Drug Control:

DEA Could Improve Its Heroin Signature and Domestic Monitor Programs' Geographic Source Data

GAO-02-416: Published: Mar 29, 2002. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 2002.

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) runs two programs--the Heroin Signature Program and the Domestic Monitor Program--that provide information on trends in heroin trafficking. The only programs of their kind in this country, these two program conduct chemical analyses to pinpoint the geographic origin of heroin being sold on the streets. The Domestic Monitor Program determines (1) the source of heroin that has been bought undercover in 23 U.S. cities and (2) the purity and price of heroin at the retail level. The Heroin Signature Program provides law enforcement with information on the origins of heroin at the wholesale and retail level in some U.S. cities. Data from the two programs are included in intelligence and investigative reports provided to DEA and other federal law enforcement agencies, which use this information to adjust their drug enforcement efforts. The quantity of heroin seized by the Customs Service at ports-of-entry but not sent to DEA for testing may make a difference in the results reported by DEA. All seizures at ports-of-entry forwarded to DEA are tested for geographic source, according to DEA officials. However, Customs is not required to send all heroin seizures to DEA. GAO found that the usefulness of the data from and Heroin Signature Program and the Domestic Monitor Program is limited because they are based on nonrepresentative samples of their respective populations. GAO believes that DEA could produce stronger estimates if it modified its methodology.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Representatives of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Customs Service have met to discuss forwarding additional heroin to DEA, and they have forwarded a draft revised policy to the Commissioner of Customs for final approval. Pursuant to that policy, all seized heroin will be forwarded to DEA, without exception.

    Recommendation: To enhance the usefulness of HSP data, the attorney general and the Secretary of the Treasury should direct the administrator of DEA and commissioner of Customs, respectively, to enter into discussions to determine whether additional seized heroin should be forwarded to DEA by Customs.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has taken action to implement this recommendation. DEA met with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and ONDCP agreed to fund implementation of this recommendation. Specifically, DEA and ONDCP are working to award a contract for implementation in the near future.

    Recommendation: To help improve the HSP and DMP data on the geographic source of heroin, the attorney general should direct the administrator of DEA to study the utilization of alternative data sources for an estimate of the total number of retail heroin purchases in an area that could allow the DMP data to be combined across metropolitan areas.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has taken action to implement the recommendation. As part of a strategy to reemphasize the importance of the Domestic Monitor Program (DMP), DEA's Intelligence Division staff has visited field divisions, and are providing written feedback on guideline compliance. Information is also provided to the field divisions through a DMP newsletter, which recently reported on the GAO findings and recommendation. DEA also plans to prepare a CD ROM with information on the DMP, including a message from the DEA Administrator.

    Recommendation: To help improve the HSP and DMP data on the geographic source of heroin, the attorney general should direct the administrator of DEA to take action to ensure that DMP purchases are made according to DEA guidelines.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has taken action to implement this recommendation. DEA met with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and ONDCP agreed to fund implementation of this recommendation. Specifically, DEA and ONDCP are working to award a contract for implementation in the near future.

    Recommendation: To help improve the HSP and DMP data on the geographic source of heroin, the attorney general should direct the administrator of DEA to revise the HSP methodology for reporting testing results to include procedures to adjust for the probability of exhibits being selected for the test sample.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has taken action to implement this recommendation. DEA met with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and ONDCP agreed to fund implementation of this recommendation. Specifically, DEA and ONDCP are working to award a contract for implementation in the near future.

    Recommendation: To help improve the Heroin Signature Program (HSP) and Domestic Monitor Program (DMP) data on the geographic source of heroin, the attorney general should direct the administrator of DEA to ensure that the HSP data are based on a probability sample so that all HSP exhibits have a known chance of selection.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Customs Service have met to discuss forwarding additional heroin to DEA, and they have forwarded a draft revised policy to the Commissioner of Customs for final approval. Pursuant to that policy, all seized heroin will be forwarded to DEA, without exception.

    Recommendation: To enhance the usefulness of HSP data, the attorney general and the Secretary of the Treasury should direct the administrator of DEA and commissioner of Customs, respectively, to enter into discussions to determine whether additional seized heroin should be forwarded to DEA by Customs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

 

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