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In December of 1996, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) designated counties and parishes in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi as the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (GC HIDTA). In July of 2002, ONDCP granted a request from the GC HIDTA Executive Board to add eight additional counties and parishes as a result of a changing drug threat. Later, in August 2005, another parish in Louisiana was designated. In February 2008, ONDCP added four counties in Arkansas as part of the HIDTA. In September 2010, ONDCP designated Shelby County, TN part of the HIDTA. In October 2013, Forrest County, MS was designated as well. In Arkansas, the designated counties are Benton, Jefferson, Pulaski, and Washington. In Alabama, the designated counties are Baldwin, Jefferson, Madison, Mobile, Morgan, and Montgomery. In Louisiana, the parishes are Bossier, Caddo, Calcasieu, East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, Lafayette, Orleans, and Ouachita. In Mississippi, the counties are Forrest, Hancock, Harrison, Hinds, Jackson, Lafayette, Madison, and Rankin. In Tennessee, the sole designated county is Shelby. In January 2016, ONDCP designated Escambia and Santa Rosa counties located in the panhandle of FL to the GC HIDTA. The total number of designated counties and parishes within the five-state and Shelby County, TN area now stands at twenty-nine (29).

Although the twenty-nine (29) GC HIDTA-designated counties/parishes are interspersed across the five-state and Shelby County, TN, they share many drug threat commonalities. Regionally, the area’s highways are used by international drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) to transit drug shipments entering the country across the Southwest Border to the Eastern Seaboard and drug-related assets back to Mexico. The drug shipments flow from west-to-east and south-to-north via our interstate highway system while drug-related assets travel back to Mexico from east to west and north-to-south. According to FBI Uniform Crime Reports, the six states rank among the highest in crime and violence on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, they also share high poverty rates relative to other states. Generally, primary and secondary education systems in the five-states and Shelby County, TN area are near the bottom of the list in comparison to other states with few exceptions. Drug abuse is a major problem experienced throughout the region. Significant DTOs have taken advantage of these circumstances providing a steady supply of drugs to neighborhood-based gangs and local distributors. Oftentimes, local/neighborhood-based gangs and DTOs employ violence to maintain control of their distribution points and clientele. These factors contribute to high crime rates experienced throughout the GC-HIDTA.

Although the aforementioned threat elements are regional in nature, there remain several other threats that are unique to particular areas within the GC HIDTA. Methamphetamine is now the most significant drug threat across most areas of the GC HIDTA. Methamphetamine continues to be a greater threat to some GC HIDTA counties and parishes and has been identified as the leading drug threat in Arkansas. Rising in prominence as a significant drug threat is heroin which now ranks as the second greatest drug threat HIDTA-wide and first in Louisiana. Heroin is a significant threat in the New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Memphis and Birmingham metropolitan areas and has grown in popularity beyond its inter-city roots to include younger rural users as well. Cocaine and its derivative crack has moved to third: followed by pharmaceutical drugs. The diversion of pharmaceutical drugs via pain clinics and Internet pharmacies remains a significant problem, as areas continue to see unabated prescription drug abuse, particularly in areas such as Southwest Louisiana. The category of Other Dangerous Drugs such as synthetic marijuana/spice is a growing problem primarily affecting teens followed lastly by marijuana. Gang-related drug activity and its associated violence remain major threats and have a huge impact on the crime problem in many parishes and counties, particularly in and around our urban areas.

In order to effectively address these varied and dynamic threat elements, the Gulf Coast HIDTA Executive Board has developed a strategy, which coordinates federal, state, and local drug law enforcement efforts to mitigate these targeted threat elements. The strategy is designed to attack the threat through the funding of initiatives comprised of multi-agency participants tasked to address defined threat elements within their areas of responsibility. These task forces, strategically situated across our five-states and Shelby County, TN area, are required to support drug enforcement activities targeting the aforementioned threat elements most affecting the communities they service. They share intelligence and pertinent case information with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and other HIDTAs around the country, as appropriate.

Investigations are initiated and prioritized consistent with those illicit drug activities having the greatest impact on crime and violence. Initiatives are encouraged to target the highest-level drug trafficking organizations found operating within their vicinities. This does not preclude them from working local DTOs provided their primary focus remains the identification, targeting, and dismantlement of major organizations.

Since the transshipment of drugs and drug-related assets across GC HIDTA highways is a major threat to the region and other parts of the country, 18 enforcement initiatives have interdiction components imbedded with investigators who collaborate to expand drug and asset seizures into investigations aimed at identifying, targeting, and dismantling underlying DTOs. These initiatives are supported by our Investigative Support Network, which provides intelligence resources from the initial vehicle stop and throughout the investigative process.

Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies throughout our six states share resources with the Gulf Coast HIDTA to combat drug trafficking organizations operating within our region and beyond.