According to the latest report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, nearly 35 million people around the world have drug use disorders. The numbers for 2017 increased as a result of improved knowledge of drug use from surveys conducted in Nigeria and India. These are both among the top 10 most populous countries in the world. The same report also indicates that 53 million people use opioid drugs, which is up 56 percent from initial estimates.
Opioids are now responsible for nearly two-thirds of the 585,000 people who died in 2017 from drug use. The same report highlights how 271 million people, or 5.5 percent of the global population, have tried drugs, and drug use has jumped 30 percent higher than it was in 2009. The manufacturing of cocaine also reached an all-time high of 1,976 tons in 2017, which marks an increase of 25 percent from the previous year.
The synthetic opioid crisis in the United States reached new heights in 2017. Unfortunately, the numbers show there were more than 47,000 opioid overdose deaths in the nation alone, which increased 13 percent from the year before. With the effort put into slowing the opioid crisis and more stringent regulations on prescriptions, the numbers only have increased.
What do all these statistics have in common? They all involve drugs that drug traffickers pushed into the country, but is that the only reason?
What Is Drug Trafficking?
You might wonder what the difference is between selling drugs and drug trafficking. The United Nations defines drug trafficking as a global illicit trade that involves the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of substances that are subject to drug prohibition laws. It’s the exercise of control over a controlled substance, the knowledge that a substance is present, knowing the substance is a narcotic, dangerous drug, or any illegal drug, and the drug was possessed with the objective of selling. Drug trafficking is considered a serious charge, and the individual faces significant jail or prison time if they’re caught.
What Amount of Drugs Is Considered Trafficking?
While the amount of drugs considered trafficking varies across states, federal sentencing is uniform. Federal sentencing guidelines were put in place in the 1980s to impose significant penalties for those convicted of federal drug trafficking crimes. When most people hear “drug trafficking,” their first thoughts are drug dealers or international crime syndicates that make a living from their lives of crime.
However, federal drug trafficking guidelines view this differently. Under federal laws, an individual found in possession of an illicit substance can be convicted of drug trafficking based on the amount of drugs law enforcement finds in their presence. Trafficking has a specific meaning, which is different from its common usage. As mentioned earlier, a person commits drug trafficking when manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing a narcotic with the intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense any amount of an illegal narcotic. What that means is trafficking applies to scenarios where people might have believed it was simple possession.
When an individual is charged federally with drug trafficking, the offense is triggered when the individual is in possession of more than a specific amount of the illegal substance. The amount of the illegal substance found on the person for the minimums to apply depends on the substance that law enforcement finds.
A person found with 1 gram or more of acid, 5 grams or more of crack cocaine, 500 grams or more of powdered cocaine, or 100 or more grams of heroin will be faced with the stiff charge of drug trafficking. Those who possess anything less than the minimum for drug trafficking will face drug possession charges, which carry much lower penalties. Either way, it’s something that could be considered a felony and land you in jail along with some hefty fines.
Drug Trafficking in the United States
The two primary areas of concern for drug trafficking in the United States are the ports in South Florida and the border our country shares with Mexico. The San Ysidro Port of Entry, connecting Tijuana, Mexico, with San Diego, is the busiest land crossing globally. Each year, 14 million vehicles pass through. You might think it’s impossible to police all of these vehicles and find drugs—and it is—so traffickers continue to find sneaky ways to outsmart border agents. In some cases, they’ll place drugs in an obvious place to fool the agents and focus their attention elsewhere, when in reality, a bigger shipment is coming across when they’re preoccupied.
The crossing in El Paso is also another area where a lot of drugs come in. Unfortunately, border agents have witnessed the shift from narcotics like heroin be replaced by fentanyl and crystal meth. Other areas, such as ports of entry in South Florida, are where you’ll find cocaine coming in from South America. While border agents are doing their best, finding drugs in these shipments is similar to finding a needle in a haystack. As long as there’s a market for drugs, suppliers will find a way.
Who's to Blame for the Drug Crisis?
In the United States, Mexican transnational criminal organizations, which include the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel, remain the most significant criminal drug threat in our country.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the cartels are the principal wholesale drug sources for domestic gangs responsible for street-level distribution.
Neighborhood-based and national street gangs and prison gangs also dominate the market for the street sales and distribution of drugs in their territories throughout the country. Drug trafficking in 2019 remains the primary source of income for gangs.
In 2017, synthetic opioids were involved in 30,000 deaths, but from 2016 to 2017, Mexican black tar heroin grew in production by 37 percent. Today, Mexican cartels continue to produce large quantities of methamphetamine south of the border and then deliver it to the United States.
Seizures at the borders have increased from 8,900 pounds in 2010 to a staggering 82,000 pounds in 2018.
While it is easy to place blame solely on the drug cartels, we must keep in mind that they get the ingredients to produce methamphetamine and fentanyl.
China plays a key role in providing critical components in the production of these drugs. In fact, it has gotten so bad that President Trump called China out and told UPS, FedEx, and Amazon to refuse deliveries from the country for its role in the fentanyl crisis.
As the drug crisis continues to rage on, we must shift blame where it belongs. China and Mexican cartels are causing havoc worldwide, and it’s yet to be seen what can be done.