MARCH 2021
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This product was prepared by DEA’s Strategic Intelligence Section.
Comments and questions may be addressed to the Office of Intelligence
Programs at DEA.IntelligenceProducts@usdoj.gov. For media/press
inquiries call (571) 776-2508.
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Letter from the Acting Administrator |2
Scope and Methodology |3
Executive Summary |4
Illicit Opioids & Heroin |7
Methamphetamine |19
Cocaine |29
Controlled Prescription Drugs |37
Marijuana |47
New Psychoactive Substances |59
Transnational Criminal Organizations |65
Drug Threat in U.S. Territories & in Indian Country |79
Illicit Finance |85
Appendix A: Map of DEA Field Divisions |91
Appendix B: Acronym Glossary |92
Appendix C: Data Set Descriptions |94
It is my privilege to present the 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA),
a comprehensive strategic assessment produced by the Drug Enforcement
Administration’s (DEA) Intelligence Program to inform U.S. policymakers
and the American public about the threat posed by drug trafficking and
associated transnational organized crime in the United States.
Drug trafficking imperils the safety and security of all Americans. The
criminals who engage in drug trafficking fuel the epidemic of drug abuse
and addiction in our country — and profit from it — while feeding the
violence that plagues many of our communities.
Although we have made progress in driving down the abuse of controlled
prescription opioids, the United States continues to face challenges from
both new and persistent threats. Availability and use of cheap and highly
potent fentanyl has increased, and methamphetamine has flooded into the
United States across the southern border. Mexican transnational criminal organizations continue to supply
most of the cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl smuggled into the country, while violent street
gangs dominate the retail sale and distribution of these illicit drugs at the local level.
Every day, DEA works hand-in-hand with our international, federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement
partners to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug trafficking organizations in the United States
and around the world. Together, DEA and our partners are confronting these threats head on, and have
redoubled our efforts to keep Americans safe through increased focus on countering opioid trafficking and
enforcement initiatives such as Project Python and Operation Crystal Shield. The results of these efforts are
staggering, with more than 28,000 pounds of methamphetamine and millions of counterfeit pills containing
fentanyl seized, over 2,600 targets arrested, and hundreds of firearms taken off the streets.
DEA is also committed to building partnerships with public health professionals to help turn the tide against
the growing wave of overdoses that are occurring in our communities. Provisional data released by the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in December 2020 indicated that overdose deaths continue
to rise amid the global pandemic, causing unimaginable suffering and further complicating prevention,
enforcement, and treatment efforts.
Only by working together — law enforcement, public health officials, educators, and community advocates —
can we develop and implement the innovative solutions required to overcome this public health crisis.
D. Christopher Evans
Acting Administrator
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
The 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) is a comprehensive assessment of the
threat posed to the United States by the trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs, the diversion
and abuse of licit drugs, and the laundering of proceeds generated through illicit drug
sales. It also addresses the role domestic groups, including organized violent gangs, serve
in domestic drug trafficking. The most widely trafficked drugs are discussed in terms of
their availability, consumption and overdose related deaths, production and cultivation,
transportation, and distribution.
The report provides strategic analysis of the domestic drug situation during 2019 and
the first half of 2020. This assessment is prepared through detailed analysis of the most
recent law enforcement, intelligence, and public health data available to counterdrug
agencies through the date of publication. To evaluate the threat of illicit drugs, analysts
considered quantitative and qualitative information. Qualitative information on seizures,
investigations, arrests, laboratory analyses, drug purity or potency, and price were
considered. Qualitative information pertaining to the presence and level of domestic and
foreign criminal activity, general trends in production or cultivation levels, involvement of
organized criminal groups, and other related safety hazards, environmental effects, and
associated criminal activity were also considered. The evaluation of the domestic use of
illicit drugs was based on accepted data captured in national substance abuse indicators.
The trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs inflict tremendous harm upon individuals, families, and
communities throughout the United States. The violence, intimidation, theft, and financial crimes
carried out by transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), criminal groups, and violent gangs pose
a significant threat to our nation. The criminal activities of these organizations operating in the
United States extend well beyond drug trafficking and have a profoundly negative impact on the safety
and security of U.S. citizens. Their involvement in alien smuggling, firearms trafficking, and public
corruption, coupled with the high levels of violence that result from these criminal endeavors, poses
serious homeland security threats and public safety concerns.
Mexican TCOs are the greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States; they control most of the
U.S. drug market and have established varied transportation routes, have advanced communications
capabilities, and hold strong affiliations with criminal groups and gangs in the United States.
Illicit fentanyla—produced in foreign clandestine laboratories and trafficked into the United States in
powder and pill form—is primarily responsible for fueling the ongoing opioid crisis. Fentanyl-laced
counterfeit pills continue to be trafficked across the country and remain significant contributors to
the rates of overdose deaths observed across the country. As inexpensive, potent fentanyl continues
to push into established heroin markets, fentanyl will augment, and in some cases supplant, white
powder heroin in various domestic markets.
Methamphetamine price and purity data, as well as law enforcement reporting, all indicate
methamphetamine continues to be readily available throughout the United States. Seizures along
with drug poisoning deaths involving methamphetamine continue to rise—purity and potency remain
high while prices remain relatively low.
Availability of cocaine throughout the United States remains steady, likely based on the high levels of
coca cultivation and cocaine production in the Andean Region of South America. Leading indicators
of cocaine availability, including laboratory analysis of cocaine exhibits, cocaine seizure data, and
price and purity of the drug, indicate that cocaine availability is steady.
Controlled Prescription Drugs (CPDs)b remain a prevalent concern within the United States—
availability remains constant while abuse levels decreased from the previous year. CPD diversion
continues to decrease across most categories at the national level, but some states report an
increase in the number of incidents. The number of opioid dosage units available on the retail
market and opioid thefts and losses reached their lowest levels in nine years.
Mexico remains the most significant foreign source for marijuana in the United States; however, in
U.S. markets, Mexican marijuana has largely been supplanted by domestic-produced marijuana.
a. The term “fentanyl” will be used throughout this document to mean illicit or clandestinely produced fentanyl unless otherwise specified.
b. CPDs include, but are not limited to, opioids (e.g. Vicodin, OxyContin), depressants (e.g. Valium, Xanax), stimulants (e.g. Adderall, Ritalin), and anabolic
steroids (e.g. Anadrol, Oxandrin).
The demand market for New Psychoactive Substances (NPSs) is typified by new substances
constantly being created and marketed to users. Synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones
are the most common classes of NPSs available and abused in the United States; however, there are
many other classes of NPSs including opioidsc, phenethylamines, tryptamines, benzodiazepines, and
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and the associated restrictions on daily travel, U.S. border
closings, closure of nonessential businesses, and the broad shelter-in-place orders temporarily
posed new challenges to criminal organizations and their movement of drugs throughout the
United States during the first half of 2020. Global drug markets reported fluctuations in pricing,
availability, transportation, and distribution of illicit drugs during the initial stages of the pandemic
in the spring of 2020. Despite initial disruptions in drug smuggling, transportation, and distribution,
TCOs operating throughout foreign countries and in the United States continued to test new methods
and use existing techniques to continue operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.
c. Synthetic opioids, as a class of New Psychoactive Substances, include fentanyl-related compounds in addition to other synthetic drugs. Given the
threat posed by fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances/fentanyl analogues, those substances are discussed in their own section of this report.
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reported the same in 2018, demonstrating
fentanyl’s continued impact on the illicit drug
Nearly 70 percent of all drug overdose deaths
in the United States in 2018 involved an opioid.
Deaths involving synthetic opioids other than
In 2019, the majority of DEA Field Divisions
methadone—the category which includes
indicated that heroin was easily obtained at any
fentanyl—increased by 10 percent according
time. DEA’s hybrid Caribbean Field Division—
to data provided by the Centers for Disease
with domestic and foreign offices—reported that
Control and Prevention (CDC). While deaths
while heroin remained moderately available
involving heroin decreased by four percent,
when compared to 2018, heroin seizures
heroin continues to pose a serious public health
throughout the entire Division declined in
and safety threat. The domestic markets for
2019. DEA’s Miami and Houston Field Divisions
heroin, fentanyl, and other illicit synthetic opioids
reported that heroin was more available in their
overlap, as these substances disproportionately
area of responsibility (AOR) than in the previous
affect the Great Lakes and Northeast regions
reporting period. DEA’s El Paso, New Orleans,
of the United States. Mexican TCOs have
and San Diego Field Divisions reported that
established clandestine laboratories in Mexico
heroin availability within their respective AORs
for the synthesis of fentanyl, and Mexican
remained at the same moderate level as in
authorities have encountered a rise in illegal
2018, meaning that heroin was generally readily
fentanyl pill press and tableting operations.
Likewise, Mexican TCOs are responsible for the
Reporting from forensic laboratories across
production and trafficking across the Southwest
the United States continues to show a rise in
Border (SWB) of the overwhelming majority of
fentanyl availability while reports of heroin show
the heroin available in the United States.
a decline. In 2019, National Forensic Laboratory
Information System (NFLIS)d crime laboratory
data (NFLIS-Drug)e reflected 100,378 fentanyl
Fentanyl continues to be readily available across
reports identified by forensic laboratories,
the country with 17 of DEA’s 23 Field Divisions
representing a 12 percent increase over 2018
indicating that fentanyl availability was high
(See Figure 1). In 2019, there were 128,267
in 2019. Nearly all DEA Field Divisions that
reports of heroin to NFLIS-Drug, a 13 percent
reported high fentanyl availability in 2019 also
d. The National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) is a DEA program that systematically collects results of forensic analyses, and other
related information, from local, regional, and national entities. The program consists of three components (NFLIS-Drug, NFLIS-Tox, and NFLIS-MEC)
that complement each other to provide a holistic picture of the drugs analyzed by the U.S. forensic community.
e. NFLIS-Drug is a comprehensive information system that includes data from forensic laboratories that handle the Nation’s drug analysis cases. NFLIS-
Drug includes information on the specific substance and the characteristics of drug evidence, such as purity, quantity, and drug combinations. NFLIS-
Drug does not include data from handheld presumptive testing devices as these fall outside the scope of NFLIS eligible data.
Figure 1. Fentanyl Reports to NFLIS-Drug, 2014 - 2019
seized in Texas, California, Arizona,
and New York. California, Texas and
Arizona are all major entry points
for heroin sourced from Mexico and
also serve as transshipment points
for the onward movement of heroin
to domestic markets throughout the
United States. New York is regarded as
the most significant heroin market and
distribution hub in the United States.
Source: National Forensic Laboratory Information System-Drug
Retrieved July 10, 2020
Other states with large quantities of
decrease from 148,177 reports of heroin in
heroin seized include New Jersey, Illinois, and
Pennsylvania. In 2019, DEA fentanyl seizures
reached the highest recorded levels since at
NFLIS-Drug data for 2019 shows the fentanyl
least 2015. DEA recorded seizures totaling
and heroin markets remain intertwined at the
3,138 kilograms of fentanyl and fentanyl-related
state level.f Four of the five states with the
compoundsi (FRCs) in 2019. States with the
most fentanyl reports are also the same states
with the most heroin reports:
New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and
Figure 2. Heroin Reports to NFLIS-Drug by State, 2019
Pennsylvania (See Figure 2).g,h
Even as fentanyl availability has
noticeably increased, heroin
remains the most frequently
reported opioid in NFLIS-Drug,
thus maintaining a significant
presence in the U.S. drug market.
Heroin availability remains high
in the United States, especially
in the Great Lakes, Midwest,
and Northeast regions, where
the largest white powder heroin
markets are located. DEA Field
Divisions seized 6,951 kilograms
of heroin in 2019, a 30 percent
increase from 2018, with the
Source: DEA
largest amounts of heroin
f. For more detailed information on the databases used in this report and their caveats please see Appendix C.
g. The five states that submitted the most fentanyl reports in 2019 were, in descending order: Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New
h. The five states that submitted the most heroin reports in 2019 were, in descending order: California, Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York.
i. Fentanyl-related compounds include any substance related in chemical structure to fentanyl, such as acetyl fentanyl, carfentanil, and the fentanyl-
related substances subject to emergency controls as defined in 21 CFR 1308.11(h)(30). For the purposes of this report, fentanyl is discussed
separately from fentanyl-related compounds.
Figure 3. DEA Fentanyl Seizures by State, 2019
public health resources
in areas already afflicted
with high levels of heroin-
involved overdoses.
DEA’s Special Testing and
Research Laboratory’s
(STRL) Fentanyl Signature
Profiling Program (FSPP)
analysis conducted
on wholesale seizures
(generally seizures
greater than one
kilogram) indicate that
heroin is rarely mixed
with fentanyl at the
wholesale level. This
points to the likelihood
Source: DEA
that U.S.-based drug
greatest amount of fentanyl seized in 2019 were
trafficking organizations (DTOs) and dealers are
either clustered along the SWB, or were located
responsible for mixing fentanyl with heroin at the
in the Mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, and Northeast
regional and local levels for retail consumption.
areas of the United States, according to DEA
Combining only a small quantity of fentanyl into
reporting (See Figure 3). This concentration
heroin allows dealers to maximize profitability by
of heroin and fentanyl seizures in these areas
extending heroin supplies.
demonstrates the ongoing trafficking from SWB
Analysis conducted on retail level heroin
states into the rest of the country.
seizures by the STRL under the Heroin Domestic
The domestic market for fentanyl overlaps
Monitor Program (HDMP) indicates that Mexico-
with most of the major white powder heroin
sourced heroin dominates retail heroin markets
markets. However, in select areas, law
throughout the United States. This same
enforcement and public health officials report
analysis further indicates that heroin mixed with
fentanyl is either supplanting or has surpassed
other controlled substances, mostly fentanyl,
a significant portion of the pre-established
is increasingly widespread at the retail level.
heroin market, including in DEA Field Divisions
Historically, retail level heroin distributors have
in the Northeast (New England, New Jersey,
mixed or “cut” heroin with adulterants such
New York, Philadelphia) and Midwest (St. Louis,
as caffeine, procaine, and lidocaine, which
Chicago). The increased presence of fentanyl
increased their profits but also decreased the
in white powder heroin markets continues
purity of their product. Adding fentanyl to heroin
to result in higher rates of fentanyl-involved
allows distributors to greatly increase their
overdose deaths, straining law enforcement and
profits while maintaining product quality.
