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Kentucky Factsheet   PDF  Print  Email 

State Facts

Population: 4,065,556
Law Enforcement Officers: 8,085
State Prison Population: 24,700
Probation Population: 24,856
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 38

Drug Situation: Marijuana, methamphetamine, diverted pharmaceutical drugs, and cocaine continue to be the primary drug threats in the state of Kentucky.

The eastern Kentucky region in particular has been a primary source of marijuana cultivation, especially the Daniel Boone National Forest.

In 2003, 522,957 marijuana plants were eradicated in Kentucky, according to the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program.

Though Kentucky is the site of large-scale marijuana cultivation, most of the marijuana produced in the state is exported to markets in other states, including Illinois, Ohio, New York, California, Texas, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

Methamphetamine is a dramatically increasing threat throughout Kentucky.

Law enforcement authorities in Kentucky see this as an "exploding" trend much the same as crack cocaine several years ago.

Though methamphetamine manufacturing activity in Kentucky consists mostly of small, unsophisticated clandestine laboratories producing limited amounts of methamphetamine, this activity is expected to expand rapidly in the near future in terms of both the number of labs and their size/sophistication.

After marijuana, cocaine is the primary drug seized in Kentucky.

The limited competition in remote areas makes the small communities of eastern Kentucky immensely popular and profitable for cocaine trafficking organizations from major metropolitan areas.

Additionally, urban areas such as Lexington and Louisville are used as transshipment points for cocaine en route from the southwest border to markets in the northeastern United States.

Finally, several counties in eastern Kentucky lead the nation in terms of grams of narcotic pain medications distributed on a per capita basis.

Aside from marijuana cultivation and trafficking, the trafficking and illicit usage of prescription drugs in the area may be the most significant current drug threat facing the residents of eastern Kentucky.

2004 Federal Drug Seizures

Cocaine: 442.9 kgs.
Heroin: 4.6 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 22.1 kgs.
Marijuana: 429.9 kgs.
Ecstasy: 17,103 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 377 (DEA, state, and local)

Cocaine: Cocaine HCl is readily available throughout Kentucky, with the greatest availability in the densely populated areas where quantities remain stable.

Major traffickers are of African American, Hispanic, and Colombian ethnic backgrounds.

Cocaine destined for the state of Kentucky originates from source areas such as the southwest border of the U.S. and southern Florida.

The price and purity of cocaine has remained relatively stable in Kentucky for the past several years.

Gram quantities continue to sell between $100-$150, ounce quantities between $900-$1,200, and kilograms between $20,000-$28,000.

The cocaine in urban areas is consistently purchased and seized in the 40 to 90 percent purity range.

Heroin: Heroin is extremely rare in the state of Kentucky.

When encountered, heroin is usually found in user amounts and sources are in either Cincinnati or Detroit.

Methamphetamine Lab Seizures: 2000=104, 2001=160, 2002=371, 2003=476, 2004=377

Methamphetamine: Methamphetamine continues to be available in Kentucky, especially in the rural areas of the state.

Kentucky methamphetamine production is a simple process taught among violators and dominated by Caucasians in the lower social and economic classes, including former marijuana cultivators, who are beginning to realize the greater profit margin and diminished threat from law enforcement posed by methamphetamine production versus marijuana cultivation.

Mexican violators are increasingly replacing local manufacturers as the primary suppliers of methamphetamine in rural Kentucky.

As they had done in Tennessee, Mexican organizations first infiltrate the market by offering high-quality methamphetamine at low prices, amassing a large customer base that comes to prefer the superior product they offer over locally produced "hillbilly meth."

Once the customer base is firmly established, they raise prices. This process is currently underway in rural Kentucky.

Diverted Pharmaceutical Drugs: The illicit use of prescription drugs throughout Kentucky is perhaps one of the most underestimated drug problems.

During 2003, 19,366 dosage units of diverted pharmaceutical drugs were seized by HIDTA-participating agencies in Kentucky.

Nevertheless, this seizure rate does not indicate fully the seriousness of the impact of the illicit use and trafficking of prescription drugs in the area.

Counties in eastern Kentucky lead the nation in terms of grams of narcotic pain medications distributed on a per capita basis.

Aside from marijuana cultivation and trafficking, the trafficking and illicit usage of prescription drugs in the area may be the most significant current drug threat within the Appalachia HIDTA.

Investigative agencies in Kentucky target physicians who prescribe medication to abusers who "doctor shop."

These physicians often overcharge the Medicare and Medicaid programs as well as private insurance agencies.

The "patients" sell the controlled substances on the street for enormous profits, and abuse the substances themselves.

The abuse and trafficking of diverted pharmaceutical drugs profoundly affects nearly all facets of life for residents of eastern Kentucky, including local politics.

The large demand for these substances, combined with the vast profit potential offered by illicit drug distribution, has led to significant political corruption and voting fraud at the county and city levels.

"What it takes to get the attention of some voters now is no longer a case of beer or $10 or $15. Now it's a handful of OxyContin®," says Lori Daniel, an Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney.

In Kentucky, between January 2000 and May 2001, the Kentucky State Medical Examiner's (ME's) Office identified the presence of oxycodone in the bodies of 69 individuals who died.

Toxic oxycodone levels were reported in 36 of the 69 deaths.

According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1.4 percent of admissions to U.S. drug treatment facilities in 1999 resulted from the abuse of "other opiates," i.e., narcotic drugs other than heroin.

During that same year, 1.8 percent of drug treatment admissions statewide in Kentucky resulted from the abuse of these substances.

