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Delaware—the second smallest state in the US with a land area of just 1,948 sq. miles, and the least populated state in America with only 935,000 people over three counties—has a reputation for being small but mighty. It's known as "The First State" because on December 7, 1787, it became the very first of the 13 original states to ratify the US Constitution. But, this mighty little state has a big problem: widespread drug and alcohol abuse.
The primary drug threats to Delaware currently are heroin and prescription opioids. In 2011, Delaware was one of the top ten states for drug-use in several categories, including: past month use of illicit drugs other than marijuana (among people 12 or older), past-year nonmedical pain reliever abuse (among those 12 or older), and illicit drug dependence (among people 12 or older and young adults 18-25.) The drug-induced death rate in Delaware is higher than the national average.
Much like the rest of the United States, prescription painkiller (opioid) addiction has blown through Delaware like a wildfire, laying waste to whole communities, and decimating families. In Delaware, 88% of the 401 reported drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018—a total of 355 fatalities (and a rate of 39.3!) Like the rest of the United States at large, the root of the opioid problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. These drugs may seem safe, especially when doctors prescribe them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency. These drugs are stealing our family members, our sons, our daughters, and our very future. In 2018, Delaware providers wrote 60.6 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons compared to the average U.S. rate of 51.4 prescriptions!
Unfortunately, prescription painkiller abuse can often send people down far darker paths. Opioids often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain on the street) and so predictably, the heroin problem in Delaware has exploded. It's the state's primary drug threat, as DEA and multiple law enforcement agencies continue to report annual increases in heroin trafficking, seizures, and abuse. Several factors are responsible, including the abundance of cheap, high-purity heroin, as well as the increasing number of prescription opioid addicts turning to heroin as a much cheaper substitute. A significant amount of the heroin in Delaware is supplied by Philadelphia-based sources of supply, as well as Baltimore.
The spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug abusers often then turn to incredibly powerful and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which sooner or later result in a body bag. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
When we look at threats to Delaware public health, cocaine is quickly gaining on the heels of heroine. Powdered cocaine is readily available to users there, and is primarily supplied by Mexican drug trafficking organizations operating in Philadelphia and New York City. (The most common cocaine transportation methods into the state are vehicles equipped with hidden compartments and parcel shipments.) Crack cocaine abuse is also widespread in Delaware, with the main demographic using being reported as African American males ages 20-40. Crack cocaine is primarily produced in "cook houses" throughout the state and sold on the street, mainly in Kent and Sussex counties.
When we take a big step back and look at all forms of substance abuse across The First State, the numbers certainly give cause for alarm, especially among the younger population. For such a little state, the problem looms large.
44% of Delaware high school students (grades 9-12) report they've used marijuana (also called grass, pot, or weed) 1 or more times over the course of their lifetime. (This is particularly concerning because we know that marijuana use can arrest brain development in young people and potentially lead to young people trying harder, more harmful substances.
3% of Delaware high school students (grades 9-12) report they've used cocaine in any form (for example, powder, crack, or freebase) 1 or more times over the course of their lifetime.
3% of Delaware youth (ages 12-17) report using pain relievers in any way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
The good news for those living in Delaware who may be struggling with drug or alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. We are now more connected than ever and all you have to do is reach out. Delaware is small but mighty, and is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, a larger community-based approach, or full-on detox services. Just as Delaware was the first to ratify the US constitution, all it takes is the courage to take that one, first, terrifying step-
Delaware State Facts
Delaware Population: 783,525
Law Enforcement Officers in Delaware: 1,878
Delaware Prison Population: 6,900
Delaware Probation Population: 19,995
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 9
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Delaware
Cocaine: 35.0 kgs.
Heroin: 4.6 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 0.0 kgs.
Marijuana: 11.3 kgs.
Ecstasy: 0 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 3 (DEA, state, and local)
Delaware Drug Situation: Heroin, powder cocaine, crack cocaine, and marijuana are the four most available, popular, and trafficked illegal drugs in Delaware. However, clandestinely manufactured drugs, such as methamphetamine, and club drugs, such as MDMA (ecstasy), are also readily available to users of various ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. While OxyContin appears to be less available, other diverted pharmaceutical drugs remain available to users in Delaware.