Illicit Opioids and COVID-19
As of June 2020, seven DEA Field Divisions — Chicago, Houston, Louisville, New England, St. Louis,
and Washington — reported that fentanyl’s availability had decreased as a result of the COVID-19
pandemic, while 10 DEA Field Divisions reported price increases for heroin. The remaining field
divisions reported little to no market change. DEA Field Divisions reporting heroin price increases
as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic include El Paso, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Louisville, New
Orleans, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, and San Diego. It is possible that fentanyl availability
experienced such little change during the pandemic due to the relatively smaller volumes of the
drug needed to generate high amounts of revenue for drug traffickers, reflecting fentanyl’s high
potencyj and the relatively small quantities needed for users to experience its effects.
Pandemic-related challenges for DTOs trafficking heroin, fentanyl, and other synthetic opioids have
included supply uncertainty associated with fluctuating state lockdown orders throughout the
United States and border restrictions issued by the United States and Mexico.
j. Potency is defined as the measure of drug activity in terms of the dosage required to exert an effect on the body.
Fentanyl is often reported as a single drug
due to variations in laboratory reporting
entity —approximately 58 percent of fentanyl
protocols. FSPP reports that of the sampling
reports to NFLIS-Drug in 2019—but it continues
of 2019 seizures tested, fentanyl mixed with
to be observed in mixtures with other drugs,
heroin accounted for 94 kilograms of the 1,066
contributing to fentanyl’s involvement not only
kilograms of powders examined (8 percent by
in the opioid crisis, but also exacerbating the
weight); in comparison, fentanyl was mixed
threats posed by other drugs (See Figure 4).
with heroin in 22 percent of all fentanyl exhibits
Of the illicit fentanyl combinations found, heroin
examined. These data do not reflect whether
and fentanyl accounted for approximately 27
the mixtures are intentionally done or occur
percent of the mixtures reported to NFLIS-Drug.
The amount of mixtures may be underreported
Figure 4. Fentanyl Combination Reports to NFLIS-Drug, 2014 - 2019
Source: National Forensic Laboratory Information System-Drug Retrieved July 10, 2020
reported heroin overdose deaths decreased in
DEA’s Fentanyl Signature Profiling
Maryland, Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois,
Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Washington, DC, and
The FSPP performs in-depth chemical analyses
increased in California, Texas, and Tennessee.
of fentanyl and fentanyl-related exhibits
The remainder of the country reported stable
obtained from seizures made throughout
heroin overdose rates.
the United States. Analytical methodologies
developed at the STRL allow in-depth reporting
Further analysis reveals while the rate of
on seizures in an attempt to link seizures for
overdose deaths involving heroin alone
intelligence purposes. FSPP data is not intended
decreased almost 20 percent (dropping from
to reflect U.S. market share but is rather a
7,391 in 2017 to 5,928 in 2018), the rate of
snapshot of samples submitted to STRL from the
heroin-involved overdose deaths with fentanyl
seven DEA regional laboratories.
present increased almost 12 percent (rising from
8,091 in 2017 to 9,038 in 2018) (See Figure
Drug Consumption and
5). Despite an overall decline in heroin-involved
overdose deaths, heroin was second in the
Overdose Deaths
number of overdose deaths of any drug category.
Drug-poisoning data shows that heroin-involved
Heroin was only surpassed by the number of
overdose deaths are leveling off as overdose
deaths attributable to SOOTM, the category
deaths continue to increase related to synthetic
that includes illicit fentanyl and legal opioids
opioids other than methadone (SOOTM). The
available by prescription. The drugs in this
CDC reported that heroin-involved overdose
synthetic opioids category were involved in more
deaths dropped by just over four percent
than 31,000 overdose deaths and accounted
between 2017 and 2018. In 2018, the CDC
Figure 5. Heroin-Involved Overdose Deaths With and Without Fentanyl, 2013 - 2018
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Figure 6. Overdose Deaths Involving Synthetic Opioids Other than Methadone, 2005 - 2018
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
for 67 percent of opioid-involved deaths (See
in overdoses and deaths in markets saturated
Figure 6). Deaths in this category increased
with heroin and/or prescription opioids.
approximately 10 percent from 2017 to 2018,
Fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills continued to
likely attributable to increased availability of illicit
become more widely available throughout
fentanyl, as rates for licit fentanyl prescriptions
the United States in 2019 and 2020, and are
and production have not risen in conjunction
mentioned in open source news reporting across
with the rise in fatal overdoses.
the country as being involved in drug poisoning
Fentanyl use and overdose deaths are more
deaths. The spread of fentanyl-laced counterfeit
widespread across the country as the opioid
pills in the United States is likely due to Mexican
crisis continues. Overall, fentanyl-involved
TCOs seeking to further distribute fentanyl into
deaths are still the most concentrated in states
prescription opioid user populations as there is
in the Great Lakes and Northeast of the
no licit production of pills containing fentanyl.
United States.
As of January 2020, 49 states identified the
presence of fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills,
Overdose data indicates fentanyl use continues
according to a report from the Partnership for
in areas with traditional white powder heroin
Safe Medicines.k Moreover, 38 states reported
prevalence while its use appears to be
deaths attributed to fentanyl-laced counterfeit
expanding into other regions in the
pills through January 2020. This is a significant
United States, such as west of the Mississippi
increase compared to April 2018, when 22
River. Simultaneously, increases in states
states reported deaths related to fentanyl-laced
with consistently high rates of opioid abuse
counterfeit pills.
demonstrate fentanyl’s continued involvement
k. Hawaii was the only U.S. state not to report fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills, as of January 2020.
Figure 7. Age Adjusted Rates of Overdose Deaths Involving
Synthetic Opioids Other Than Methadone by State, 2018l
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Heroin Signature Program (HSP)
Heroin of Mexican origin accounted for 92
DEA uses data from the HSP as an indicator of
percent of the total weight of heroin analyzed
the geographic origins of heroin available at the
under the HSP, the seventh consecutive year
wholesale level in the United States. Under this
that Mexico has been identified as the primary
program, DEA’s STRL conducts annual in-depth
chemical analyses of between 600 and 900
source of origin for heroin encountered in the
heroin samples that originate from seizures
United States. According to U.S. Government
and purchases made in the United States. The
estimates, poppy cultivation in Mexico in 2019
science of the HSP entails multiple, detailed
was recorded at 30,400 hectares, a 27 percent
chemical analyses through which the purity,
decrease from the 41,800 hectares reported in
cutting patterns, and geographical processing
2018. Similarly, potential pure heroin production
origin (South America, Mexico, Southeast Asia,
decreased by 27 percent from 106 metric tons
and Southwest Asia) are determined. Only a
portion of the heroin seized throughout the
in 2018 to 78 metric tons in 2019 (See Figure
United States in any given year is tested for
8). Low opium prices paid to poppy farmers in
signature, or source area, through the HSP.
Mexico, coupled with an increase in fentanyl
Therefore, HSP data is not representative of
use in the United States, likely impacted the
market share, but rather, indicates trends in the
decrease in cultivation. However, there has
domestic market at the wholesale level.
been no observed reduction in heroin flows to
l. States shaded in these types of maps as “data unreliable” or “data suppressed” either have problems with the reporting of the deaths that makes per
100,000 rates unreliable to report or else have so few deaths reported that reporting a rate would violate data privacy issues.
Figure 8. Potential Pure Heroin Production in Mexico,
into the United States. Fentanyl
2014 - 2019
powder exhibits analyzed through
the FSPP averaged 8.7 percent
pure in 2019, an increase of 11.5
percent from the average purity
of 7.8 percent in 2018. Only five
of the 508 exhibits analyzed had
purities that exceeded the 90
percent mark typical of the fentanyl
seized from parcel shipments to
Source: U.S. Government Estimates
the United States from chemical
the United States, as seizures of heroin at Ports
companies based in China. This downward
of Entry (POEs) remained steady in 2019.
trend is likely attributable to the robust bilateral
engagement between U.S. Government agencies
According to HDMP data for 2019, the average
and China, which led to China implementing its
purities for heroin at the retail (street) level
class scheduling of FRCs in May 2019. After this
varied by type, with Mexican white powder and
event, shipments of fentanyl and FRCs directly
Mexican black tar heroin (the most prevalent
from China to the United States decreased and
types of heroin available at the retail level)
domestic law enforcement are encountering
averaging 47 percent and 45 percent purity,
fewer new FRCs.
respectively. Although the presence of both
fentanyl and various FRCs were observed in
DEA reporting indicates that Mexican TCOs are
retail-level heroin exhibits analyzed under the
significantly involved in fentanyl production. The
HDMP, fentanyl remained the leading synthetic
Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation
compound detected in a majority of these heroin
Cartel (CJNG) appear to be increasing the
production of wholesale quantities of fentanyl in
both powder and pill forms. Additionally, these
Since at least 2019, Mexican TCOs’ supply to the
TCOs are diversifying their precursor chemical
U.S. fentanyl market is increasing while supply
sources of supply, and moving to precursor
of fentanyl directly from China to the U.S has
chemicals further down the synthesis chain to
decreased substantially, according to reporting
avoid international chemical controls.
and forensic analysis of drug exhibits
from DEA, U.S. Customs and Border
Figure 9. Southwest Border Heroin Seizures Total
Kilograms Seized, 2013 to 2020 to date (as of May 2020)
Protection (CBP), and the U.S. Department
of Homeland Security. Seizures at the
SWB POEs by CBP, as well as seizures
reported by the DEA Field Divisions along
the SWB, have been increasing in both
weight and purity. Conversely, fentanyl
seizures via air routes have decreased,
indicating China likely plays a smaller role
in the direct supply of fentanyl shipped
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Figure 10. Opioid Concealment Methods
Heroin concealed and extracted from a fire extinguisher
Fentanyl-laced pills concealed
Heroin concealed in vehicle
in luggage
Source: DEA
Mexican TCOs will almost certainly have the
chemical and pharmaceutical industries.
greatest direct impact on the fentanyl market in
Legal controls on these precursors vary from
the United States for the near future because
country to country. Law enforcement seizures
of these organizations’ increased capacity and
in 2019 and 2020 include many chemicals
capabilities for fentanyl production, adaptations
which are uncontrolled in China and Mexico.
to restrictions on precursor chemicals, and
Law enforcement in the United States and
existing drug trafficking infrastructure in the
Mexico are reporting increased seizures of
United States.
4-anilinopiperidine (4-AP) which is a List I
chemical in the United States as of May 2020,
TCOs use a combination of methods to obtain
but is currently not controlled in either Mexico or
chemicals used for fentanyl production in
China. Although 4-AP is not a direct replacement
Mexico, primarily from sources originating
for 4-anilino-N-phenethylpiperidine (4-ANPP) in
in China, including purchases made on the
the synthesis of fentanyl, 4-AP can be converted
open market, smuggling chemicals hidden in
into 4-ANPP in a one-step chemical reaction.
legitimate commercial shipments, mislabeling
The emergence of this chemical demonstrates
shipments to avoid controls and the attention
the continued efforts by traffickers in Mexico
of law enforcement, and diversion from the
Figure 11. Counterfeit Oxycodone
to 2018 (745 kilograms). Fentanyl seizures at
Tablet Containing Fentanyl
the SWB have been steadily increasing since at
least Fiscal Year (FY) 2016.
Mexican TCOs employ a variety of methods
to transport heroin, fentanyl, and other illicit
opioids into the United States and use all
manner of concealment methods to hide
their drug shipments (See Figure 10). Land
Source: Santa Clara, California Department of Health
transportation via the interstate system is the
most predominant method of transporting illicit
and China to bypass international precursor
opioids, with personally-owned vehicles (POVs),
chemical controls to continue producing illicit
rental vehicles, and trucks/tractor trailers
fentanyl. DEA reporting also indicates the use of
identified as the most commonly used modes
more sophisticated clandestine laboratories and
of transport. POVs are often retrofitted with
processing methods in Mexico.
concealed compartments that are used by DTOs
• In May 2020, Mexican officials seized a combination
to hide heroin, fentanyl, bulk currency, and other
of 169.5 kilograms of 4-AP and N-Phenethyl-4-
contraband. The countless different aftermarket
piperidone (NPP) from a container shipment at the
modifications of varying sizes and shapes readily
Port of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. The bags
containing the chemicals were hidden amongst a
available to TCOs often makes the detection of
legitimate shipment containing bags of powdered soap.
illicit drug loads challenging for law enforcement.
