Chairman Mica, Members
of the Subcommittee: I appreciate the opportunity to appear today to discuss
the topic of: Our Drug Crisis: Where Do We Go From Here? My comments
today will be limited to an objective assessment of the heroin problem
which is currently facing the United States. As many of you are aware,
heroin trafficking and abuse is not a new issue to law enforcement.
The heroin epidemic
originated in the U.S. during the 1950's and 1960's, when ninety-five
percent of the heroin being smuggled into the country was entering through
New York City. Most of this heroin was distributed throughout the U.S.
under the control of traditional American organized crime. In the 1970's,
criminal elements within American organized crime began to relinquish
their control and influence over the heroin market to criminal groups
from Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, and the Middle East who began to
emerge as the preeminent force in heroin production, trafficking and distribution.
Recently, the heroin
market has experienced a similar shift, from the domination of Southeast
Asian heroin just a few years ago, to the increased penetration in the
wholesale and retail markets by South American criminal groups, trafficking
in South American heroin, especially in the larger East Coast cities.
In recent years,
law enforcement investigations and various indicator data, began to reflect
that the nation's largest heroin markets, located in New York, Boston,
Newark, Baltimore, and Philadelphia were dominated by South American heroin.
During the same time frame, the purity of this South American-produced
heroin was reaching record highs. A combination of higher heroin purity,
low prices, and ready availability has taken its toll on cities such as
Orlando, Baltimore, and Plano, Texas. Today's heroin mortality figures
are the highest ever recorded. Close to 4,000 people have died of heroin
overdoses in each of the last four years. These mortality figures exceed
even those which occurred during the 1970's, when heroin overdose deaths
reached a high point of just over 2,000. As a result of these disturbing
trends, law enforcement and our demand reduction counterparts across the
U.S. have aggressively addressed this growing threat.
The dramatic increase
in street-level heroin purity has contributed to greater trauma and death.
The situation we face today, one of high rates of trauma in our emergency
rooms and high mortality rates among heroin users, was brought about by
strategic management decisions made by both Colombia and Mexico-based
trafficking organizations to increase their respective shares of the lucrative
U.S. heroin market.
In the early 1990's,
independent traffickers from Colombia began to supply retail level outlets
for heroin distribution, primarily in the Northeastern U.S., with high
quality, high purity heroin. Colombian traffickers had spent several years
cultivating opium and refining their heroin production capabilities, positioning
themselves to take advantage of the gradually diminishing crack cocaine
market. By supplying heroin dealers with high purity heroin to be given
away as free samples, and by establishing "brand name" heroin, to garner
customer loyalty, the Colombian traffickers quickly gained a foothold
in the burgeoning heroin markets along the East Coast. These traffickers
in South American heroin have virtually squeezed the ethnic Chinese criminal
networks out of the market in the Northeast by offering not only high
purity heroin at competitive prices, but frequently providing easier terms
for purchase. Colombia trafficking organizations often provide heroin
on consignment or offer credit on transactions. Few buyers of South American
heroin dare renege on any agreement with Colombian traffickers due to
their fierce reputation for strict enforcement on drug transactions. Colombian
traffickers also began using Puerto Rico as a major transit area for distribution
of their product to places such as Florida and Louisiana.
Of the estimated
six metric tons of heroin produced in Colombia during 1997, virtually
all was believed to be destined for the U.S. market. The heroin trade
in Colombia remains in the hands of independent trafficking groups, with
preliminary information indicating the involvement of certain major traffickers
in the North Valle area. Heroin appears to be produced primarily in the
Pereira region of Colombia. South American heroin is also emerging in
such geographically diverse cities as Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Miami,
Ft. Lauderdale, New Orleans, Detroit, Chicago, and Orlando.
The use of couriers
traveling on commercial airlines is the primary means by which Colombia-based
groups smuggle their heroin to U.S. markets. In the Continental U.S.,
the principal cities of importation are Miami and New York. The heroin
is either smuggled directly into Miami or New York, or via transit points
such as Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Argentina, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic,
Panama, Venezuela, and Mexico. Couriers employ a variety of means to smuggle
heroin into the U.S., which includes the use of false-sided suitcases,
body packs, and internal body carries. Once the heroin enters the United
States, it is transported through a variety of methods such as domestic
flights, private vehicles, trains, and buses, to retail markets. The criminal
networks operating in Colombia frequently rely upon criminal organizations
from the Dominican Republic who have distribution systems already in place
in Puerto Rico and on Hispaniola.
With the influx of
high purity heroin from South America, Orlando and other U.S. cities,
began to experience a dramatic shift in abuser populations. As recently
as the early 1990's, the heroin problem in Orlando, as with much of the
rest of the U.S., was typically associated with a limited addict population.
High purity heroin has enabled users to administer the drug by "snorting"
or smoking rather than by injection. This has drawn many new users, in
particular teens, into the abuse of heroin. The glamorization of the use
of heroin by the media has also contributed to the rise in the abuse of
heroin, which has fueled the mistaken belief that heroin administered
by snorting or smoking is not addictive, nor as deadly as intravenous
Data from the Drug
Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) indicate a steady rise in the heroin addict
population and related emergency room episodes beginning in 1990. These
levels peaked in 1995 at 72,229, before falling in 1996 to 70,463. Heroin-related
deaths more than doubled from 1,980 in 1990 to 3,980 in 1996.
groups have successfully exploited the existing and highly efficient retail
drug distribution networks predominantly controlled by ethnic Dominican
criminals operating in the Northeast. The Drug Enforcement Administration's
(DEA) investigative reporting and indicator programs have tracked this
increasing dominance of South American heroin since 1993. According to
our Domestic Monitoring Program (DMP), the national average purity of
all heroin in the U.S. is approximately 38.5 percent. South American heroin
registers seventy to eighty percent pure in key East Coast heroin markets.
