Drug trafficking by the numbers
Illegal drugs in the United States create a huge black market industry, an estimated $200-$750 billion a year in size, with the current decade seeing the largest per person drug usage per year in American history.
Drug trafficking is an issue worldwide and defined as the “global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws” by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
There are six main drugs most commonly trafficked in the United States. In 2013, the percentages of drug trafficking offenses per drug were as follows:
- Methamphetamine: 24 percent
- Powdered cocaine: 24.1 percent
- Marijuana: 21.5 percent
- Crack cocaine: 13.1 percent
- Heroin: 9.8 percent
- Oxycodone: 4.6 percent
- Other drugs: 3 percent
Video: drug trafficking by the numbers
Drugs continue to pour into the country from numerous sources despite the efforts of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), law enforcement agencies, border patrols, and the United States government. Illegal drug abuse costs American society $181 billion a year in health care costs, lost workplace productivity, law enforcement, and legal costs. Prisons are overflowing with drug-related offenders, as 330,000 prison inmates in 2012 were incarcerated for drug offenses. Over 30 percent of all offenses in 2013 were related to drug trafficking, and 22,215 cases of drug trafficking were reported to the United States Sentencing Commission in the 2013 fiscal year.
Busted drug traffickers in 2013 were primarily male, approximately 85.8 percent with an average age of 35 years; 73.7 percent were US citizens and almost half, 49.5 percent, had little to no prior criminal history. The majority of drug trafficking offenders arrested in 2013 were Hispanic, at 47.9 percent, while 26.7 percent were black, 22.3 percent were white, and 3.1 percent were other races. Almost all drug trafficking offenders sentenced in 2013 went to prison, 96.3 percent, with an average sentence length of 72 months. Sentences varied depending on the type of drug trafficked, with the biggest penalties for crack cocaine and meth, and the lightest sentences for marijuana-related offenses.
Most of the illicit drugs come into the United States across the vast 2,000-mile land border between the US and Mexico, called the Southwestern border or SWB. Drug cartels in Mexico utilize drug mules, tunnels, boats, vehicles, trains, aircrafts, donkeys, and couriers to get illegal drugs into America. Mexican drug cartels make an estimated $19-$29 billion a year on drug sales in the United States. Conflicts between drug cartels over territory as well as the attempts to stop drug trafficking by law enforcement officials often results in violence, and this has caused over 55,000 deaths since the proclaimed Mexican Drug War began in 2006.
Mexico’s involvement in the illicit drug trade in the United States:
- Marijuana: Mexico is the number one foreign supplier of marijuana to the United States, and marijuana is thought to be the top revenue generator for Mexican drug cartels.
- Cocaine: Mexico does not produce cocaine, however, Mexican cartels move Columbian cocaine through South and Central America and into the United States. An estimated 93 percent of cocaine headed to the US from South America moves through Mexico.
- Methamphetamine: Mexico remains the biggest foreign supplier of methamphetamine to the United States, and Mexican drug cartels set up labs to manufacture meth on both sides of the border, controlling labs in Southern California as well as domestically.
- Heroin: While Asia and the Middle East remain the biggest producers of heroin, Mexican black-tar and brown heroin is on the rise. In fact, 39 percent of heroin identified under the DEA’s Heroin Signature Program (HSP) in 2008 came from Mexico, making Mexico the source country for many of the heroin abusers west of the Mississippi River.
It is no surprise then that the top five districts sentencing drug trafficking offenders were on or near the SWB in 2013:
- Western District of Texas: 1,587 sentenced drug trafficking offenders
- Southern District of California: 1,426 sentenced drug trafficking offenders
- Southern District of Texas: 1,279 sentenced drug trafficking offenders
- District of Arizona: 1,162 sentenced drug trafficking offenders
- District of Puerto Rico: 687 sentenced drug trafficking offenders
Since 2009, heroin seizures at the SWB have almost tripled while meth seizures quintupled through 2014.
Most of the heroin on the streets in America has traditionally arrived from the Asian and Middle Eastern markets; however, recently a shift in the production of Mexican heroin has changed this dynamic, as the demand for heroin in the US increases. Heroin seizures at the SWB border increased 232 percent from 2008-2012.The demographic of heroin abusers has seen a dramatic shift also with younger and more suburban types turning to heroin after abusing pain relievers. Around half of new injection heroin abusers may have first abused painkillers. While the number of heroin users has tripled in the US in the past five years, up to 600,000 Americans, over 10 million Americans are still abusing prescription pain medications.
Role of the internet in drug trafficking
In recent years, drug channels have shifted some as the popularity of the Internet has surged. There are numerous ways to find and order illicit drugs online and even have them delivered by mail to your doorstep. Most common, perhaps, are synthetic and designer drugs that often contain legal and unregulated chemicals. The most popular among these designer drugs are synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones.
Synthetic cannabinoids, called “Spice,” “K2,” and “fake weed,” contain high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, although the THC in these dangerous designer drugs is often up to 100 times more potent than what you might find in traditional pot. Spice is sold as “incense” or “potpourri” in local head shops, gas stations, and on the Internet, often escaping regulation due to labeling that markets the plant-based material sprayed with synthetic drugs as “not intended for human consumption.” Synthetic cathinones, called “bath salts,” are hallucinogenic drugs that may mimic LSD or ecstasy, and they are sold as “jewelry cleaner” or “plant food.”
In 2012, the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act was passed, regulating some of the mind-altering chemicals used to manufacture Spice and bath salts in illicit laboratories. These chemicals are often imported from China and come in hundreds of varieties. As one chemical is controlled, inventive drug distributors and producers discover and market another. The Internet is rife with ways to abuse these drugs, where to find them, and even a ranking system on which are the best.
An overdose on these designer drugs can be very unpredictable and can lead to paranoid delusions, aggression, hostility, psychosis, and anxiety as well as cause nausea, vomiting, an irregular heart rate, and heightened blood pressure and body temperatures. Poison control call centers received over a thousand calls related to adverse reactions to Spice products in the first few weeks of April 2015 alone. Spice abuse has decreased in the past few years as it becomes more difficult to obtain the psychoactive chemicals with them becoming more tightly controlled and their status switching from legal to illegal. Still one in 20 high school students admitted to using Spice in 2014.
In 2013, over 24 million Americans aged 12 and older were current illicit drug users, meaning they had abused drugs in the month prior to the national survey.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, employs over 9,000 men and women, and strives to curb the flow of drugs into America and their distribution domestically. From 2005-2014, the DEA has successfully stemmed almost $30 billion dollars in revenue from drug traffickers.
Prison populations are full of drug offenders and abusers who committed their crimes while on drugs. In 2004, a national survey found that 32 percent of all state prisoners and 26 percent of federal prisoners admitted to being under the influence of drugs when they committed their most current offense. Additionally in 2007, approximately 1.8 million people were arrested for drug abuse offenses. Many of these offenders could benefit from treatment instead of incarceration.