The container shipment originated in Shanghai, China,
TCOs use alternative and less frequent
and transited through Quingdao, China, and Busan,
commercial forms of transportation to transport
South Korea, before arriving in Mexico.
illicit opioids, such as airlines, buses, trains,
and shuttle services. Body carriers and parcel
delivery services are also used to facilitate the
The majority of heroin and fentanyl available in
movement of drug shipments.
the United States is smuggled overland across
the SWB. Couriers on commercial airlines
Mexican TCOs appear to be trafficking
transport lesser amounts into the United States.
substantially greater amounts of fentanyl
Heroin seizures at the SWB remained high but
pills into the United States, likely resulting in
relatively stable with 2,580 kilograms of heroin
decreasing reports of domestic pill pressing
seized by CBP in 2019 compared to 2,317
operations. The TCOs have consistently chosen
kilograms in 2018. From 2013 to mid-year
to counterfeit a brand of licit 30 mg oxycodone
2020, the amount of heroin seized at the SWB
pills that have been regularly diverted for years
has increased 39 percent (See Figure 9). CBP
to the street market for opioids (See Figure 11).
reported a combined 1,208 kilograms of fentanyl
The selection of these tablets—blue, round,
seized at the SWB in 2019; 1,060 kilograms of
stamped with “M” on one side and “30” on the
fentanyl were seized at POEs and 148 kilograms
other, and increasingly referred to on the streets
were seized between POEs by the U.S. Border
as “Mexican Oxy” or “M30s”— demonstrate
Patrol. This represents a 62 percent increase in
that traffickers are taking advantage of an
total CBP fentanyl seizures at the SWB compared
established market for these pills to increase the
profit margins with fentanyl. In addition, when
analyzing the contents of these tablets, DEA’s
Heroin availability, while high, has stabilized, and
FSPP revealed that approximately 71 percent
corresponds with a decline in heroin-involved
of these tablets are consistent with Mexican
overdose deaths when those deaths do not
TCO illicitly manufactured fentanyl production
also involve fentanyl or other synthetic opioids.
techniques. Simultaneously, the number of illicit
Mexico will likely remain the primary source of
fentanyl tablet exhibits containing a potentially
origin for heroin transported to the United States
lethal dose of fentanyl is increasing, according
and both Mexican white powder and Mexican
to FSPP. Analysis of 2019 seizures revealed
black tar heroin will continue to be the most
that 26 percent of illicit fentanyl tablet exhibits
prevalent types of heroin available in major
examined contained a potential lethal dose of
U.S. heroin markets. The heroin and fentanyl
fentanyl (71 exhibits out of 269 total exhibits). In
markets, already intertwined, will continue to
comparison, in 2018 and 2017, FSPP analysis
grow as traffickers mix heroin with fentanyl to
revealed that 14 percent and 10 percent of the
stretch heroin supplies and maximize revenues.
tablet exhibits sampled, respectively, contained
Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids will likely
a potential lethal dose of fentanyl.
continue to contribute to high numbers of drug
Fentanyl distributors in the United States also
overdose deaths in the United States in the near
continue to order fentanyl, FRCs, and other
term, as fentanyl availability either by itself or
synthetic opioids, such as U-47700, directly from
mixed in with other drugs—particularly heroin—
manufacturers in China via the Internet including
continues to persist. However, overdose deaths
the dark web, with delivery accomplished
involving heroin alone may stabilize or continue
by international mail and commercial parcel
to decline in the near term. The low cost, high
services. China-sourced fentanyl typically
potency, and ease of acquisition of fentanyl may
is smuggled in small volumes and generally
encourage heroin users to switch to the drug
tested over 90 percent pure. In 2019, U.S. law
should future heroin supplies be disrupted.
enforcement continued to seize China-sourced
As Mexico is the dominant supplier of heroin
fentanyl though in smaller volumes and with
entering the United States, additional restrictions
fewer occurrences than previous years.
or limits on travel across the U.S.-Mexico border
due to pandemic concerns will likely impact
• In September 2019, DEA’s San Diego Field Division
heroin DTOs, particularly those using couriers
responded to an apartment in San Diego, California,
to investigate a fatal drug overdose and seized more
or personal vehicles to smuggle heroin into the
than five pounds of fentanyl, furanyl fentanyl, U-47700,
United States. Another possibility may be a
and valeryl fentanyl from the apartment. Subsequent
decrease in the price level for heroin as DTOs
investigative information determined that the overdose
and street-level dealers maximize associated
victim purchased fentanyl online from a supplier in
China. A subject close to the decedent stated that
profit margins by increasingly mixing fentanyl
the victim had purchased a large stock of fentanyl for
into distributed heroin. DTOs may come to
personal use, to eliminate the need for future street-
view heroin as simply an adulterant to fentanyl.
level transactions. The quantity seized, however,
Mexican TCOs will remain the primary source of
was consistent with amounts involved in significant
supply for heroin and fentanyl smuggled into the
distribution and sales operations.
United States, using precursors primarily
sourced from China, and they will continue to
use their extensive infrastructure in both Mexico
and the United States to supply lucrative U.S.
opioid markets.
the Northeast. DEA seized 53,079 kilograms
of methamphetamine nationwide in 2019, an
Methamphetamine seizures, price, and purity
increase of 55 percent from 2018 (34,270
data as well as law enforcement reporting all
kilograms). Methamphetamine seizures occur to
indicate that methamphetamine continues to be
varying degrees in nearly every state.
readily available throughout the United States.
Reporting from the majority of DEA Field
Most of the methamphetamine available in
Divisions indicated methamphetamine
the United States is clandestinely produced in
availability was high throughout the
Mexico and smuggled across the SWB. Drug
United States. In 2019, 17 DEA Field Divisions
poisoning deaths involving methamphetamine
reported high methamphetamine availability,
continue to rise as methamphetamine purity
and six divisions reported increasing
and potency remain high while prices remain
methamphetamine availability compared to the
relatively low.
previous reporting period.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has disproportionately
Methamphetamine reports to NFLIS-Drug
affected methamphetamine markets compared
increased two percent between 2018 and
to other drugs of abuse. Many DEA Field
2019—there were 424,926 reports in 2018,
Divisions report changes in pricing for
and 433,740 reports in 2019. However, overall
methamphetamine at the wholesale and retail
methamphetamine reports have increased
levels. However, based on reports of limited
significantly since 2014, when there were
impact to overall supply of precursor chemicals
247,546 reports, marking a 75 percent increase
and finished methamphetamine, TCOs likely
since that time. NFLIS-Drug data also indicates
capitalized on the pandemic in order to drive up
methamphetamine reports represent an
methamphetamine’s generally low price and in
increasingly larger portion of the total number of
turn, their profits.
all drug reports—increasing from approximately
nine percent of all reports submitted in 2009 to
approximately 24 percent in 2018.
Methamphetamine is available throughout the
United States, with the highest availability in
Purity, Potency, and Price
the West and Midwest regions of the country,
Seizures sampled through the DEA
as well as a strong presence in the Southeast.
Methamphetamine Profiling Program (MPP)
However, in recent years, methamphetamine has
continue to have high purity and potency,
become more prevalent in areas that historically
reflecting high availability of methamphetamine.
were not major markets for the drug, particularly
In the first half of 2019, methamphetamine
Figure 12. Methamphetamine Purity and Potency
Source: DEA Methamphetamine Profiling Program
sampled through the MPP averaged 97.2 percent
and cathinones (e.g. ethylone). According
purity and 97.5 percent potency (See Figure 12).
to the CDC, in 2018, there were 12,676
psychostimulant drug-poisoning deaths in the
United States, representing a nearly 23 percent
Drug Consumption and
increase from 2017 (10,333), and an 874
Overdose Deaths
percent increase since the lowest point in 2008
The number of deaths in the CDC category
(1,302) (See Figure 13). The steadily increasing
psychostimulants with abuse potential continues
number of deaths from psychostimulants may
to increase. Methamphetamine-involved drug
be due to increased availability and market
poisoning deaths are counted under this broader
expansion into areas and user bases that are not
category, which includes other drugs such as
traditionally associated with methamphetamine
caffeine and phenethylamines (including 3,
4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA)),
Methamphetamine Precursor Chemicals
Controlled Examples:
Not Controlled Examples:
• Methlylamine
• Ammonium chloride
• Benzaldehyde
• Formaldehyde
• Nitroethane
Methamphetamine is produced using multiple methods, which use a variety of different chemicals
depending on the process. Many of these chemicals are regulated as listed chemicals in the
United States and Mexico, though TCOs have sought to bypass restrictions through the use of
uncontrolled pre-precursors. The involvement of Mexican TCOs in methamphetamine production is
through the use of industrial scale laboratoriesm that rely upon the importation of these chemicals,
primarily from China and India. Chemical shipments are mislabeled at the origin, shipped to
legitimate companies, and then diverted by the TCO and smuggled to the clandestine laboratories.
m. An industrial scale laboratory refers to its ability to manufacture kilogram quantities of methamphetamine that can range from 100 grams up to
multi-kilogram quantities depending on amounts shipped across the border. Currently, methamphetamine produced from medium, large, or extra-
large laboratories, which generally accounts for multi-kilogram quantities of methamphetamine, are most likely from industrial scale laboratories.
Figure 13. Psychostimulant-involved Drug Poisoning Deaths, increased competition among
2007 - 2018
the different TCO groups. TCOs
are exploring new markets
for methamphetamine, and
increasing quantities are
coming across the SWB. The
price of methamphetamine
may begin to rise with a
market expansion, although
prices in established markets
Source: National Center for Health Statistics/Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention
remain consistently low.
Shortly after the enactment of the Combat
Methamphetamine Epidemic Act (CMEA) in
Foreign Production
2006, Mexico introduced similar legislation
Mexican TCOs continue to be the primary
regulating precursors, notably ephedrine and
producers and suppliers of low cost, high
pseudoephedrine. The series of legislative
purity methamphetamine available in the
actions ultimately banned ephedrine and
United States. Mexican TCOs regularly produce
pseudoephedrine from the country entirely in
large quantities of methamphetamine,
2008. Despite the restrictions in Mexico on
which has led to a significant supply of
precursor chemicals, Mexican TCOs continue
methamphetamine in the U.S. market. The
to adapt by finding alternative methods of
majority of Mexican TCOs are also involved in
manufacture, with many of the precursor
methamphetamine trafficking, which has led to
chemicals sourced from companies in China and
India. Mexican TCOs produce methamphetamine
using the reductive amination method, which
DEA’s Methamphetamine Profiling
employs the precursor phenyl-2-propanone (P2P)
Program (MPP)
instead of pseudoephedrine. According to the
The DEA MPP provides an in-depth chemical
DEA MPP, 99.2 percent of samples analyzed in
analysis of selected methamphetamine
the first half of 2019 were produced using this
samples to establish trends associated with
the manufacture of methamphetamine seized
method. Mexican TCOs are able to produce
primarily in the United States. The MPP further
methamphetamine that is highly pure and
identifies the method used to manufacture
potent, while less expensive to produce, which
methamphetamine, as well as tracking purity
has contributed to the decline of domestic
levels and other related trends. However, the
MPP is unable to determine the source origin of
methamphetamine samples because the drug
In mid-2014, a new forensic profile had emerged
is synthetically produced—unlike morphine and
from samples analyzed from the U.S.-Mexico
cocaine, which are extracted from plant sources.
border and other U.S. locations. This newer
The MPP data set is only reflective of the MPP
profile is linked to an alternate P2P recipe
sampling plan, and is not representative of all
called the nitrostyrene method, which starts
methamphetamine samples submitted to the
DEA laboratory system.
with benzaldehyde and nitroethane as the key
precursors. This forensic profile was identified
as the primary production method, at the
Precursor Restrictions and Pricing Can
time, for the majority of samples seized and
Influence Production Methods
analyzed from the U.S.-Mexico border as well as
DEA reporting suggests precursor chemical
throughout the United States.
availability and price drive the P2P production
MPP data reflects that the newer P2P-
technique used by Mexican methamphetamine
nitrostyrene method decreased in prominence
manufacturers. In October 2015, the
Government of Mexico formally controlled
during the first half of 2019, representing only
the P2P precursor chemicals benzaldehyde
11 percent of samples analyzed, a one percent
and nitroethane, which caused an over 300
decrease from the second half of 2018. Older
percent increase in pricing of chemicals on the
phenyl-acetic acid (PAA) profiles represented 39
black market. While there are many different
percent of analyzed samples, a decrease nine
methods to produce methamphetamine,
percent from the second half of 2018. Profiles
production follows a predictable pattern of
that contained a mixture of both P2P methodsn
chemical reactions and ingredients. Rather
than wait on shipments of preferred precursor
increased by five percent from the second
chemicals or restricted chemicals, significant
half of 2018, and represented 37 percent of
methamphetamine producers will shift methods
analyzed samples. This shift may be in reaction
and/or chemicals depending on what materials
to precursor chemical restrictions and seizures
are readily available to maintain supply and
focusing on the newer nitrostyrene methods,
production. Identifying, targeting, and restricting
which are contributing to the profile’s shrinking
necessary precursors could slow production,
percentage of samples. The remainder of
drive prices up, and force producers to shift
samples (13 percent) could not be placed into a
production methods.
P2P method sub-category.
Figure 14. Number of Domestic Methamphetamine
Laboratory Incidents, 2000 - 2019
Source: El Paso Intelligence Center, National Seizure System
n. A “mixed” profile is defined as a chemical signature containing indicators of both the nitrostyrene profile and the phenylacetic acid profile.
Figure 15. Methamphetamine Clandestine Laboratory Incidents Including
Laboratories, Dumpsites, and Chemical/Equipment Seizures, by State, 2019
Source: El Paso Intelligence Center, National Seizure System
DEA reporting also indicates a potential new
In the early 2000s, domestic methamphetamine
PAA production method utilizing benzyl chloride
laboratory seizures increased yearly in the
and sodium cyanide to make an oil called
United States and peaked in 2004 with
benzylnitrile. While no forensic marker has
approximately 23,700 methamphetamine
been created, DEA reporting has documented
laboratory incidentso reported to the El Paso
the establishment of this formula as well as
Intelligence Center’s (EPIC) National Seizure
monitored the movements of new related
System (NSS). Domestic methamphetamine
precursor chemicals.
production has decreased annually since 2004,
with a moderate spike in production from 2007
Domestic Production
to 2010 that has since declined significantly
with 890 seizure incidents of methamphetamine
Clandestine methamphetamine laboratory
laboratories reported to NSS in 2019, the lowest
seizures continue to decrease across the
reported in 19 years (See Figures 14 & 15). In
United States. The enactment of the CMEA
2019, 84.8 percent of all methamphetamine
reduced domestic methamphetamine production
laboratories seized in the United States were
by placing restrictions on key ingredients.
small laboratories capable of producing two
Domestic producers have been unable to keep
ounces or less of methamphetamine.
up with the quantity or quality of the lower cost
methamphetamine produced on an industrial
scale in Mexico.
o. Incidents include Dumpsites, Chemical Only, or Equipment Only Seizures, and Laboratory Seizures.
Figure 16. U.S. Customs and Border Protection Southwest Border
Methamphetamine Seizures, 2013 - 2019
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection
However, methamphetamine remains the
Transportation and
most frequently manufactured drug seized in
clandestine laboratories in the United States,
Methamphetamine seizures occur in every
according to NSS reporting. Clandestine
U.S. state. Mexican TCOs control wholesale
laboratories can be set up anywhere: private
methamphetamine distribution, while both
residences, motel and hotel rooms, apartments,
Mexican and domestic criminal groups typically
mobile homes, campgrounds, and commercial
control retail distribution in the United States.
establishments. Many of the domestic
methamphetamine laboratories seized in 2019
The SWB remains the main entry point for the
were small-capacity production laboratories,
majority of methamphetamine entering the
known as “one-pot” or “shake and bake.” A
United States. Methamphetamine seizures
laboratory of this size generally produces
along the SWB increased 74 percent from
two ounces or less of methamphetamine per
2018 (39,268 kilograms) to 2019 (68,355
production cycle, making it small-scale and
kilograms) (See Figure 16). Total nationwide
easy to conceal, yet often dangerous, and in
methamphetamine seizures increased 77
many cases can cause fires, serious injuries,
percent between 2018 (41,396 kilograms) and
or even death. Common household items (i.e.
