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Although Pennsylvania is officially nicknamed "The Keystone State" because of its geographic location among the original thirteen colonies, it's more commonly referred to as "The Quaker State" in reference to the religion of William Penn and the Quakers who settled in the state. Pennsylvania is probably best known for its role as a major steel manufacturing hub, and for its historical significance--it was in Pennsylvania that the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address were written. But sadly, in modern times Pennsylvania is becoming known for something a great deal less glamourous-a rising trend of drug and alcohol addiction.
Pennsylvania boasts a relatively comfortable average annual income of $81,549, and thus one might be tempted to think that it had been spared the wave of drug addiction affecting poorer states, but nothing could be further from the truth. Roughly 7.99% of Pennsylvania residents reported past month use of illicit drugs. And, in 2009, the rate of drug-induced deaths in Pennsylvania was actually higher than the national average. Despite the state being fairly well-off in terms of resources, substance abuse in Pennsylvania gives major cause for concern.
When we look at the relationship between addiction and economics, we quickly realize that it's complicated. Drug and alcohol abuse affects the entire country, and no state in the US has been spared, including Pennsylvania. In 2016 the United States had over 60,000 overdoses, (a rate of 175 people dying per day,) and when we examine the numbers, we see that overdoses kill more people annually than suicides, homicides, car accidents or guns. And, although poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, correlation is not causation. This doesn't necessarily mean that people that are more well-off economically are less likely to become addicted. In fact in some cases, wealthy people can be thrown into poverty as a direct result of addiction. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. And, if someone has been fired from an old job, it can become a great deal harder to get a new one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, prescription painkiller (opioid) addiction has blown across Pennsylvania like an unstoppable blizzard, wreaking havoc on communities and burying families. In Pennsylvania, 65% of drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018—a total of 2,866 fatalities (and a rate of 23.8.) Opioid addiction is particularly menacing because, due to the highly addictive nature of the drugs, it can sneak up on even the most careful of people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Just as in the rest of the country, the root of the opioid problem in Pennsylvania stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive pills when, in many cases, lesser drugs like Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. Opioids may seem safe because a doctor prescribes them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a path to full-on dependency. In 2018, Pennsylvania providers wrote 49.9 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people!
Sadly many Pennsylvania residents have discovered that abusing prescription painkillers can lead to using even more dangerous substances. Federal and state regulations now try to control and limit the prescribing of opioids, (a valiant effort) but it has had the unintended effect of causing the use of street drugs like heroin (which gives a similar high and is even cheaper to obtain on the street) to skyrocket. In 2010, heroin was the most commonly cited drug among primary drug treatment admissions in Pennsylvania, making up almost one-third of all cases.
And, the long spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug addicts often then turn to incredibly dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, (which is far stronger than heroin) and the result is usually a body bag. Initially, most users don't intentionally seek out fentanyl, but once a person has been exposed to a higher toxicity of a drug, the brain chemistry is altered further, and users will seek out the most potent form. At the height of addiction, users are unable to calculate the risk and are willing to go to any length to obtain the high. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
A recent study took a look at substance abuse among Pennsylvania youth and the numbers give cause for concern.
33% of high school students report they've ever used marijuana (also called grass, pot, or weed) 1 or more times (lifetime.)
3% of high school students report they've used any form of cocaine (for example, powder, crack, or freebase) 1 or more times (lifetime.)
3% of Pennsylvania youth (ages 12-17) report using pain relievers in any way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
Although the situation looks bleak by the numbers, the good news for Pennsylvania residents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. We are more connected now than we have ever been, and The Keystone State has an abundance of resources to fit every need, whether you just want counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or are seeking full-on detox services. The important part is acknowledging the forces holding you back so you can begin the journey towards breaking free of them. This is the first step toward the rest of your life.
Pennsylvania State Facts
Pennsylvania Population: 12,280,129
Law Enforcement Officers in Pennsylvania: 29,557
Pennsylvania Prison Population: 71,000
Pennsylvania Probation Population: 125,928
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 23
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Pennsylvania
Cocaine: 173.8 kgs.
Heroin: 14.3 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 4.1 kgs.
Marijuana: 1,178.4 kgs.
Ecstasy: 20,373 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 63 (DEA, state, and local)
Pennsylvania Drug Situation: Heroin, powder cocaine, crack cocaine, and marijuana are the four most available, popular, and trafficked illegal drugs in Pennsylvania. 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. PCP and LSD are available primarily to users in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas and although OxyContin availability appears to be decreasing, other diverted pharmaceutical drugs remain available to users throughout Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s largest city, Philadelphia, sits on the Interstate 95 corridor, the east coast’s most frequently traveled highway that runs from Boston, through New York City and Washington, DC, to Miami. Philadelphia’s location and proximity to New York makes it not only a consumer market, but also a source city for distributors operating in the rest of Pennsylvania and in surrounding areas.
