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Article Summary

National Drug Threat Summary 2008

The trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs are a great burden on citizens, private businesses, financial institutions, public health systems, and law enforcement agencies in the United States. These burdens are manifested and measured in many ways; however, the most striking evidence of the impact of drug trafficking and abuse on U.S. society is the thousands of drug-related deaths (overdoses, homicides, accidents, or other fatal incidents) that occur each year.

Illicit Drug Trafficking

Compounding the tremendous costs to society from drug-induced and drug-related deaths, the trafficking of illicit drugs burdens various components of domestic financial sectors as individuals and organizations frequently engage in illegal activities to generate income in order to purchase drugs or finance drug trafficking operations. Mortgage fraud, counterfeiting, shoplifting, insurance fraud, ransom kidnapping, identity theft, home invasion, personal property theft, and many other criminal activities often are undertaken by drug users and distributors to support drug addictions, to control market share, or to fund trafficking operations.

While the adverse effects on society from drug trafficking and abuse are high, recent progress against drug production and distribution is apparent in several areas. In 2007 law enforcement reporting, seizure data, and drug-use consequence data all indicate sustained cocaine shortages in at least 38 prominent drug markets throughout much of the United States, particularly in eastern states. These shortages were occasioned by large cocaine seizures and the disruption by law enforcement of Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). In addition to cocaine shortages, law enforcement efforts resulted in the highest-ever recorded levels for coca and domestic cannabis eradication. Moreover, domestic methamphetamine production has declined significantly since 2004, and preliminary data reveal that methamphetamine laboratory seizures are continuing to decline in 2007, a further sign of decreasing methamphetamine production. The abuse of fentanyl (often in combination with heroin), which resulted in hundreds of drug-induced deaths in early 2006,1 decreased significantly following the seizure of a large clandestine fentanyl laboratory in Mexico--this laboratory very likely supplied much of the drug during the 2006 surge in overdose deaths. A growing number of states are implementing centralized electronic prescription monitoring programs (PMPs) that track individual prescriptions. These PMPs, now established in 24 states, have made acquiring pharmaceutical drugs through prescription forgery, doctor-shopping, or indiscriminate prescribing much more difficult. The availability of several drugs, including LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), PCP (phencyclidine), and GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), has decreased to very low levels, and a resurgence of these drugs appears unlikely in the near term, since there is no significant involvement in the production or distribution of these drugs by national- or international-level DTOs, and use appears limited to niche users.

Dealing with DTOs

Notwithstanding these successes, many law enforcement challenges remain, particularly the danger posed by the growing strength and organization of Mexico- and Canada-based Asian DTOs. Mexican DTOs--the principal smugglers and distributors of illicit drugs in the United States--are exerting more control over illicit drug trafficking throughout the nation. Moreover, Colombian DTOs are increasingly relying on Mexican DTOs to smuggle South American heroin into the United States on their behalf, enabling Mexican DTOs to control the flow of both Mexican and, increasingly, South American heroin to U.S. drug markets. Since 2005 Mexican DTOs have gained control over a much greater portion of the U.S. methamphetamine market. As domestic methamphetamine production has decreased, Mexican DTOs have increased production in Mexico and expanded their methamphetamine distribution networks, supplanting many independent dealers who previously distributed locally produced methamphetamine. Mexican DTOs also are improving and expanding their cannabis cultivation operations in the United States and are coordinating cultivation operations in multiple states, even in eastern states.

Canada-based Asian DTOs are a significant and growing concern to law enforcement. Canada-based Asian DTOs are increasingly producing high-potency marijuana in the United States at indoor sites and have relocated some of their growing operations from Canada to states in the Northwest and Northeast. Canada-based Asian DTOs also have largely reconstituted an U.S. MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as ecstasy) market that was greatly diminished after many of the principal organizations that supplied the drug to U.S. distributors were dismantled by law enforcement in 2002. Canada-based Asian DTOs have greatly increased MDMA production in Canada and have established wholesale distribution operations in several U.S. cities. These Asian DTOs are now the principal suppliers of the drug in the United States. In addition, Canada-based Asian DTOs are increasingly producing methamphetamine in very large clandestine laboratories in Canada for distribution in both Canada and the United States.

End Note
1. Law enforcement data regarding fentanyl-related deaths show that more than 50 percent of subjects who died had tested positive for cocaine, suggesting that many of the subjects may have used a lethal fentanyl/cocaine combination.

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