By Vandana Sinha
WASHINGTON – Authorities have identified more than 400 drug organizations operating in the Washington/Baltimore region, ranging from technologically advanced cartels to street-level youth gangs.
In a report released yesterday by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, officials counted 45 major drug-trafficking operations and 368 smaller distributors in the area stretching from Baltimore County to Prince William County in Virginia.
The smaller distributors include more than 250 gangs, with members aged anywhere between 12 and 25, scattered throughout the area, according to a regional annual report.
The dealers feed about 75,000 hard-core drug offenders, whose drugs of choice are cocaine, heroin – which brings in about $2 million a day from an estimated 40,000 abusers – and marijuana, which is climbing among the juvenile population, the report stated.
Montgomery County police reported that while 74 percent of all youths arrested in the county through August of this year tested positive for drugs, fully 72 percent had marijuana in their systems.
“This is just a snapshot, a summary of our regional problems,” said Thomas Carr, director of the Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, designated by the federal government in 1994.
He said the full picture of drug dealing consists of “many local, small-time punks” fed by larger, violent entrepreneurs nourishing a small community of addicted clients.
“We aim at taking down drug-trafficking organizations. We focus on them and dismantle them,” Carr said.
Carr’s office coordinates law enforcement and drug treatment efforts in the region, which consists of the District, Alexandria, Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties.
The Washington/Baltimore corridor is one of 22 officially declared high-risk areas across the country receiving federal funds through the Office of National Drug Control Policy to reduce drug activity. The region received close to $12 million in fiscal 1997, according to the national drug policy office.
“It provides another opportunity for us to work together at the local, state and federal level in a coordinated approach to a drug problem in a specific area,” said Capt. Greg Shipley, a Maryland State Police spokesman. “We are pleased with the success of that program.”
In fiscal 1997, police crushed 186 drug dealing, seven money laundering and 12 firearms organizations and seized $11.3 million in assets and cash, according to the Washington/Baltimore HIDTA annual report. The arrests were up 13 percent from the previous year and seizures increased 53 percent, the report said.
The 46 anti-drug efforts planned in the region next year include after-school recreation and education programs for high- risk youth, conspiracy investigations for drug distributors and treatment for hard-core drug offenders. All are already in place in the region.
Barry McCaffrey, director of the national drug control office, yesterday applauded officials of the high-intensity drug areas, adding that the country must focus on such regional efforts.
“This is not a national drug problem – there’s no such thing. This is a series of local epidemics,” McCaffrey said. “The strategy has to be clearly designed from bottom up to fit the threat.”