Illegal drugs are primarily distributed by Hispanic and African-American groups that are scattered throughout Pennsylvania. They distribute drugs that are either transported into the state via various transshipment points or are shipped/transported directly to Philadelphia or other localities using a variety of methods, including local importation and subsequent transportation to New York-based traffickers. Parcel services are also commonly used to ship quantities of drugs to recipients in Pennsylvania. While Philadelphia’s street corner distribution networks are generally considered the main sources of supply for drugs sold to users in Pennsylvania, intelligence indicates that local distribution networks are also directly supplied by trafficking organizations based in New York and other major domestic source areas.
Heroin trafficking and distribution are the DEA Philadelphia Division’s top enforcement priorities, especially as investigations reveal that trafficking organizations, in the search for new customer and higher profits, are relocating from inner city neighborhoods into some of the smaller cities and rural areas in Pennsylvania. This trend remains a significant concern to state and local law enforcement, community, and treatment officials, who are worried about the increasing violence and number of overdose deaths that accompany the spread of heroin into their neighborhoods.
Officials from DEA Philadelphia and state and local law enforcement are concerned about the apparent increase in and eastward movement of methamphetamine production into Pennsylvania, primarily due to the safety hazards associated with the production. DEA and state law enforcement continue to discover and dismantle clandestine methamphetamine laboratories throughout the state, especially in rural northwestern Pennsylvania, which is becoming known to local officials as the “meth capital of Pennsylvania.”
Cocaine in Pennsylvania: Cocaine, in powder and crack forms, remains widely available and popular in Pennsylvania. Both forms are available in various quantities to users located both in the inner city neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh 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 is unsurpassed in most of Pennsylvania, while only the popularity of heroin is comparable in Philadelphia. Cocaine use continues to infiltrate a variety of populations both within inner city neighborhoods of the larger metropolitan areas and in smaller urban and rural localities throughout Pennsylvania, regardless of economic status or ethnic background.
New York City remains the primary source area for cocaine distributed in Pennsylvania. While some distributors continue to travel to Philadelphia to purchase cocaine and crack cocaine, distributors from some localities in eastern Pennsylvania 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.
Heroin in Pennsylvania: Heroin remains widely available in Pennsylvania, as distributors continue to relocate from source cities to the state’s smaller towns and rural areas to attract new customers. Although the greater Philadelphia area is generally considered a consumer heroin market, North Philadelphia’s street corner distribution sites also attract distributors from locales throughout Pennsylvania. The relocation of trafficking and distribution organizations over the last few years resulted in the increasing availability of heroin in locations once thought to be exempt from the problems associated with heroin distribution and use. For example, investigations reveal that cheap, high-purity heroin is now readily available in the northeastern and southwestern parts of Pennsylvania, areas where cocaine distribution dominated for years. Heroin availability was relatively stable in the rest of Pennsylvania, as it remains easy for users to obtain heroin it most cities and towns in the state. Some of these cities and towns, especially Allentown, Bethlehem, Reading, and Easton, have become lower-level distribution points for users and distributors operating in surrounding communities. These cities are not only located within a short drive of Philadelphia and other localities in eastern Pennsylvania, but are also located within a short drive of New York City, the prime source city for heroin consumed in Pennsylvania.
The increasing availability of cheaper, higher purity heroin over the last few years has caused concern throughout Pennsylvania over a growing heroin use problem that reaches all areas and all socioeconomic backgrounds. Heroin’s popularity among teens and young adults remains high, as they and other users consume heroin either by itself or in combination with cocaine or alcohol, a combination that typically leads to overdose deaths. In Pennsylvania, the perception of heroin remaining a problem only in the inner cities is disappearing, as demonstrated by rising counts of heroin-related deaths in areas far from the inner cities.
Methamphetamine in Pennsylvania: Methamphetamine is available in varying quantities in Pennsylvania with consumption concentrated in the Philadelphia area. The majority of the methamphetamine used in Pennsylvania is supplied by local traffickers who manufacture or produce it themselves and by major trafficking organizations operating in California and Mexico. Intelligence indicates that these organizations transport methamphetamine into Pennsylvania using a variety of methods, including private vehicles, commercial bus luggage, and packages shipped via express mail and parcel services.