2019 (73,351 kilograms).
pseudoephedrine/ephedrine tablets, lithium
While methamphetamine precursors are often
batteries, camp fuel, starting fluid, and cold
transported via maritime shipments from
packs) are used as ingredients and mixed inside
China and India, finished methamphetamine
a container such as a plastic soda bottle.
is commonly trafficked overland across the
SWB. Traffickers employ various techniques
to transport and conceal methamphetamine,
such as using human couriers, parcel services,
and commercial conveyances. Commonly,
Methamphetamine in solution seizures in
traffickers transport multi-kilogram shipments
SWB states have increased from 2015 to
of methamphetamine in privately owned
2019. According to the EPIC NSS, there
vehicles. Fuel tank concealment remains a
were approximately 8,890 kilograms of
widely used technique with either packaged
methamphetamine in solution seized in
methamphetamine or methamphetamine
SWB states in 2019, a 348 percent increase
in solution. Methamphetamine concealed
from 1,986 kilograms in 2015. According
in tires and other natural voids in vehicles
to EPIC NSS reports and Domestic Highway
are other popular methods for smuggling
Enforcement reporting, there were 66 seizures
methamphetamine and other contraband into
of methamphetamine in some type of solution,
the United States.
up from 57 incidents in 2018.
• In May 2020, DEA’s Austin, Texas Resident Office
Figure 18. Methamphetamine Conversion
(RO) High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task
Laboratory Incidents in the United States, 2019
Force seized 17 kilograms of methamphetamine and
nearly 38 liters of methamphetamine in solution.
A methamphetamine conversion laboratory was
discovered after complaints of chemical odors.
Among the seized items were tire rims as well as
modified fuel tanks used to conceal and transport
Methamphetamine in
Methamphetamine can be dissolved in a
Source: El Paso Intelligence Center, National Seizure System
variety of liquids, including vehicle fluids, fuels,
Conversion Laboratories
water, and alcoholic beverages (See Figure
17); it is more easily smuggled, more difficult
Methamphetamine conversion
to detect, and can be less expensive than in
laboratories are used to either convert
powder or crystal forms. This smuggling method
powder methamphetamine into crystal
requires a conversion laboratory to extract the
methamphetamine or to recrystallize
methamphetamine from the solution in which it
methamphetamine in solution back into crystal
is dissolved. Methamphetamine in solution form
methamphetamine—conversion laboratories
is rarely sold on the streets.
are not used for methamphetamine production.
From 2000 to 2019, with the exception of 2018,
Figure 17. Methamphetamine in Solution
the majority of conversion laboratory seizures
seizures from HIDTA DHE Initiative
occurred in California. The state of Georgia had
the majority of conversion laboratories in 2018.
Law enforcement has seized conversion
laboratories in states farther from the SWB,
primarily in the Midwest region. In 2019, there
Source: Gulf Coast Blue Lightning Operations Center/High
were conversion laboratories seized in Florida,
Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Watch Center
Kansas, Kentucky, and Missouri (See Figure 18).
Figure 19. EPIC NSS Seizure Totals for
• In May 2020, authorities stopped an
individual arriving at Dulles International
Methamphetamine in Pill Form
Airport outside Washington, D.C. and seized
approximately five pounds of suspected
MDMA in pill form from the individual’s
luggage. Laboratory analysis indicated that
the multi-colored/various shaped pills in a fish
oil bottle and in a coconut oil bottle were not
MDMA, but rather methamphetamine.
• Counterfeit Adderall tablets have been
encountered previously in Michigan, Florida,
and also in Washington State in 2019. These
pills bore similar coloring and markings of
legitimate prescription Adderall (See Figure
20). The primary substance identified in
Source: El Paso Intelligence Center, National Seizure System
laboratory analysis in these cases was
methamphetamine. In 2019, the Michigan
Methamphetamine in
State Police, DEA’s Miami Field Division, and
the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force
Pill Form
in Washington seized pills of this type.
Methamphetamine in pill form has appeared
in several states in 2019 and into 2020.
As with other drugs of abuse, these product
Many incidents have involved pill forms
innovations illustrate the determination of DTOs
that resemble MDMA tablets, while others
to make methamphetamine appealing to non-
have been counterfeit pharmaceuticals with
traditional users, particularly those in the CPD
methamphetamine present or as the primary
user population, by offering the drug in atypical
substance. Ten of DEA’s 23 Field Divisions
forms. Counterfeit MDMA tablets may also
reported having encountered methamphetamine
Figure 20. Legitimate Adderall Tablets
in some type of pill form. Due to the sporadic
(Top) and Counterfeit Tablets (Bottom)
nature of reports and encounters, it is likely that
Containing Methamphetamine
individuals domestically manufacture counterfeit
pills containing methamphetamine marketed
to new or niche markets rather than being
available/marketed as a wholesale-level product.
Seizures of methamphetamine pills reported
to NSS have increased dramatically with
115 seizures reported to NSS in 2019, up
from only 11 in the previous year. From
2015 to 2019, NSS reported 128 seizures of
methamphetamine pills in total (See Figure 19).
Source: Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area
be an attempt at attracting a non-traditional
user base by supplementing or replacing a
Mexican TCOs are likely to continue to produce,
more expensive product with a cheaper, more
transport, and distribute high-purity, high-
easily obtained drug. DEA consistently seizes
potency methamphetamine across the SWB
methamphetamine in traditional forms, and pill
into the United States and will likely continue to
forms remain sporadically reported.
adapt their production methods as precursor
chemicals become restricted, become
COVID-19 Pandemic Impact
temporarily unavailable, or cost-prohibitive.
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have affected
Domestic production will likely continue declining
TCOs’ short-term ability to obtain precursor
as methamphetamine produced in Mexico
chemicals, lasting long-term impacts on the
remains a lower cost, higher purity, and higher
supply chain and methamphetamine production
potency alternative.
appears to be minor or negligible, allowing the
Conversion laboratories will likely continue to
TCOs flexibility in determining pricing. DEA
increase, or at least maintain a stable presence,
reporting indicates TCOs were already looking
as methamphetamine in solution remains an
to increase the price of methamphetamine
effective concealment and transportation option.
prior to the onset of the pandemic. Additionally,
Additionally, TCOs are likely to continue to
TCOs may have exaggerated the effects of
attempt to expand existing markets or establish
the pandemic on aspects of production and
new ones by offering methamphetamine in non-
supply, particularly chemical supplies, to further
traditional forms such as tablets.
increase pricing.
The price of methamphetamine currently
DEA reporting also indicates that some TCOs
remains low compared to other drugs of abuse
sought to intentionally price gouge customers by
despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,
holding shipments of methamphetamine in order
but has seen price increases during the
to charge higher prices as the crisis prolonged
ongoing pandemic. As the COVID-19 pandemic
and supplies in the United States diminished.
crisis continues, fluctuations in pricing and
Assertions of limited availability do not appear
availability will likely continue with all drugs
credible, given a reported two-year inventory of
of abuse, with the methamphetamine market
illicit methamphetamine in Mexico before the
disproportionately affected.
crisis began.
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prices in an effort to maximize short-term profits
in anticipation of a shortened supply as the
Production, trafficking, and abuse of cocaine
pandemic progressed. Though availability and
consistently pose a threat to the safety and
pricing of cocaine has varied in certain locations
security of citizens and law enforcement, from
in the United States during the pandemic, the
the production zones in South America to
overall cocaine supply chain remains intact.
transportation and distribution networks in the
United States. Domestic availability is steady,
likely driven by high levels of coca cultivation
A steady supply of cocaine was available
and cocaine production in the Andean Region of
throughout U.S. domestic markets in 2019.
South America, and deaths from drug poisoning
Despite some reports of diminished supply
involving cocaine have increased every year
during the spring of 2020, cocaine availability
since 2013.
remained stable, although some price
fluctuations were reported across DEA Field
Impact of COVID-19 on
Divisions in the early stages of shelter-in-place
Cocaine Trafficking to the
orders due to the pandemic. All 23 DEA Field
United States
Divisions reported that cocaine was easily
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted multiple
obtained throughout 2019. Ten field divisions
nodes of the cocaine trafficking supply line, yet
reported cocaine availability was high, and 13
has not significantly reduced the overall supply
reported cocaine availability was moderate. The
to the United States. In Colombia—the primary
only division reporting a change from 2018 was
source country of cocaine in the
the Louisville Field Division, where availability of
United States—the pandemic has not significantly
the drug changed from high to moderate.
affected TCOs’ abilities to produce and smuggle
cocaine, as of October 2020. COVID-19 related
There were 196,721 cocaine reports submitted
restrictions in South, Central, and North America
to NFLIS-Drug in 2019, a 14 percent decrease
have not significantly impacted the flow of
from the 229,803 reports submitted in 2018. In
cocaine to the United States. While these
2019, the number of cocaine reports to NFLIS-
restrictions led to fewer opportunities for TCOs
Drug was the lowest number reported in the past
to engage in drug trafficking activities via air and
six years and is less than half of the amount
land, the impact has generally not extended to
reported at the peak in 2006 (640,141 reports).
maritime activity. Moreover, TCOs adapted and
Still, of the top 25 most frequently identified
have continued smuggling large quantities of
drugs in NFLIS-Drug, cocaine ranked third
cocaine into the United States. Domestically,
overall in 2019, behind methamphetamine and
traffickers faced uncertainty and likely increased
cannabis/tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
DEA’s Cocaine Signature Program (CSP)
Each year through the CSP, in-depth chemical analyses are performed on cocaine exhibits obtained
from bulk seizures made throughout the United States. The program also examines a smaller
number of cocaine exhibits seized from around the world. Additionally, samples of solvents,
reagents, and other materials seized from South American illicit cocaine laboratories are examined.
Analytical methodologies developed at the STRL give evidence of how and where the coca leaf was
processed into cocaine base (geographical origin), and how cocaine base was converted into cocaine
hydrochloride (processing method). State-of-the-art scientific methods can determine the geographic
origin of the coca leaf, down to the sub-regional growing region used to produce a cocaine exhibit with
a confidence level exceeding 96 percent.
CSP analysis has consistently indicated that Colombian-origin cocaine dominates the market in the
United States. These forensic findings are consistent with all available law enforcement intelligence
and investigative reporting. CSP data is not intended to reflect U.S. market share, but is rather a
snapshot of current cocaine processing and trafficking trends. The CSP also provides a substantial
dataset (over 47,000 exhibits since 1998) for strategic intelligence analysis that reflects random
cocaine samples taken from all wholesale-level domestic seizures submitted to all DEA laboratories
that total metric tons of cocaine each year.
Figure 21. Total Number of Deaths from Drug Poisoning Involving
Cocaine in the United States and the District of Columbia, 2010 - 2018
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protectionp
p. Drug poisoning deaths include the following ICD-10 underlying cause codes: X40-X44, X60-X64, X85, Y10-Y-14. Drug poisoning deaths include
unintentional (accidental overdose), intentional (suicide or homicide by drug), and deaths of undetermined intention. Cocaine-involved drug poisoning
deaths are coded under ICD-10 multiple cause code T40.5.
Sustained cocaine production at record levels
rates from drug poisoning involving cocaine, per
in Colombia is likely stabilizing cocaine’s overall
100,000 population, were in Delaware (15.9),
presence in the U.S. drug market.
the District of Columbia (14.2), Rhode Island
(13.1), Maryland (11.4), Massachusetts (10.7),
Drug Consumption and
New Jersey (9.9), Ohio (9.8), Vermont (9.4),
Connecticut (9.1), and Pennsylvania (8.5). Four
Overdose Deaths
U.S. states—Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio,
Cocaine abuse is a serious concern for law
and Pennsylvania—that were among the ten
enforcement and public health officials
states with the most overall deaths from drug
throughout the United States. In 2018, there
poisoning involving cocaine were also among the
were 14,666 deaths from drug poisoning
ten states with the highest age-adjusted death
involving cocaine in U.S. states and the District
rates from drug poisoning involving cocaine,
of Columbia, according to CDC estimates (See
per 100,000 population. Those four states
Figure 21). Between 2012 and 2018, the
collectively accounted for 3,733 deaths, or
number of deaths from drug poisoning involving
approximately 25 percent of all deaths from drug
cocaine increased every year, and 2018 is the
poisoning involving cocaine in the United States
third year in a row that such deaths exceeded
in 2018.
10,000. Deaths from drug poisoning involving
cocaine have increased about 251 percent
Polydrug cocaine combinations, particularly
from 2010 to 2018. The U.S. states with the
cocaine with SOOTM, are a serious concern
greatest number of deaths from drug poisoning
and have contributed to the increase in drug
involving cocaine in 2018, in descending order,
poisoning deaths involving cocaine over the
were New York (1,276 deaths), Florida (1,221),
past four years. Drug poisoning deaths involving
Ohio (1,105), Pennsylvania (1,045), New Jersey
cocaine and SOOTM increased from 167 deaths
(867), Illinois (771), Michigan (768), Texas
in 2010, to 8,659 deaths in 2018 (See Figure
(741), Massachusetts (716) and North Carolina
22), a 5,085 percent increase. In 2017 and
(711). In 2018, the highest age-adjusted death
2018, the number of drug poisoning deaths
Figure 22. Drug Poisoning Deaths Involving: Cocaine
and a SOOTM; Cocaine without a SOOTM, 2010 - 2018
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
involving cocaine and a SOOTM were greater
cocaine and SOOTM, but without additional
than the number of drug poisoning deaths
information it is difficult to distinguish whether
involving cocaine without a SOOTM. Drug
spikes in overdose deaths are primarily
poisoning deaths involving cocaine and a SOOTM
attributed to intentional use of true drug
began to dramatically increase at the same time
combinations, ingestion of SOOTM containing
as the onset of the fentanyl epidemic in the
only small elements of cocaine (or ingestion of
United States in 2014. Therefore, these deaths
cocaine with small elements of SOOTM), or dual
may be attributable primarily to cocaine-fentanyl
use of cocaine and SOOTM at different times.
combinations, though this cannot be confirmed
with the referenced data.