A regional newspaper, The Lexington Herald-Leader, surveyed five eastern Kentucky substance abuse treatment centers, which reported a 288 percent increase in the number of narcotics abusers seeking treatment from 1998 through 2001. These figures are substantially greater than the national average.

Diverted pharmaceutical drugs are also becoming the primary cause of DUI arrests in some eastern Kentucky counties.

In 2000, three eastern Kentucky counties, Clay, Laurel, and Martin, reported more DUI charges resulting from drugs than alcohol.

Oxycontin®: OxyContin® has emerged as the most serious pharmaceutical drug threat in eastern Kentucky.

A 12-hour time-released variant of the generic opioid oxycodone, OxyContin® is available in strengths ranging from 10 to 80 milligrams, each tablet of which is sold illicitly at a street value of approximately $2.50 per milligram (over ten times the drug's legitimate purchase price).

OxyContin® is a Schedule II narcotic normally prescribed as an analgesic for cancer and severe arthritis patients.

Extremely addictive, it causes confusion, euphoria, light-headedness and sedation.

The tablets are often crushed or melted, then snorted or injected, bypassing the time-release mechanism so that the entire dosage enters the bloodstream simultaneously, often with deadly results.

OxyContin® addiction is the root cause of a range of criminal activity in the eastern Kentucky such as robbery, theft, assault, and various types of prescription fraud.

In recent years, Kentucky and West Virginia have seen an alarming increase in pharmacy robberies and thefts.

In many cases the perpetrators ignored the cash, interested only in obtaining OxyContin® tablets.

The availability of OxyContin® appears to be diminishing in Kentucky, as evidenced by the recent rise in the street price from $1.00 to approximately $2.00 per milligram.

Investigators in eastern Kentucky note an increase of OxyContin® being imported into the state from Mexico, where local traffickers obtain (legal) prescriptions from Mexican doctors, then carry the maximum allowable quantity across the border for distribution in the Appalachia HIDTA.

Anecdotal information from across the nation, and especially from the states surrounding Kentucky such as Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, suggests that OxyContin® abusers may switch to heroin and/or methadone in response to a diminished availability of OxyContin in a given region.

This trend is beginning to manifest itself in Kentucky, with regional doctors increasingly prescribing methadone in lieu of OxyContin® for pain management.

Club Drugs: LSD, MDMA, and GHB are all available in the Lexington area.

The availability of MDMA seems to be increasing, while the availability of LSD and GHB have remained static or decreased slightly.

The source area for MDMA in the Lexington area has been identified as Florida.

The source area for LSD is California, and GHB is manufactured locally.

The Lexington Regional Office (RO) has a Priority Target Investigation involving two groups who distribute thousands of dosage units of MDMA per month in the Lexington area.

The Lexington RO has made several undercover purchases from members of these organizations and has arrested four individuals thus far.

Sales have been taking place at rave parties, nightclubs, bars, and hangouts for high school-aged individuals.

Marijuana: Kentucky averages third or fourth in terms of total marijuana production, after California, Hawaii, and sometimes Tennessee.

The Daniel Boone National Forest, which covers more than 690,000 acres of eastern Kentucky, is a favored site for cultivators.

The forestlands are remote, sparsely populated, very accessible, and fall within what is known as the "marijuana belt," so-named due to ideal soil and climate conditions for cannabis cultivation.

Along with growing conditions, the National Forest, as a result of its timber practices, has opened a canopy for new marijuana growth in numerous areas where the sunlight penetrates the forest floor. As a result, marijuana plots in the National Forest are found in various locations from bottomlands, on hillsides, and to the tops of mountains, with the regeneration areas being an especially popular spot for growers.

Marijuana growers also perceive the vast rural areas of the National Forest as too spacious for law enforcement officials to detect most of their activities.

Aside from ideal locations for marijuana plots, growers often plant their crops on public lands, such as National Forests, in an effort to draw greater protection from personal and/or financial loss due to asset forfeiture procedures, should they be apprehended.

Overall, 206,908 marijuana plants were eradicated the Daniel Boone National Forest in 2003.

The Daniel Boone suffers from the collateral effects of marijuana cultivation, including property damage to natural resources, archeological sites, and wildlife, including endangered species.

Marijuana producers have destroyed numerous trees, plants and fauna, as well as gates and fences, to clear cultivation sites and drive vehicles to and from the marijuana plots.

Additionally, during the cultivation of marijuana, growers frequently use a variety of poisonous chemical fertilizers upon forestlands.

In 2003, 515 acres of the Daniel Boone National Forest were classified as "impacted environmentally because of drug activity" by the U.S. Forest Service.

As noted above, most of the marijuana produced in Kentucky is destined for markets in other states. This trend becomes evident when one contrasts marijuana production rates in Kentucky with consumption rates in the state.

Far more marijuana is cultivated in Kentucky than the local market consumes. Additionally, anecdotal information from cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York City, etc., suggests that Kentucky marijuana is prized in those markets.

Drug-Violation Arrests: 2000=328, 2001=289, 2002=276, 2003=254, 2004=273

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.

Since the inception of the MET Program, a total of 436 deployments have been completed nationwide, resulting in 18,318 arrests.

There have been three MET deployments in the state of Kentucky since the inception of the program in Louisville, Covington, and Hopkinsville.

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.

As of January 31, 2005, there have been 27 deployments nationwide, and one deployment in the U.S. Virgin Islands, resulting in 671 arrests.

There have been no RET deployments in the state of Kentucky.

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