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‘Drug Threat Assessment 2008’

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – A report recently released by the National Drug Intelligence Center, titled “Indian Country Drug Threat Assessment 2008,” provides useful information in the fight against drug trafficking in Indian country.

The assessment was prepared at the request of the Law Enforcement Task Force of the Indian Affairs Executive Working Group of the White House Domestic Policy Council, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Office of Tribal Justice within the Department of Justice. As the culmination of more than two years of focused attention on illegal drugs on tribal land, it will be helpful to policymakers at the federal, state and tribal levels.

In February 2006, National Congress of American Indians President Joe Garcia called for concerted action to combat the increasing problem of methamphetamine use and drug trafficking in Native communities. He asked tribes to form reservation initiatives on drug enforcement and prevention; the White House to organize an initiative for interagency cooperation on drug enforcement and prevention in Indian country; and for a joint hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and the House Resources Committee to explore the needs for legislation and funding.

Currently, NCAI has a program focusing on methamphetamine abuse in Indian country.

Much of the testimony presented in a May 17, 2007, SCIA oversight hearing on law enforcement centered on illegal drugs on tribal lands.

“Organized crime, gangs and drug cartels have taken advantage of the limited law enforcement presence on tribal lands to produce and distribute the drug, contributing to a violent crime rate in some communities that is 10 to 20 times the national average,” BIA Director W. Patrick Ragsdale said during the hearing.

Mathew H. Mead, U.S. attorney for the District of Wyoming, testified: “During the past 10 years, Mexican drug-trafficking organizations have become the dominant manufacturing and distribution group in cities in the Midwest and the West, including Indian country. Sometimes these drug-trafficking organizations have enlisted allies from government organization and/or agencies.”

Rather than present new information, the assessment centralizes information collected from reservations in the lower 48 states by Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force regions: Pacific, Southwest, West Central, Great Lakes, New England, Florida/Caribbean, New York/New Jersey and the Southeast. Each region contains a map showing tribes in the area and statistics of drug usage patterns.

The assessment includes other useful information such as findings, a drug threat overview and organizations involved in the drug trade. Fast facts on reservations – including the number, population, area, per capita income, poverty level and unemployment – are offered as well. Information on how drugs are transported to the reservations, gang activity and what drug is most abused for that region is also presented in the report.

For example, in the West Central region (Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Utah, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri), marijuana is the most-abused drug. Drug distribution involves gangs from Native, black and Caucasian criminal groups. Illicit drugs are distributed at fairs, music concerts, Native Days, pow wows, rodeos, summer motorcycle rallies and Sun dances. Retail-level drug distribution occurs at casinos on reservations throughout the region.

The NDIC limited its investigation to tribes in the lower 48 states. Analysts collected information from 80 reservations that met five criteria:

*Reservations that share a border with either Canada or Mexico.

*Reservations within 100 to 200 miles of the border with Canada or Mexico.

*Reservations identified through federal investigations as being significantly affected by drugs and criminal activity.

*Reservations bordering major metropolitan areas that serve as drug transshipment areas.

*Reservations with considerable tourist industries or natural resources.

Intelligence gaps in the survey include drug overdose and mortality statistics for Indian country; the extent of the drug trafficking and abuse problem on reservations outside the contiguous 48 states; and the drug trafficking and abuse problem in off-reservation trust lands and in state-designated American Indian statistical areas and reservations.

According to the report, reservations will see increased drug availability and abuse in the near future. Contributing factors include poor socioeconomic conditions within Native communities and a lack of resources available for drug law enforcement, drug treatment programs and drug education campaigns. An increase in gang activity among youth is also projected.

The report emphasizes that a comprehensive national-level strategy is needed to address all of these concerns.

A complete copy of the assessment can be found at