Coca cultivation and potential pure cocaine
Because many DTOs are polydrug in nature—
production remain at record high levels in
specializing in the packaging, sale and
South America, from where almost all of the
distribution of more than one drug at a time—
world’s cocaine is sourced. In 2019, the
multiple drugs are often processed in the same
three major cocaine-producing countries of
shared space, which can result in unintentional
the world—Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru—had
mixture of substances. Cocaine and fentanyl
approximately 326,180 hectares (ha) of coca
or other SOOTM may be packaged together
cultivation and potential pure cocaine production
for street sale without the knowledge of the
of approximately 1,886 metric tons, according
user and/or seller, which can lead to adverse
to USG estimates. Of the three countries, both
reactions in those who lack the opioid tolerance
coca cultivation and potential pure cocaine
of a habitual opioid user. There is a tangible
production were highest in Colombia in 2019,
threat associated with intentional mixing of
Figure 23. Colombia: Coca Cultivation and Potential
Pure Cocaine Production, 2010 - 2019
Source: U.S. Government Estimates
the origin for the majority of the cocaine in the
moving it through Central America and Mexico,
United States. Coca cultivation in Colombia
and then smuggling it into the United States
increased slightly, from 208,000 ha in 2018 to
over the Southwest Border. Traffickers, including
212,000 ha in 2019. Additionally, the estimated
Dominican TCOs, also transport cocaine through
potential pure cocaine production increased
the Caribbean Corridor, primarily via maritime
from 877 metric tons in 2018 to 936 metric
and aerial smuggling methods. Mexican TCOs
tons in 2019 (See Figure 23). The strategic
dominate cocaine transportation throughout
trends documented by the USG in recent years
the United States, but rely on local criminal
-increased overall coca cultivation in Colombia;
groups for retail-level distribution. After
higher coca yields; higher potential cocaine
Mexican, Colombian, or Dominican trafficking
production; and higher farmer profits per hectare
organizations transport cocaine into the
of coca—continued in 2019.
United States, local U.S. criminal groups and
street gangs facilitate mid-and retail-level
Transportation and
distribution. Moreover, the production and
distribution of crack cocaine is mainly handled
by local U.S. criminal groups and street gangs.
Mexican TCOs control cocaine trafficking in the
United States, which is likely to continue as no
The amount of cocaine seized in the
other trafficking group is positioned to challenge
United States increased in 2019 in comparison
them in the near term. While Mexican TCOs
to 2018, according to U.S. law enforcement
dominate the wholesale distribution of cocaine
agencies. According to CBP information, cocaine
to the United States, Colombian TCOs maintain
seizures along the SWB decreased slightly, from
control over its production and supply. Mexican
10,662 kilograms in 2018, to 10,653 kilograms
TCOs continue to obtain multi-ton shipments of
in 2019 (See Figure 24). Nationwide CBP
powder cocaine from South American traffickers,
cocaine seizures increased 70 percent, from
Figure 24. U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nationwide and
Southwest Border Cocaine Seizures, 2010 - 2019
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Figure 25. DEA Reported Domestic Cocaine Seizures
by U.S. State or Territory, 2019
Source: DEA
26,585 kilograms in 2018 to 45,241 kilograms
cocaine seized (54,913.45 kilograms) decreased
in 2019 (See Figure 24). Other law enforcement
approximately 11 percent from 2018 to 2019.
datasets indicate similar trends for cocaine
DEA state and territory-level cocaine seizures in
seizures in 2019. According to EPIC’s
2019 generally followed previously established
NSS, the amount of cocaine seized in the
patterns.r The greatest amount of cocaine
United States increased from 61,966 kilograms
seized reported by the DEA occurred in states
in 2018 to 72,856 kilograms in 2019.q
along the SWB and Caribbean Corridor, or those
The increase in reported cocaine seizures is
with high-traffic international airports or seaports
primarily attributed to the record seizure of
(See Figure 25). Florida was the U.S. state or
approximately 17,928 kilograms from cargo
territory with the largest amount of cocaine
containers on the MSC Gayane in Philadelphia,
seizures by weight in 2019. Florida’s proximity to
Pennsylvania, destined for Antwerp, Belgium,
the Caribbean Corridor facilitates a large volume
on June 17, 2019. Excluding that seizure,
of cocaine smuggling. California had the second
nationwide CBP seizures increased a little
greatest amount of cocaine seized in 2019 and
less than three percent, from 2018 (26,585
Pennsylvania the third. Puerto Rico was the U.S.
kilograms) to 2019 (27,312.79 kilograms).
state or territory with the fourth largest amount
Similarly, NSS data indicates the amount of
of cocaine seizures. These seizures indicate
q. Date of information: May 15, 2020
r. Date of information: June 8, 2020
that traffickers continue to use Puerto Rico as
Traffickers less frequently utilize the Western
a major transit location in the Caribbean for
Caribbean Vector and the Caribbean Corridor to
cocaine destined for the continental
smuggle cocaine destined for the United States.
United States.
In 2019, approximately 16 percent of cocaine
departing South America transited the Western
The vast majority of cocaine destined for the
Caribbean Sea toward Central America and
United States initially transits through one or
Mexico, split evenly between noncommercial
multiple countries. Less than one percent of
maritime vessels and illicit aircraft (See Figure
documented cocaine movement was shipped
26). Roughly eight percent of documented
directly to the United States from South America
cocaine movements departing South America
in 2019, according to a U.S. Government
moved toward the Caribbean Islands in 2019,
database of known and suspected drug
mostly aboard go-fast vessels (See Figure 26).
seizure and movement events. Traffickers
Additionally, small amounts of cocaine are
predominantly utilize maritime routes in the
moved overland from Colombia to Panama.
Eastern Pacific (EPAC) to smuggle cocaine from
South America to the United States. In 2019,
about 74 percent of cocaine documented
departing South America toward the
United States transited the EPAC, mostly aboard
go-fast vessels (See Figure 26).
Figure 26. Cocaine Movement to Mexico, Central America,
and the Caribbean, Calendar Year 2019
Source: U.S. Government database of known and suspected drug seizure and movement events. Date accessed: June 9, 2020.
Information cutoff date: December 31, 2019.
Cocaine trafficking in the United States will
continue to remain a threat, with continued
availability driven by record production levels in
Colombia. Despite the initial pricing increases
per kilogram of cocaine reported in some U.S.
drug markets during the COVID-19 pandemic,
prices will likely stabilize. Mexico will remain
the primary intermediate source of supply for
South American-origin cocaine smuggled into the
United States, and Mexican TCOs will continue to
use their extensive infrastructure in both Mexico
and the United States to supply lucrative cocaine
markets. Based on the existing cultivation and
production estimates in South America, these
TCOs are able to consistently supply cocaine to
the U.S. markets.
Controlled Prescription Drugs (CPDs) remain
DEA reporting in 16 of 23 Field Divisions
a prevalent concern within the United States—
indicates high CPD street availability for 2019.
availability remains constant although abuse
All DEA Field Divisions reported the same
levels decreased from the previous year.s DEA
availability except DEA’s Seattle Field Division
Field Divisions consistently report high CPD
which reported a drop from high availability in
availability on the street within their AORs. CPD
2018 to moderate availability in 2019.
diversion continues to decrease across most
Prescription opioids were involved in nearly
categories at the national level, but some states
15,000 U.S. deaths in 2018, averaging 41
report an increase in the number of incidents.
each day, according to the CDC (See Figure 27).
The number of opioid dosage units available on
Prescription opioids were involved in 32 percent
the retail market and opioid thefts and losses
of all opioid overdose deaths; however, there was
reached their lowest levels in nine years.
a notable 13.5 percent decrease in prescription
Figure 27. National Drug Overdose Deaths Involving Prescription Opioids,
Number Among All Ages, 1999 - 2018
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Multiple Cause of Death 1999-2018
on CDC WONDER Online Database, released January, 2019.
s. CPDs include, but are not limited to, narcotics (e.g. Vicodin, OxyContin), depressants (e.g. Valium, Xanax), stimulants (e.g. Adderall, Ritalin), and
anabolic steroids (e.g. Anadrol, Oxandrin).
opioid-involved death rates from 2017 to 2018.
to 2019, opioids continue to rank as five out of
Even though prescription-involved opioid deaths
the seven most distributed CPDs (See Figure
decreased from the previous year, CPD misuse
28). Hydrocodone and oxycodone products were
and diversion of these drugs has continued to
dispensed at more than twice the rate of any
rise over the past two decades. The CDC reports
other CPD, which remains a steady trend. Two
that U.S. prescription-involved opioid overdose
stimulants—amphetamine and methylphenidate
deaths have increased from just under 4,000
(brand name Ritalin)—have maintained a
deaths in 1999 to 15,000 deaths in 2018 with a
continual presence over the years, while
total 232,000 deaths from 1999 to 2018.
buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid
dependence, replaced methadone in the top
None of the states observed a significant
seven most distributed CPDs from 2017 through
increase of prescription opioid deaths, and
2019. During the pandemic, DEA enacted
17 states reported decreasing numbers. In
temporary measures to permit better access to
2018, West Virginia experienced the highest
individuals in need of treatment for opioid use
prescription overdose death rate at 13.1 per
disorder, allowing for distribution of methadone
100,000 people while also presenting the
and buprenorphine outside of treatment clinics.
largest decrease with 4.1 fewer deaths per
DEA also temporarily allowed DATA-waived
100,000 people than in 2017.
practitioners to prescribe buprenorphine to new
Although DEA’s Automation of Reports and
patients following telephone consultation, rather
Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS) reveals
than requiring an in-person visit. Authorizing
that the number of dosage units distributed
greater access and availability of buprenorphine
nationwide at the retail level (hospitals,
allows for patients with an opioid use disorder to
pharmacies, practitioners, treatment programs,
receive medication assisted treatment.
and teaching institutions) decreased from 2018
Figure 28. Top Controlled Prescription Drugs Sold to Domestic Retail
Level Purchasers in Billions of Dosage Units, 2010 - 2019
Source: DEA’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System
Figure 29. Hydrocodone and Oxycodone Prescription Drugs Sold to Retail Level Purchasers
Compared to All Other Opioid CPDs in Billions of Dosage Units, 2010 - 2019
Source: DEA’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System
While the amount of prescription opioids
Opioid prescription rates continue to decrease
available on the legitimate market continued
since the peak in 2012, with the 2018
to decline since peaking in 2011, the numbers
prescribing rate at its lowest point in 13 years.
remain significant. ARCOS data indicated
The 2018 nationwide prescribing rate was 51.4
9.7 billion dosage units of opioid CPDs were
prescriptions per 100 U.S. residents, which
manufactured and distributed in 2019. This
dropped from 58.6 prescriptions per 100 U.S.
signifies the first time that opioid prescriptions
residents in 2017. However, the prescribing rate
dropped below ten billion dosage units since
continues to vary state-by-state. Alabama and
2010. Hydrocodone and oxycodone products
Arkansas continued to have the highest opioid
comprised approximately 78 percent of all CPDs
prescription rates from 2017 to 2018, although
sold to retail level purchasers for 2019 (See
the rate dropped below 100 prescriptions per
Figure 29).
100 U.S. residents for both states (See Figure
30). New York and Hawaii have the lowest opioid
Figure 30. States with Five Highest and Five Lowest Opioid Prescribing Rates, 2018
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Figure 31. Opioids* Manufactured, and Distributed at the Retail Level, 2016 - 2019
* Codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, morphine, oxycodone, and oxymorphone
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
prescribing rates at 34 and 33.4 prescriptions
oxymorphone, ephedrine, and pseudoephedrine
per 100 U.S. residents, respectively.
to account for increased medical demand
during the COVID-19 pandemic. DEA also
Opioid manufacturing levels dropped significantly
granted an exception to all DEA-registered
from 2016 to 2017 and have remained relatively
bulk manufacturers which allowed them
steady since 2017. Opioids sold to retail
to exceed the cap which normally restricts
distributors have declined by roughly 15 percent
manufacturers to not exceed 65 percent of
each year since 2016. The decreasing amount
their estimated net disposal in their inventory to
of pharmaceuticals available in the illicit market
ensure the availability of active pharmaceutical
is likely attributable to the combined efforts of
ingredients needed to manufacture dosage
law enforcement, diversion control enforcement,
forms and avoid potential production shortages.
and community education and outreach to
These adjustments allow more flexibility for
combat opioid and pharmaceutical abuse. The
manufacturers to reply to elevated licit demand
difference between the quantities manufactured
during the COVID-19 pandemic, if needed,
versus quantities provided to retail distributors
and to stave off a potential disruption to the
(See Figure 31) can be explained by several
global manufacturing and supply chain should
reasons including commercial medical needs,
COVID-19 conditions lead to widespread
scientific research, exports, and inventory.
shutdowns. Reinstated mandatory stay-at-home
DEA increased the 2020 aggregate production
orders, varying international response, and an
quota by 15 percent for fentanyl, morphine,
increasingly impacted workforce would strain
hydromorphone, codeine, oripavine,
production and transportation.
stimulants, and about 6.4 million who misused
DEA’s Response to COVID-19:
prescription tranquilizers or sedatives in that
Prescription Drugs
period. Misused pain relievers were the most
commonly abused type of prescription drugs with
DEA adjusted certain guidelines to swiftly and
9.3 million for adults over 18 and 695,000 for
appropriately assist medical professionals and
adolescents aged 12-18. Respondents in 2018
patients during the unprecedented COVID-19
identified relieving pain as the main purpose
pandemic. DEA granted state reciprocity for
behind prescription drug misuse at 63.6 percent.
neighboring states to practitioners who dispense
Other reasons behind prescription misuse were
controlled substances. DEA also provided two
to get high (10.6 percent), relieve tension (9.2
exceptions for Schedule II oral prescriptions:
percent), improve sleep (4.5 percent), cope with
the requirement for practitioners to provide
feelings or emotions (4.0 percent), addiction
a follow-up paper copy of an emergency oral
(3.2 percent), and drug experimentation (2.5
prescription to the pharmacy was extended
percent). These numbers remained relatively
from seven days to 15 days and practitioners
steady from 2017 data.
were allowed to send a follow-up prescription
via copy or photograph rather than an original
The NSDUH asked respondents in 2018 to
copy. DEA also relaxed telemedicine regulations
identify the specific prescription pain relievers
to ensure practitioners could prescribe medicine
they used in the past year, then whether
without direct contact. These extensions allowed
they misused that pain reliever during that
medical practitioners the flexibility needed to
period. For example, it measured the codeine
care for patients while abiding by state and
misuse percentage amongst the codeine
federal orders to avoid leaving their homes.
use percentage. For reference, hydrocodone
However, these flexibilities could lead to abuse
products such as Vicodin or Lortab represent
or misuse without proper accountability and
the most commonly misused subtype of
management as restrictions for the COVID-19
prescription pain relievers overall at two percent
pandemic begin to wane.
of the total U.S. population. Comparatively,
the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that
Drug Consumption
28.4 percent of oxymorphone users misused
The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and
oxymorphone products and 28.3 percent of
Health (NSDUH) indicated that CPD abuse
buprenorphine users misused buprenorphine
dipped from the previous year, but remained
products. The Food and Drug Administration
high. Illegitimate use of CPDs rendered them
approved buprenorphine products include
the second most abused illicit substance after
Bunavail, Suboxone, and Zubsolv, all variations
marijuana with 16.9 million Americans over the
of buprenorphine and naloxone.
age of 12 reporting prescription drug misuse
The SAMHSA states that buprenorphine is the
within the past year, which dropped from 18.1
first medication to treat opioid dependency
million persons in 2018. This number includes
that a practitioner may disperse or prescribe,
9.9 million who misused prescription pain
unlike methadone that a practitioner must
relievers, 5.1 million who misused prescription
administer inside a regulated clinic. NFLIS-
Figure 32. Controlled Prescription Drugs Substance Reports to NFLIS-Drug, 2014 - 2019
Source: National Forensic Laboratory Information System-Drug - Retrieved July 10, 2020
Drug data reveals that buprenorphine reportst
relative for free, in exchange for payment, or
from all participating federal, state, and local
via theft. Over a third of CPD users obtained
laboratories increased each year except a
their pain relievers through prescription(s) or
minor drop from 2018 to 2019 (See Figure
by stealing them from a health care provider,
32).u NFLIS-Drug reported a 50 to 67 percent
with most obtaining the pain relievers through a
decrease of hydrocodone, methadone, and
prescription from a single doctor.
oxycodone reports from 2014 to 2019, so the 27
percent increase of buprenorphine during that
Robberies and Thefts
time frame was significant.