Although the availability of methamphetamine in Pennsylvania is relatively low compared to the midwestern and western United States, investigations and reports from state and local law enforcement confirm the eastward movement of methamphetamine production into Pennsylvania. In particular, rural areas, such as the northwestern counties and Pocono Mountain areas of the state, have been infiltrated with small, yet dangerous, methamphetamine laboratories, as numerous seizures have been documented by law enforcement in the last few years. The rural parts of Pennsylvania remained the most popular sites for clandestine laboratories due to the reduced risk of detection caused by the pungent odor of a laboratory as well as the likelihood of a lesser law enforcement presence. However, investigations continued to reveal that small-scale laboratories exist anywhere from residences to motel rooms in cities and towns throughout Pennsylvania. These laboratories account for the vast majority of methamphetamine laboratories seized in Pennsylvania and the majority of methamphetamine available in western Pennsylvania, however, the production output of these laboratories represent only a small percentage of the methamphetamine consumed in all of Pennsylvania.
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 Pennsylvania: MDMA (ecstasy) is primarily available at rave parties and nightclubs in the metropolitan areas of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh), 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 in Philadelphia-area nightclubs, while GHB was available and used in central Pennsylvania.
New York City is the primary source area for the retail quantities of MDMA available in Pennsylvania. 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, New York, and the Caribbean, and then to Philadelphia and other cities in Pennsylvania. Wholesale quantities of MDMA tablets are also shipped and transported directly into Pennsylvania via mail/parcel services or by couriers flying into major international airports, including Philadelphia International Airport, with suitcases or wearing clothing that conceals tablets.
Marijuana in Pennsylvania: Marijuana is readily available in varying quantities in Pennsylvania, 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 Pennsylvania 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,” especially in the northwestern counties of Pennsylvania, while recent reports of indoor and outdoor marijuana grow seizures indicate that smaller growing operations exist elsewhere in Pennsylvania.
Due to their proximity to major interstates, various cities and towns in Pennsylvania are considered transshipment points as well as consumer markets. In particular, the Harrisburg area, which is home to several trucking and parcel shipping hubs, remains an intermediary point for marijuana trafficking organizations transporting bulk loads of marijuana throughout the eastern United States.
Other Dangerous Drugs in Pennsylvania: In the Philadelphia area, phencyclidine (PCP) is available and commonly used with marijuana. Reports continue to indicate that lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) remains available in western Pennsylvania and in smaller urban areas north and west of Philadelphia. Caucasian juveniles and young adults who reside in these smaller urban areas and area colleges are reportedly the predominant users and distributors of LSD.
California is the most commonly reported source area for quantities of LSD, while California and New York are considered the source areas for the PCP that is primarily distributed in Philadelphia. Typically, these drugs are transported in vehicles or shipped in parcels via the US Postal Service or other parcel services.
Diverted Pharmaceutical Drugs in Pennsylvania: A variety of diverted pharmaceutical drugs are available to users in Pennsylvania. 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 Pennsylvania and as a result, users are switching to heroin. Other oxycodone products, however, such as Percodan, Percocet, Tylox, and Roxicet remain particularly popular in Philadelphia, but are also used throughout the rest of the state. Fentanyl patches continue to be distributed and worn by users while methadone remained popular and available in Philadelphia. Tablet forms of hydrocodone products, such as Vicodin, Lortab, and Lorcet, and cough syrups, such as Tussionex and Hycodan, remain popular in Pennsylvania. Xanax remains one of the pharmaceutical drugs of choice in Pennsylvania while Promethazine cough syrup remains available and popular with users in Philadelphia. The DEA Philadelphia Division recently learned of a new prescription drug that is available on the streets. Known as Actiq, this drug contains fentanyl and is intended for use only to treat and manage severe cancer pain. An Actiq unit consists of a medicated, raspberry-flavored lozenge on a handle and is known on the street as a “Percopop,” likely due to their resemblance to lollipops.
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, prescription forgery, and “doctor shopping” schemes. In addition, large-scale diversion from independent and chain retail pharmacies remains a problem throughout Pennsylvania. Illegitimate internet pharmacies are examples of the relatively new phenomenon of employing the internet to facilitate and cover up criminal activity and are targets of investigations in Pennsylvania.
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 16 MET deployments in the State of Pennsylvania since the inception of the program: Bristol, Chester City, Clariton, Easton, Norristown, Reading, Allentown, York, Pottstown, Chester, Bethlehem, Allentown, Philadelphia (2), Upper Darby, and Harrisburg.
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 has been one RET deployment in the State of Pennsylvania since the inception of the program, in Pittsburgh.
Financial/Money Laundering in Pennsylvania: The money raised from drug sales is transported to source areas from Pennsylvania 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.