Delaware’s largest city, Wilmington, is located on the Interstate 95 corridor, the east coast’s most frequently traveled highway that runs from Boston, through New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, to Miami. Due to its location and proximity to Philadelphia and New York, Wilmington has become a lower-level source city that is accessible both to trafficking organizations looking to move operations from major cities as well as to distributors from within Delaware and from surrounding areas in southeastern Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Illegal drugs are primarily distributed by Hispanic and African-American groups that are operating in Delaware and selling drugs that are transported into the state from source cities such as Philadelphia and New York. While Philadelphia’s street corner distribution networks are generally considered the main sources of supply for drugs sold to users in Delaware, intelligence indicates that local distribution networks are also directly supplied by trafficking organizations based in New York.
Heroin trafficking and distribution are the DEA Philadelphia Division’s top enforcement priorities, especially as investigations reveal that trafficking organizations, in search of new customers, higher profits, and less law enforcement, are relocating from the inner city neighborhoods of Pennsylvania and New York into Delaware. This trend remains a significant concern to state and local law enforcement, community, and treatment officials.
Another concern to Delaware law enforcement officials is the availability of various drugs to teenagers and young adults during the summer months in Rehoboth Beach. Recent investigations revealed that the influx of visitors to this beach community during the summer results in an increased availability of methamphetamine, MDMA (ecstasy), and GHB to individuals who go to nightclubs or attend rave parties there.
Cocaine in Delaware: Cocaine, in powder and crack forms, remains increasingly available and popular in Delaware. Both forms are available in various quantities to users located both in the inner city neighborhoods of Wilmington as well as in smaller cities and towns across the state. Quantities of powder cocaine are also available to local distributors who convert or “cook” the powder cocaine into crack cocaine. Due to its wide availability and relative ease of use (smoking), the popularity and use of crack cocaine continues to increase in Delaware.
Philadelphia and New York City remain the primary source areas of cocaine distributed in Delaware. While some distributors continue to travel to Philadelphia to purchase cocaine and crack cocaine, distributors also travel to New York to purchase large quantities of powder cocaine for distribution to local users or to “cook” and sell as crack cocaine. However, as with heroin, more recent reports indicate that traffickers and distributors from source areas are moving into Wilmington to distribute large quantities of cocaine.
Heroin in Delaware: Heroin is available primarily in northern Delaware, as distributors relocate from source cities (Philadelphia and New York) to Wilmington in order to escape the attention of law enforcement, attract new customers, and sell to existing customers from surrounding areas, including southeastern Pennsylvania and Maryland. Although Philadelphia is the primary source for heroin distributors and users in Delaware, reports indicate that larger quantities of heroin were also available and distributed in Wilmington. The relocation of trafficking and distribution organizations over the last few years resulted in the increasing availability of heroin in locations once dominated by powder cocaine, crack cocaine, and other drugs – locations including Delaware.
The increasing availability of cheaper, higher purity heroin over the last few years has caused concern in Delaware over a growing heroin use problem that reaches all socioeconomic backgrounds. Heroin is popular among teens and young adults, who consume heroin either by itself or in combination with cocaine or alcohol, a combination that typically leads to overdose deaths. In Delaware, the perception of heroin remaining a problem only in the region’s major metropolitan areas is disappearing.
Methamphetamine in Delaware: Methamphetamine is generally available in limited quantities in Delaware, but according to recent investigations, readily available to those who visit the Rehoboth Beach area during the summer months. The majority of the methamphetamine used in Delaware is supplied by local traffickers who manufacture or produce it themselves as well as by major trafficking organizations operating in California and Mexico. Intelligence indicates that these organizations transport methamphetamine into Delaware using a variety of methods, including private vehicles, commercial bus luggage, and packages shipped via express mail and parcel services.
Though not nearly as popular as heroin, cocaine, or crack cocaine, methamphetamine is attractive because of its longer lasting high and because users can easily produce their own methamphetamine with readily available recipes, precursor chemicals or ingredients, and equipment. Laboratory operators use various means to obtain precursor chemicals, including diversion from legitimate sources and self-production. However, precursor chemicals include commonly used household products/chemicals, such as lye, and over the counter drugs, such as pseudoephedrine, most of which are readily available at retail stores.