The DEA Theft Loss Reporting Database,
formerly the Drug Theft/Loss Database, reveals
that the number of dosage units of opioid
Diversion of lawfully made controlled
narcotics unaccounted for peaked in 2011 with
pharmaceuticals from the legitimate market into
19.5 million dosage units and has continued to
illicit use threatens U.S. communities. NSDUH
decrease.v This amount further declined to 6.1
reports that just over half (51.3 percent) of
million units in 2019, which marks the lowest
prescription pain reliever users obtained their
amount for the past nine years (See Figure 33).
most recently misused CPDs from a friend or
t. In reference to the data’s unit of measure, one count represents one single report in the NFLIS-Drug database. One single report equates to one
documented occurrence of a drug, whereas each report is counted separately and added to the NFLIS-Drug data.
u. NFLIS-Drug does not distinguish between licit pharmaceuticals and illicitly manufactured drugs. Thus, the data presented may contain both.
v. DEA’s Theft Loss Reporting Database (TLR) is a collection of information reported by registrants under regulatory requirement to report thefts and
losses of controlled substances (21 C.F.R. §§ 1301.74 and 1301.76). Registrants are required to amend reports if the drug originally reported
as a loss is recovered. The systems and requirements also do not capture disposals of controlled substances. The information contained in TLR
generated reports is a complete and accurate record of what DEA registrants provided to TLR in accordance with reporting requirements. This
information is susceptible to future updates and corrections, without notice, as new information is obtained. Recipients should be aware of these
limitations before analyzing or publishing TLR data. DEA assumes no liability for analysis, conclusions, or policy decisions of third parties based
on internal interpretation of provided data. Lastly, the data contains only what has been reported to the electronic TLR system. It may not contain
reports sent back for correction or reports submitted in hardcopy to the local field office. It is important to remember these numbers can change,
based on any new information that is subsequently received. There is no direct correlation between reported theft or loss of controlled substances
and any possible presumption that these drugs were ultimately used for illicit purposes.
Figure 33. Number of Dosage Units for Opioid Thefts/Losses in Millions, 2010 - 2019
Source: DEA
Figure 34. Total Number of Robberies, 2010 - 2019
*Armed Robberies reported from 2010 to 2018; All Robberies 2019 to date
Source: DEA
According to DEA’s Theft Loss Reporting
The state of Michigan reported only four
Database, the total number of prescription drug
robberies in 2019, a decline of 91 percent
robberies, which resulted in the loss of a variety
from 44 reported armed robberies in 2018
of prescription medications, decreased over 45
before the categories were altered.w The state
percent in 2019 from the high of 884 armed
of Alabama and the District of Columbia both
robberies in 2017. In fact, 2019 saw the lowest
experienced nearly double the number of
number of robberies in the past nine years (See
armed robberies from 2017 to 2018, but stayed
Figure 34). However, this trend applies only to
consistent in 2019. The state of California
the national level as certain states witnessed
reported the highest number of robberies at 82,
increases in 2019.
which marked a 29 percent decrease from the
previous year. Texas and Maryland maintained
high number of robberies, yet saw significant
Rise in Pharmacy Looting During the
dips from 2018; a 54 percent decrease and
COVID-19 Pandemic and Social Unrest
56 percent decrease, respectively (See Figure
that Occurred in 2020
35). Only six states saw an increased number
of robberies from 2018 to 2019, including Utah
Information received from DEA Field Divisions
indicated an uptick in thefts, burglaries, and/
from zero to 11 and Massachusetts from four
or robberies during the protests that occurred
to 10.
in late May through June 2020. Looters took
In addition to robberies, loss of CPDs also occurs
advantage of the civil unrest during the summer
of 2020 to target local pharmacies and are
through employee theft (or suspected), customer
believed to have stolen various controlled
theft (or non-employee), packaging discrepancy,
prescription drugs.
disaster (fire, weather, etc.), hijacking of
transport vehicle, and break-in burglary, as
well as losses in transit. In 2019, incidents of
employee theft (or suspected) increased in 48
states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.
w. The DEA Theft Loss Reporting Database categories fluctuated from 2018 to 2019, thus altering how the data is presented. The reader should take
caution when comparing categories. From 2018 to 2019, “Armed Robbery” became “Robbery” and “Night Break In” became “Break In Burglary.” In
addition, “Packaging Discrepancy” was added in 2019.
Figure 35. Top Ten States for Controlled Prescription Drug Robberies, 2019
Source: DEA
Alaska and Delaware are the only states that
Lost in Transit
experienced a slight decrease in employee theft
Lost in transit describes controlled substances
(or suspected) incidents. Customer theft (or
being misplaced while moving from one point
non-employee) incidents only decreased in five
to another within the supply chain. There has
states: Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, New York, and
been a decrease in lost in transit incidents from
Rhode Island. Break-in burglaries increased
2017 through 2019 (See Figure 36). This data
in 23 states. California reported the highest
is self-reported from any facility that manages
number of break-in burglaries at 248; however,
CPDs. In 2019, 22 states, Puerto Rico, and the
this number has decreased from a high of 339
District of Columbia experienced increases in the
incidents reported in 2016.
number of incidents, with the greatest increases
occurring in the state of Texas and the District
of Columbia. Missouri experienced an increase
for the sixth straight year. Overall, Arizona
accounted for more losses in transit than any
Figure 36. Top Ten States for Controlled Prescription Drugs Lost In Transit, 2019
Source: DEA
other state with 17,514 incidents from 2014-
2019. It is unclear if these dosage units are
being diverted, destroyed, or truly lost.
CPD availability and abuse will most likely persist
as significant threats to the United States as
CPDs continue to be involved in large numbers
of overdose deaths. Continued information
sharing aided by enhanced enforcement against
pill mills has lowered CPD diversion. The
increasing number of counterfeit pills resembling
prescription medications and users who may be
pivoting to abusing illicit substances with waning
CPD availability may prove to be a significant
threat into 2021.
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decline from over 287,000 kilograms in 2018.
CBP marijuana seizures along the SWB have
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law and
decreased more than 81 percent since 2013,
is the most commonly used illicit drug in the
when almost 1.3 million kilograms were seized.
United States. The national landscape continues
Lesser volumes of marijuana are smuggled
to evolve as states enact voter referenda and
into the United States from Canada and the
legislation regarding the possession, use, and
cultivation of marijuana and its associated
products. The prevalence of marijuana use, the
demand for potent marijuana and marijuana
Marijuana is widely available and cultivated
products, the potential for substantial profit, and
in all 50 states. In 2019, the majority of DEA
the perception of little risk entice diverse drug
Field Divisions indicated marijuana availability
traffickers and criminal organizations to cultivate
was high in their respective areas, meaning
and distribute illegal marijuana throughout the
marijuana is easily obtained at any time. Only
United States.
four DEA Field Divisions—Atlanta, Caribbean,
Mexico remains the most significant foreign
El Paso, and New Jersey—indicated marijuana
source for marijuana in the United States;
availability was moderate, meaning marijuana
however, in U.S. markets, Mexican marijuana has
is generally readily accessible. DEA’s Atlanta
largely been supplanted by domestic-produced
Field Division was the only division that reported
marijuana. In 2019, CBP seized nearly 249,000
marijuana was less available compared to the
kilograms of marijuana along the SWB, a
previous reporting period.
Figure 37. Reports of Cannabis/THC to NFLIS-Drug, 2014 - 2019
Source: National Forensic Laboratory Information-Drug - Retrieved July 10, 2020
Figure 38. Cannabis/THC Reports to NFLIS-Drug by State, 2019
Source: National Forensic Laboratory Information-Drug - Retrieved July 10, 2020
Cannabis/THC reports to NFLIS-Drug data by
State-Approved Marijuana
forensic laboratories continued to decline in
2019 (See Figure 37). In 2019, there were
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
270,677 marijuana reports submitted to NFLIS-
The federal prohibition on marijuana has
Drug data, a 21 percent decrease from the
existed since the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which
344,382 reports submitted in 2018. Cannabis/
was later replaced with the 1970 Controlled
THC was second only to methamphetamine in
Substances Act (CSA). Individual states have
the number of NFLIS-Drug data reports in 2019.
approved a variety of measures since 1996
relating to the use, possession, and cultivation of
marijuana. Figure 39 reflects the categories of
state-approved marijuana measures passed as
of July 2020.
Figure 39. Current State-Approved Marijuana Status - July 2020
Source: DEA
H.R. 5485 - Hemp Farming Act of 2018
The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 legalized industrial hemp with THC concentration of no more than
0.3 percent by removing it from Schedule I of the CSA. Hemp is defined as the plant Cannabis
sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts,
cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9
tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. The bill
also amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to allow state and tribal regulation of hemp
production. States and Native American tribes may regulate hemp production by submitting plans
to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The bill makes hemp producers eligible for both
federal crop insurance and USDA research grants, and gives hemp producers water rights and
access to the national banking system. The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 was incorporated into the
Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which was signed into law on December 20, 2018.
under state law and what is not. Illicit and state-
U.S. Marijuana Markets
approved markets often overlap. This creates
There are three types of marijuana markets
opportunities for criminals looking to exploit
operating in the United States: illicit markets,
state legalization, while presenting challenges
state-approved medical marijuana markets,
for federal law enforcement.
and state-approved personal use/recreational
markets. These markets operate differently
Although many marijuana markets have state-
and are best described independently. Drug
level approval, law enforcement reporting
traffickers obtain supplies from all three
indicates that financial backing for some
markets, as well as foreign-produced marijuana
marijuana businesses flows from illicit
trafficked into the United States.
revenue streams, including from TCOs. These
organizations utilize long-standing black market
A myriad of DTOs cultivate illicit marijuana
techniques to shelter profits from marijuana
nationwide. These groups range from individuals
businesses and undercut the tax revenues
growing a limited number of plants to DTOs
anticipated by state governments.
growing large quantities of marijuana intended
for distribution across the United States. Many
Colorado law limits the amount of marijuana
polycrime and polydrug organizations are
that dispensary customers can purchase per
involved in domestic marijuana production, often
transaction. However, by making multiple
establishing large-scale illicit grow operations in
purchases of marijuana or marijuana products
states that have legalized marijuana.
on the same day, individuals can acquire larger
amounts to divert and sell on the illicit market—
State-approved medical marijuana is diverted
referred to as “looping.”
to the illicit market in several ways. Some
individuals and organizations exploit medical
The 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp production
marijuana allowances to produce or acquire
at the federal level has further challenged law
marijuana or marijuana products. Instead of
enforcement, particularly in states that legalized
using what they purchase or grow, they sell some
marijuana. For example, investigations in
or all of it, often in markets where marijuana is
some states in which marijuana production
not legal at the state level, thus increasing their
is legal under state law have revealed a
profit. Additionally, some marijuana produced
significant number of hemp businesses and
by state-licensed growers is diverted and sold
grow operations that are owned and operated
illicitly rather than through state-licensed
by members of DTOs illegally producing
and trafficking marijuana. According to law
enforcement officials, traffickers use their state-
State-approved recreational and personal use
issued hemp documentation as cover for large-
markets are supplied by a growing number of
scale marijuana grows and marijuana loads
state-approved producers and retail stores. As
transported across state lines. Additionally,
with medical marijuana, each state allowing
large hemp grows are sometimes used to hide
for recreational or personal use marijuana has
marijuana plants interspersed throughout the
created unique and often vague or evolving
hemp plants.
laws, which blur the lines between what is legal
Domestic Production
Increasing Potency
Both state-licensed and illicit domestic
As domestic production and availability continue
marijuana production continue to increase and
to rise, the THC potency of marijuana and
diversify. Expanding marijuana production,
marijuana concentrate products increases as
specifically in states that have legalized the drug,
well. Most states that have legalized marijuana
has led to saturated markets. Meanwhile, black
have not placed limits on THC potency, with the
market marijuana production continues to grow
exception of those states with cannabidiol (CBD)-
in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington,
only provisions.
and other states that have legalized marijuana,
Print and online ads routinely promote smokable
creating an overall decline in prices for illicit
marijuana at levels of 30 percent THC or more
marijuana as well. This further incentivizes drug
available in retail marijuana dispensaries. Some
trafficking organizations operating large-scale
boast marijuana concentrate products with
grow sites in these states to sell to customers in
THC levels exceeding 90 percent. High levels
markets throughout the Midwest and East Coast,
of THC potency is not limited to the marijuana
where marijuana commands a higher price.
industry. Black market growers have also
Marijuana is also shipped via mail and express
capitalized on the wide availability of plant
consignment shipping services from the
strains with high THC content, most of which
United States mainland to the U.S. Virgin Islands
have low CBD content. Data from the University
(USVI). In the USVI, marijuana users generally
of Mississippi’s Potency Monitoring Program
desire marijuana with a higher THC and often
shows that in 2019, average THC potency in
obtain it from areas in the United States where
both traditional and concentrated marijuana
medical and/or recreational marijuana is legal.
decreased from 2018—although still at a high
level (See Figure 40).
