and 29 High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area drug market analyses in cooperation with the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Combined with the National Drug Threat Assessment, the regional assessments and market area analyses provide a comprehensive portrait of illicit drug activity within the United States.

To see a PDF of the report, click here


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