Club Drugs in Delaware: MDMA (ecstasy) is primarily available at rave parties and nightclubs in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach (particularly during the summer), but remains available to and popular among teenagers and young adults on college campuses across the state. Gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), the GHB precursor gamma butyrolactone (GBL), and ketamine are also available and/or used in popular Delaware nightclubs.
Philadelphia and New York City are the primary source areas for the retail quantities of MDMA available in Delaware. Investigations also indicate that MDMA is smuggled by Israeli and Dutch nationals as well as by members of Russian and Israeli organized crime groups from the Netherlands, through Canada, the Caribbean, New York, and Pennsylvania. Wholesale quantities of MDMA tablets are also shipped and transported directly into Delaware via mail/parcel services or couriers who fly into major international airports, including nearby Philadelphia International Airport, with suitcases or wearing clothing that conceals tablets.
Marijuana in Delaware: Marijuana is readily available in varying quantities in Delaware, such that it is easily obtained and used by individuals from a variety of ethnic populations and socioeconomic sectors. Recreational use of marijuana is popular among high school and college age students, while adults remain the predominant users of marijuana, especially in large social gatherings, such as rock concerts. Reports indicate that marijuana is typically smoked in combination with crack cocaine, heroin, and PCP.
The primary source area of marijuana distributed in Delaware is the US southwest border region, including Texas, Arizona, and California; and Mexico. Various means of transport are typically employed by traffickers transporting large quantities of marijuana into the state, including concealing it among loads in tractor-trailers; private vehicles; passenger luggage on commercial aircraft, buses, and trains; the US Postal Service; and parcel shipping companies (e.g. UPS, Fedex). Smaller amounts of marijuana are “home-grown,” as recent reports of indoor and outdoor marijuana grow seizures indicate that smaller growing operations are active in Delaware.
Diverted Pharmaceutical Drugs in Delaware: A variety of diverted pharmaceutical drugs are available to users in Delaware. Oxycodone products remained among the most frequently diverted and used pharmaceutical drugs in the state. According to reports, OxyContin is more expensive and more difficult to obtain in Delaware and as a result, users are switching to heroin. Other oxycodone products, however, such as Percodan, Percocet, Tylox, and Roxicet remain popular in Delaware. Methadone is also popular and available in Delaware. Tablet forms of hydrocodone products, such as Vicodin, Lortab, and Lorcet, and cough syrups, such as Tussionex and Hycodan, remain popular in Delaware.
The most common methods of diverting pharmaceutical drugs are theft, fraud, direct wholesale purchases, physicians and other health care professionals prescribing controlled substances for people with no legitimate medical need, and prescription forgery. According to the Delaware Office of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, another form of diversion, “doctor shopping,” has become an increasingly serious problem, such that the number of related investigations increased dramatically in the last several years. Large-scale diversion from independent and chain retail pharmacies remains a problem in Delaware, while illegitimate internet pharmacies are examples of the relatively new phenomenon of employing the internet to facilitate and cover up criminal activity.
Financial/Money Laundering in Delaware: The money raised from drug sales is transported to source areas from Delaware using any or a combination of several common methods. These methods typically fall under one of two categories: physical transportation or electronic transfer. Methods of physical transportation include direct shipment of cash via parcel or mail services and transportation by vehicle employing a variety of concealment measures. Technology developed and advanced in the last several years made the electronic transfer of funds a much more attractive and much less risky method to pay sources of supply around the world. While wire remittance companies are regularly used to transfer money, the use of internet banking to transfer funds into domestic and international bank accounts has become increasingly popular. Money laundering methods include purchasing valuables, vehicles, real estate, and other property with drug proceeds; the creation and use of fictitious front companies and illegitimate businesses, including internet-based companies and businesses; and the “structuring” of electronic transfers over several days, even using several different financial institutions, to avoid transaction reporting.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been three MET deployments in the State of Delaware since the inception of the program: Wilmington (2) and Rehoboth Beach.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no RET deployments in the State of Delaware.