Figure 40. Average THC and CBD Potency of Traditional
and Concentrated Marijuana, 1995 - 2019
Source: University of Mississippi
Of the states with some form of legalized
Indoor Grow Operations
marijuana, about one-third prohibit private
State-approved private marijuana cultivation,
residents from growing their own marijuana.
often referred to as “home grows,” has changed
The rest allow for private grows in the general
the nationwide marijuana trafficking landscape.
range of 6 to 12 plants with varying stipulations
State laws vary widely with regard to how many
on how many can be mature plants and how
medical and recreational plants an individual is
many can be seedlings. Among those, Colorado
allowed to cultivate and whether or not medical
remains as an outlier. While a state law enacted
marijuana patients are required to register home
in 2018 limits home grows to 12 total plants
grows with the state. Consequently, it is largely
within a residence, medical marijuana patients
unknown how many people may be cultivating
can still get higher plant recommendations from
marijuana within the parameters of state-
physicians and can legally grow up to 99 plants,
approved marijuana legality.
provided the grow is not located in a residential
Criminal Organizations and Marijuana
Figure 41. DTO-operated Residential
Marijuana Grows
Where personal marijuana cultivation is legal
at the state level, growing marijuana for profit
offers drug traffickers substantial profit with
little risk. A grower with some experience and
the proper equipment can produce up to one
pound of marijuana per plant per 90-day growing
cycle. Therefore, six marijuana plants can
produce roughly 24 pounds of marijuana in a
year. The average black market price for high
quality indoor marijuana is $800 - $1,000 USC
per pound, meaning growers can potentially
earn $19,200 - $24,000 USC per year from six
Source: DEA Denver Field Division
“legal” plants. Prices are higher in state markets
Indoor cultivation provides year-round harvests,
where marijuana is not legal, meaning growers
along with privacy and security compared to
can command double or even triple the average
black market price.
outdoor cultivation. Indoor grows can yield
marijuana regardless of climate conditions or
DEA reporting indicates drug trafficking
growing seasons. Personal home grows are
organizations with substantial experience,
often located in residential houses, though some
equipment, and resources are able to produce
large medical marijuana grows and cooperative
up to 1,800 pounds of marijuana per year for
every 100 plants cultivated, earning as much
grows can be found in warehouses or industrial
as $5.4 million USC in that time from those 100
The conversion of residential properties into
marijuana greenhouses presents significant risks
to homeowners, neighbors, utility companies,
and first responders. Indoor grows require large
amounts of water and artificial light, creating
high demand on local utilities. Neighborhoods
by poisoning and destroying natural habitats.
with large or many grows experience blown
In a 2017 report, the National Wildlife Refuge
transformers and blackouts. Trafficking groups
System in California, Nevada, and the Klamath
often steal power by illegally wiring directly into
Basin reported these sites are dangerous to
the city’s power system, which drives up the
employees and to the public in general, and are
price of power for legitimate customers and
expensive to find and reclaim. Illicit cultivation
creates a significant fire hazard.
of marijuana also threatens statewide water
Marijuana grow homes often sustain severe
structural damage. Moisture, condensation,
Figure 42. Illicit Outdoor Marijuana Grow
and mold can spread throughout the residence.
Illegal growers often cut holes in floors and
exterior walls in order to install ventilation tubes,
as well as tamper with electrical systems in
order to supply multiple high-power grow lights
and industrial air-conditioning units. Altered
electrical systems with loose and entangled
wires; flammable fertilizers and chemicals;
explosive materials, such as propane and
butane; holes cut into subfloors; booby
traps; and weapons all pose clear hazards to
Source: DEA Los Angeles Field Division
firefighters or police officers responding to the
residence in an emergency.
Domestic Cannabis
Outdoor Grow Operations
Outdoor grows are conducted in a variety
During FY 2019, DEA’s Domestic Cannabis
of settings, from backyards to multiple-acre
Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/
public lands, and are frequently co-mingled
SP), in coordination with state and local law
among legitimate crops and natural vegetation.
enforcement agencies, documented over 4
Marijuana cultivation on public lands is
million plants and 363,098 pounds of processed
undiminished despite state legalization. Grows
marijuana seized from 5,287 outdoor and indoor
on public lands are often in remote areas that
grow sites throughout the United States (See
are difficult to access and expensive to maintain.
Figures 43 and 44). This reflects a 30 percent
These grows are challenging for law enforcement
increase in total plants eradicated compared to
to discover and eradicate.
FY 2018 (2.8 million plants). Outdoor grow sites
Large outdoor grow sites have significant
accounted for most of the increase. The number
negative environmental impacts. Millions of
of plants eradicated from outdoor grow sites rose
acres of public lands are at risk of devastation
by over 1 million from FY 2018 to FY 2019 (a 45
from the illegal cultivation of marijuana. Large
percent increase), while the number of plants
grow operations produce tons of toxic waste that
eradicated from indoor grow sites rose by more
permeate the landscape and endanger wildlife
than 172,000 (a 22 percent increase).
California topped the list at 1,344 outdoor
Criminal Organizations and
grows, up from 889 in FY 2018. Next were
Black Market Production
Kentucky (583) and Ohio (477). Likewise,
California topped the list at 644 indoor grows,
Many DTOs and TCOs involved in large-scale
followed by Colorado (118) and Maryland (90).
marijuana production are also involved in other
Of the total number of plants eradicated, 79
criminal activity, including financial fraud,
percent (3.19 million) were in California, an
international money laundering, and polydrug
increase from FY 2018, when 1.8 million plants
trafficking and production. Marijuana generates
were eradicated in that state. Over half (54
millions of dollars that furthers the scope of their
percent) of the bulk processed marijuana seized
criminal activity throughout the United States.
was also in California, followed by Arizona (18
percent), Colorado (5 percent), and Oklahoma
Marijuana is often seized in conjunction with
(5 percent). From the eradication sites, there
other illicit drugs. In 2019, DEA offices in
were 3,210 weapons seized, with California
southern California noted several instances
accounting for almost half (46 percent).
wherein THC extraction laboratories were
discovered along with psilocybin mushroom
Figure 43. Number of Marijuana
grows or illicit fentanyl pill press operations.
Plants Eradicated by DCE/SP,
FY 2018 and FY 2019
• In April 2020, eight members of a DTO operating in
the Chicago area were arrested and 32 pounds of THC
oil, 120 pounds of THC-infused gummies, 135 pounds
of marijuana, several firearms, and approximately
$762,000 in U.S. currency (USC) were seized as part
of an ongoing investigation into a drug trafficking and
money laundering organization with ties to Mexican
DTOs. Several of the arrested DTO members were
Mexican money launderers.
Source: DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication and Suppression
• An investigation into a methamphetamine and
marijuana distribution organization operating in
Kentucky and Tennessee culminated with federal
Figure 44. Number of Pounds of Bulk
search warrants executed in December 2019. Law
Harvested Marijuana Seized at Indoor
enforcement seized approximately 4.5 kilograms
and Outdoor Grow Sites by DCE/SP,
of methamphetamine, 366 pounds of marijuana,
FY 2018 and FY 2019
and 400 vape cartridges containing 65-85 percent
THC concentrate. The sources of supply for
this organization included an affiliate of a white
supremacist group and outlaw motorcycle gang.
Source: DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication and Suppression
Figure 46. Illicit Concentrated Marijuana
Marijuana Concentrates/
Distillation Laboratory
Extracts and THC Extraction
THC extraction laboratories continue to produce
marijuana concentrates such as hashish, hash
oil, and kief, which have gained popularity in
the United States. Marijuana concentrates
often are ingested through e-cigarettes and
vape devices. Marijuana concentrates are
also in edible products like cookies, brownies,
and gummy candies, as well as topical lotions,
tinctures, capsules, and patches. These potent
Source: DEA San Diego Field Division
forms of marijuana present challenges to law
Clandestine distillation laboratories are
enforcement, educators, and parents, as they
increasingly encountered by law enforcement in
are easier to conceal and ingest than traditional
California, which use sophisticated equipment to
leafy marijuana. Additionally, such products
remove impurities from concentrated marijuana.
pose a significant health risk to children who
This removal process, sometimes referred to as
might mistakenly consume them.
“winterization,” can produce a THC product with
• In April 2020, multiple drug-laden parcels that were
90 percent purity or higher (See Figure 46).
shipped from California to South Carolina were
interdicted. The packages included marijuana and
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), a Schedule
numerous THC edibles that mimicked legitimately
I drug, is available in both state-licensed
manufactured candy and food products
marijuana retail markets and the illicit market.
(See Figure 45).
It is advertised as the strongest
Figure 45. THC-infused Candy and Cereal
form of hash, containing up to 99
percent THC. THCA is a biosynthetic
precursor of THC and is extracted
using various methods from undried
cannabis plants. It is typically clear
or white in color, with a texture in the
form of crystals, powder, or oil. THCA
converts to THC when it is heated.
The substance is typically dabbed
(i.e. inhaling the vapors) to achieve
an intense high.
Extraction laboratories using volatile
solvents, such as butane and
hexane, continue to cause explosions
and fires, resulting in injuries and
structural damage (See Figure 47).
Source: Charleston County Sheriff’s Office
Figure 47. Clandestine THC Extraction
Transportation and
According to DEA drug seizure data, total gross
weight nationwide marijuana seizures declined
by 30 percent from 441,037 kilograms in 2018
to 309,012 kilograms in 2019. Overall, DEA
marijuana seizures have been declining since
2015 when 886,200 kilograms were seized (See
Figure 49). The decrease in seizures is most
likely caused by the challenges presented by the
changing marijuana legal landscape.
Source: DEA Los Angeles Field Division
State-level DEA (net weight) marijuana seizures
For calendar year 2019, a total of 180 extraction
generally followed previously established
laboratories were reported to NSS; 81 percent of
patterns. The highest seizures occurred in
the laboratories were reported in California, and
states with major land border crossings or
14 percent were reported in Oregon (See Figure
high traffic seaports, as well as in states with
48). Four percent of the reported extraction
large recreational or medical marijuana state-
laboratories were listed at residential locations
approved markets (See Figure 50). California
and another 26 percent were reported/
and Texas had the largest marijuana seizure
discovered as the result of a fire or explosion.
levels, consistent with previous years, followed
by Arizona and Colorado.
Figure 48. BHO/THC Extraction Laboratories Seized in the United States, 2019
Source: El Paso Intelligence Center, National Seizure System
Figure 49. DEA Nationwide Marijuana
planes. The use of commercial parcel services
Seizures in Kilograms, 2015 - 2019
is also common especially for trafficking
concentrated forms of marijuana, which are
concealed in envelopes, small containers, or
flattened parcels.
Foreign-Produced Marijuana
Marijuana is also smuggled into the
United States from Mexico, and in smaller
Source: DEA
volumes from Canada and the Caribbean.
Marijuana produced in the United States is often
Marijuana from Mexico is typically classified as
trafficked from states where production is legal
“commercial-grade” or “low-grade” marijuana,
to or through states where production is not.
lesser in quality than marijuana produced in
Domestically produced marijuana is transported
the United States and Canada. High-grade
in POVs, rented vehicles, semi-trucks, tractor-
marijuana is transported from Canada, which
trailers, vehicle hauler trailers, trains, and buses
legalized marijuana in October 2018, into the
as well as through personal and commercial
United States at various points along the shared
Figure 50. DEA State-Level Marijuana Seizures in Kilograms, 2019
Source: DEA
border, particularly through the Mohawk Nation
In response to an increased demand for
at Akwesasne, bordering New York State and
marijuana concentrate products in the
United States, TCOs in Mexico have begun
producing and trafficking THC oil.
Jamaica continues to be the largest Caribbean
• Between May 2019 and January 2020, five seizures
marijuana supplier to local Caribbean nations;
of THC oil occurred in Arizona’s west desert corridor,
however, production is increasing in Puerto Rico
totaling 607 pounds. In each case, backpackers were
and the USVI.
transporting the THC oil through Arizona’s west desert.
Large quantities of foreign-produced marijuana
• In April 2020, CBP officers at the Port Huron, Michigan
are smuggled into the United States via POVs,
POE discovered 788 kilograms of marijuana pressed
and packaged into 48 bundles hidden in a semi-truck
commercial vehicles, buses, rail systems,
driven by a Canadian citizen.
subterranean tunnels, small boats, unmanned
aerial vehicles/drones, and catapults.
Backpackers also walk loads of marijuana
across the SWB. Once marijuana has been
Domestic use of marijuana remains high and is
smuggled into the United States, it is often
likely to increase as state legalization continues
stored in warehouses along the border prior to
and perception of risk by potential users
distribution throughout the United States.
continues to decrease. The high availability of
high-potency marijuana, marijuana concentrate
According to CBP information, marijuana
products, and trendy paraphernalia will likely
seizures along the SWB have continued to
continue to entice potential users. Domestic
decline as domestic production increases.
production and trafficking of marijuana will
The total weight seized by CBP along the SWB
likely increase as more states adopt or change
decreased 13 percent from 287,398 kilograms
current marijuana laws to establish medical or
in 2018 to 248,585 kilograms in 2019.
recreational marijuana markets.
• In June 2020, authorities seized 779 kilograms of
Despite widespread state legalization measures,
marijuana hidden in the cab of a tractor-trailer crossing
the World Trade Bridge from Mexico into Laredo, Texas
TCOs will continue to expand their illicit
(See Figure 51).
marijuana production and trafficking, earning
substantial profits that will further enhance their
Figure 51. 1,344 packages of
marijuana totaling 5,779 kilograms
polydrug trafficking and polycriminal operations.
seized in Laredo, Texas
Marijuana produced in Mexico will continue
to be trafficked into the United States in bulk
quantities and may increase in quality to
compete with domestic-produced marijuana.