Reportedly, levels in Orlando have reached as high as 92 percent at the
This high purity
South American heroin, low prices, and ready availability in East Coast
drug markets has had an adverse affect on may East Coast communities such
as Baltimore and Orlando. Novice and long-term heroin users alike, began
dying at alarming rates. In Orlando, in 1996, for example, 37 people,
many of them surprisingly young, died from heroin overdoes related to
high purity. In 1996, Baltimore led the nation's emergency room mentions.
An article in The
Orlando Sentinel, dated January 17, 1999, reports that heroin overdoses
were responsible for the deaths of twice as many people in 1998 as in
1997, with the final toll likely breaking fifty once final toxicology
reporting statistics are released from area Medical Examiners Offices.
In response to the increased availability of heroin, the high rate of
heroin-related overdose deaths in the Orlando area, the Orlando DEA, and
our state and local counterparts have increased our efforts to target,
identify and arrest local heroin distributors.
While law enforcement
efforts have always faced many challenges in building heroin investigations,
today's heroin trade is in many ways, far more complicated that it has
been in the past. The key to our success in fighting the heroin problem
is to target the command and control of these criminal organizations through
cooperation among Federal, state, local, and international law enforcement.
We must also continue our efforts in the partnership we share between
law enforcement and the demand reduction community to educate Americans
about the dangers of heroin.
As a result, several
initiatives have been undertaken by the DEA that are noteworthy. In February,
1997, the DEA hosted a National Heroin Conference in Washington, D.C.
Attendees at this conference included 300 participants from throughout
the nation and around the globe, who gathered to address the rising heroin
abuse and trafficking trends. Part of this conference was dedicated to
examining trafficker strategies for heroin production and to determine
why the current climate in our country had made heroin so appealing to
this whole new group of heroin abusers. Additionally, the DEA also participated
in regionally -based conferences, such as the Central Florida Heroin Trafficking
and Abuse Awareness Conference held in Orlando, Florida, during August,
1997. This conference brought together experts from U.S. law enforcement,
international law enforcement, as well as experts in the area of demand
reduction and prevention. The purpose of this conference was to discuss
the major threat posed by South American heroin and develop solutions
to the heroin problem.
In addition to the
collective efforts of the law enforcement community to identify and address
the heroin epidemic, Congress also recognized this emerging threat and
responded with additional resources. Beginning with the 1998 budget process
the DEA has been allotted an additional 268 positions, which includes
119 Special Agent positions, all of which are dedicated to specifically
addressing the developing heroin situation.
Cooperative Efforts to Attack the Heroin Epidemic Facing the Orlando Area
Since 1996, the Orlando
DEA District Office has tripled the number of heroin investigations. A
majority of these investigations involve the importation and distribution
of South American heroin. Nineteen individuals were arrested by DEA's
Orlando office in 1996. During Fiscal Year 1998, sixty-nine individuals
were arrested, demonstrating the severity of the problem.
In 1998, the Central
Florida area was designated as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area
by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In an effort to address
the situation in Orlando, a Heroin initiative was also approved. Under
the guidance of the Orlando DEA, a Heroin Task Force Group was initiated
which is comprised of DEA Special Agents and state and local officers
from nine other law enforcement agencies. This group began operations
in July 1998. The Heroin Task Force Group's sole mission is to address
the growing heroin threat in the six county Orlando area. One of the Task
Force's first investigative efforts, which concluded in November, 1998,
culminated in the arrest of 14 individuals who were charged Federally,
and the seizure of approximately three and one-half pounds of high purity
South American heroin. This criminal organization had been responsible
for the distribution of over ten pounds of heroin over a three month period.
This investigation is continuing into the groups criminal activities.
Other Task Force investigations have led to the arrests of 58 individuals
on Federal and state charges of trafficking in heroin.
The Heroin Task Force
also works cooperatively with local drug abuse investigators and homicide
detectives to investigate and bring charges against groups or individuals
who provide heroin to a person which causes death or serious injury. Since
the inception of the Task Force operations late last summer, 11 individuals
have been arrested in the Orlando area and have been charged with violations
stemming from overdose death or injury.
to the heroin problem continues in other ongoing initiatives. In response
to the situation in Orlando, the Orlando Resident office was upgraded
to a District office to include five additional Special Agent positions
and one Intelligence Analyst. The Orlando DEA office also participates
with twenty other DEA offices in cities across the nation experiencing
significant heroin problems, in the Domestic Monitor Program. This program
provides Federal, state and local law enforcement counterparts with information
regarding the nature of the domestic heroin problem. Through analysis
of samples of heroin obtained in cities across the U.S., information gleaned
regarding price and purity, as well as changes and developments in trafficking
patterns, marketing practices, and heroin availability, is readily accessible
to law enforcement.
which control the drug production, marketing and distribution in the United
States know no national boundaries and utilize the latest technologies
and delivery systems available to enhance their illicit activities. In
the early 1990's, Colombia-based traffickers were drawing reportedly on
the expertise of both Southwest Asian and Southeast Asian heroin chemists
to assist them in the production of the high-purity heroin now flooding
the East Coast. Today, Mexico-based trafficking organizations are seeking
the expertise of Colombian-based chemists to increase their heroin marketability
for expansion into other markets in the United States. It is critical
that intelligence gathering and the resulting investigations into these
monolithic trafficking organizations continue to be coordinated and developed
to assist us in meeting the challenge of this ever-increasing threat.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to address the drug crisis. I will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.