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Laredo Sector
many substances quickly rise to popularity and
then fall out of use or are no longer available.
New Psychoactive Substances (NPSs) are a
Some of these changes are likely due to
diverse group of synthetic substances that are
regulatory controls on specific NPSs, which have
purported to have similar effects to controlled
been successful in discouraging NPS use and
substances. The NPS market is typified by
availability among the general population.
new substances constantly being created
and marketed to users, most often as legal
The majority of DEA Field Divisions indicated
alternatives to controlled substances. Synthetic
NPS availability was low or moderate throughout
cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones are the
the United States. In 2019, 11 of 23 DEA Field
most common classes of NPSs available and
Divisions reported NPS availability was moderate
abused in the United States; however, there are
and nine reported NPS availability was low,
many other classes of NPSs including opioidsx,
with only three divisions reporting high NPS
phenethylamines, tryptamines, benzodiazepines,
availability. Of the 23 divisions, two reported
and piperazines. Synthetic cannabinoids
NPS availability increased between 2018 and
are commonly applied to plant material or
2019 and two divisions reported NPS availability
suspended in an oil and are designed to be
decreased between 2018 and 2019. NPS
smoked or used in e-cigarettes. Synthetic
availability across the United States remained
cathinones are usually powder or crystal
largely unchanged in 2019 in comparison to
substances, typically consumed in powder,
2018.The number of NPSs worldwide stabilized
tablet, or capsule form. In addition to these
at around 500 substances identified per year
classes of NPSs, designer benzodiazepines and
between 2015 and 2017, according to a report
synthetic opioids garnered significant national
from the United Nations Office on Drugs and
attention in 2019 for their presence in overdoses
Crime (UNODC).
and deaths.
Synthetic Cannabinoids
According to NFLIS-Drug, in 2019 there were
The NPS market continues to feature new
18,591 synthetic cannabinoid reports, which
substances belonging to a multitude of chemical
represents a 21 percent decrease compared
structural classes, which are responsible for
to the 23,416 synthetic cannabinoid reports in
overdoses across the country, thus posing a
2018. The most commonly occurring synthetic
significant risk to communities. While some
cannabinoid in the United States in 2019 was
substances are encountered year after year,
5F-MDMB-PICA, which represented 31 percent
x. Synthetic opioids, as a class of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), include fentanyl-related substances in addition to other synthetic drugs. Given
the threat posed by fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances/fentanyl analogues, those substances are discussed in their own section of this report.
Figure 52. Ten Most Frequently Reported Synthetic
Cannabinoids to NFLIS-Drug by Percentage, 2019
Source: National Forensic Laboratory Information System-Drug - Retrieved July 10, 2020
of the top 10 synthetic cannabinoids reports
• In February 2020, DEA’s Gulfport, Mississippi RO
analyzed an express package seized from the Terre
to NFLIS-Drug data. The next most commonly
Haute federal prison containing two legal sized
occurring synthetic cannabinoids in 2019 were
envelopes. Officers examined the papers inside the
envelopes and believed that at least some of them
representing 16 percent and 14 percent,
were soaked in a solution containing FUB-AMB. This
seizure was related to a DTO suspected of trafficking
respectively, of the top 10 synthetic cannabinoid
synthetic cannabinoids into at least 13 different
reports to NFLIS-Drug data (See Figure 52).
federal prisons using a network of inmates.
5F-MDMB-PICA was officially placed in Schedule
Figure 53. Synthetic Cannabinoid
I of the CSA in April 2019. 4F-MDMB-BINACA
5F-MDMB-PICA Sold as “Herbal Hookah”
is controlled as a Schedule I substance as
a positional isomer of 5F-AMB, a Schedule I
controlled substance under the CSA since
April 2017.
Synthetic cannabinoids are most commonly
inhaled. These substances are commonly
smoked in cigarettes, pipes, and other smoking
devices. Synthetic cannabinoids are also
available in an oil form for use in e-cigarettes
or vape pens and are sometimes pressed into
Source: DEA
counterfeit prescription pills.
Figure 54. Number of Exposure Calls to the American Association of
Poison Control Centers for Synthetic Cannabinoids, 2011 - 2019
Source: American Association of Poison Control Centers
The American Association of Poison Control
increases and decreases in calls to poison
Centers (AAPCC) reports that in 2019 there were
control centers occur for multiple reasons,
1,157 calls to poison centers across the country
such as the short-lived popularity of some
regarding synthetic cannabinoid exposure (See
NPS varieties or medical providers becoming
Figure 54). This is an 85 percent decrease from
increasingly familiar with proper treatments for
the record-high 7,792 AAPCC calls in 2015 and
these substances, lessening the need for them
a 42 percent decrease from 2018. The sharp
to contact poison control centers.
Figure 55. Ten Most Frequently Reported Synthetic Cathinones
to NFLIS-Drug by Percentage, 2019
Source: National Forensic Laboratory Information System-Drug - Retrieved July 10, 2020
Isotonitazene is a potent synthetic opioid
Synthetic Cathinones
similar in chemical structure to etonitazene, a
In 2019, there were 9,575 reports of synthetic
highly potent Schedule I substance. In August
cathinonesy to NFLIS-Drug, a 28 percent
2020, DEA issued a temporary order to place
decrease from the 13,226 reports in 2018. The
isotonitazene as a Schedule I substance of the
most frequently reported synthetic cathinone
CSA. The abuse of isotonitazene is consistent
in 2019 was eutylone at 58 percent, according
with the traditional opioid abuse pattern.
to NFLIS-Drug. The second most common
Available scientific data demonstrates that
synthetic cathinone was N-ethylpentylone at 19
isotonitazene may be similar in potency to
percent (See Figure 55). Eutylone is a positional
fentanyl, meaning the drug poses a significant
isomer of pentylone and is therefore a Schedule
threat of overdose to users. Isotonitazene
I substance under the CSA. DEA published
can be encountered in numerous forms, one
a temporary scheduling order controlling
of the most popular being in the form of illicit
N-ethylpentylone in Schedule I of the CSA in
counterfeit eight milligram hydromorphone
August 2018.
tablets. The drug has been detected in
Synthetic cathinones are usually consumed in
numerous cases and fatal overdoses in the
pill or capsule form, but sometimes users will
Midwest through April 2020.
smoke or insufflate (sniff) them. Many synthetic
Flualprazolam is a designer benzodiazepine
cathinones are commonly misrepresented and/
with a relatively short onset of action, similar
or sold as substitutes for MDMA for use in the
to alprazolam. As of March 2020, the United
rave and club scenes because of the energy and
Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs decided
euphoria reportedly provide.
to add flualprazolam to Schedule IV of the 1971
• In April 2020, DEA’s Savannah, Georgia RO along with
Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The
the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Postal Inspection
drug has been marketed as a research chemical
Service obtained 20 suspected eutylone pills from a
since at least 2017 and, similar to isotonitazene,
dark web supplier. The pills were ordered and arrived
users often purchase the drug through online
in a heat sealed package containing 24 pills with a
variety of colors and stamps.
marketplaces and dark web marketplaces.
Figure 56. Illicit Counterfeit Alprazolam Bar
Other Emerging NPSs
Tablets Containing Flualprazolam
Although synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic
cathinones are far and away the types of NPSs
most available in the United States, in 2019
and 2020 there were two other NPSs that were
noted for causing overdoses and deaths across
the country: isotonitazene and flualprazolam.
Historically, different NPSs rise and fall in
popularity every year based on their availability
from international sellers, as well as their
scheduling status both internationally and in the
Source: DEA
United States.
y. Synthetic cathinones are stimulants meant to produce similar effects as amphetamine or ecstasy.
Flualprazolam is commonly sold in the form
of illicit counterfeit alprazolam bar tablets
NPSs are created in laboratories and do not
(See Figure 56) and is often marketed as an
require any plant material for production.
alternative benzodiazepine. As flualprazolam
Each variety requires different precursors
is a relatively newly trafficked designer
and chemical processes to synthesize. These
benzodiazepine, users who are abusing the
substances are widely available in China and
substance, knowingly or unknowingly, are at an
other Asian and European countries. Therefore,
increased risk for overdose and/or death.
most U.S.-based traffickers purchase the NPS
Indictment of Synthetic Cannabinoid Traffickers in Virginia
In March 2020, four individuals were indicted for distributing synthetic cannabinoids that resulted
in bodily injury and death. The charges stemmed from an investigation beginning in April 2017
into the retail distribution of synthetic cannabinoids from a convenience store at a gas station in
Warrenton, Virginia. Local law enforcement reporting indicated that several individuals had been
admitted to local emergency rooms after having consumed quantities of synthetic cannabinoids
from the gas station in Warrenton. In December 2017, law enforcement executed search warrants
in connection with the investigation and seized seven kilograms of synthetic cannabinoids and over
$400,000 USC.
Further reporting revealed the cannabinoids were purchased from an online website which
marketed synthetic cannabinoids as herbal incense. The four indicted individuals were assessed
to be the suppliers of the cannabinoids available in the convenience store. These individuals
reportedly utilized multiple warehouses in Palm Desert, California, as storage facilities for their
cannabinoid trafficking operation. In 2019, agents searched these warehouses and seized over
30 kilograms of synthetic cannabinoids from thousands of packets in silver envelopes containing
one, five, and ten-gram quantities, along with $45,000 USC (See Figure 57). Throughout the
investigation, laboratory analysis revealed that the indicted individuals were trafficking multiple
Schedule I controlled synthetic cannabinoids, including 5F-ADB, 5F-MDMB-PICA, FUB-AMB, and
Figure 57. Seized Synthetic Cannabinoids in Packages and Oils
Source: DEA
already synthesized and have them shipped
through mail carriers to perform final processing
NPSs continue to pose a nationwide threat,
and packaging domestically.
causing occasional spikes in overdoses and
Domestic cannabinoid processing facilities are
deaths, though NPSs are unlikely to pose the
found in residential spaces, such as homes and
same level of threat as other illicit drugs. The
garages, and in warehouses. Traffickers dissolve
availability of both synthetic cannabinoids
powders into a solvent, typically ethanol, or
and synthetic cathinones, the two primary
acetone, to create a liquid solution. Cement
types of NPS available in the United States,
mixers distribute the synthetic cannabinoid
will likely remain stable. As many previously
solution on dry plant material (usually damiana
popular substances are controlled, other new
leaf), or it can be sprayed onto dry plant
substances are developed and rise quickly in
material. Once dry, the synthetic cannabinoids
popularity. Two new NPSs—isotonitazene and
are packaged into individual foil packets for
flualprazolam, have gained national attention in
sales, with each packet containing anywhere
2019 and 2020 due to their presence in abuse
from a few grams to ten or more grams of
and overdose deaths, indicating that these
substances may increase the threat posed by
NPSs in the near term if the popularity of these
Transportation and
drugs continues to rise.
Wholesale quantities of NPSs are usually
trafficked to the United States via commercial
mail carriers from China, often intentionally
mislabeled or described as not for human
consumption in an attempt to avoid scrutiny
from domestic law enforcement and customs
officials. Synthetic cannabinoids are commonly
distributed in gas stations and smoke shops
throughout the United States. At the street level,
users and distributors will often use generic
names to refer to synthetic cannabinoids (spice,
K2) and cathinones (bath salts), indicating that
neither the user nor the distributor/trafficker
knows exactly which cannabinoid or cathinone
they are consuming or selling. Sales have
increasingly moved to street sales in traditional
illicit drug markets as law enforcement and local
business regulations have targeted stores selling
synthetic cannabinoids.
Mexican Transnational Criminal Organizations
independent DTOs, and working in conjunction
with transnational gangs, U.S.-based street
Mexican TCOs continue to control lucrative
gangs, prison gangs, and Asian money
smuggling corridors, primarily across the SWB,
laundering organizations (MLOs). Mexican
and maintain the greatest drug trafficking
TCOs export significant wholesale quantities of
influence in the United States. The two largest
fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine,
organizations, the Sinaloa Cartel and the
and marijuana into the United States annually.
Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), show
The drugs are delivered to user markets in the
signs of expansion in Mexico, demonstrating
United States through transportation routes and
their continued influence even compared to
distribution cells that are managed or influenced
other Mexican TCOs. These TCOs expand their
by Mexican TCOs, and with the cooperation and
criminal influence by engaging in business
participation of local street gangs
alliances with other organizations, including
(See Figure 58).
Figure 58. United States: Areas of Influence of Major Mexican
Transnational Criminal Organizations by Individual Cartel
Source: DEA
Sinaloa Cartel
Most Significant Mexican
TCOs Currently Active in the
The Sinaloa Cartel is one of the oldest and most
United States
established TCOs in Mexico. The Sinaloa Cartel
DEA considers the following nine Mexican TCOs
has significant presence in 15 of the 32 Mexican
as having the greatest drug trafficking impact on
states and controls drug trafficking activity in
the United States: Sinaloa Cartel, CJNG, Beltran-
various regions in Mexico, particularly along
Leyva Organization, Cartel del Noreste and Los
the Pacific Coast in northwestern Mexico and
Zetas, Guerreros Unidos, Gulf Cartel, Juarez
near Mexico’s southern and northern borders.
Cartel and La Linea, La Familia Michoacána,
Additionally, the Sinaloa Cartel maintains the
and Los Rojos. These TCOs maintain drug
most expansive international footprint compared
distribution cells in cities across the
to other Mexican TCOs, providing the group an
United States that either report directly to TCO
added advantage over its rivals. The Sinaloa
leaders in Mexico or report indirectly through
Cartel exports and distributes wholesale
intermediaries. The cartels dominate the drug
amounts of fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine,
trade influencing the United States market, with
cocaine, and marijuana in the United States by
most cartels having a polydrug market approach
maintaining distribution hubs in various cities.
that allows for maximum flexibility and resiliency
Illicit drugs distributed by the Sinaloa Cartel
of their operations (See Figures 58 and 59).
are primarily smuggled into the United States
Figure 59. United States: Areas of Influence of Major Mexican
Transnational Criminal Organizations by DEA Field Division
Source: DEA
through crossing points located along the SWB.
Beltran-Leyva Organization (BLO)
The cartel employs gatekeepers assigned to
The Beltran-Leyva Organization was a once
POEs and controls Arizona and California area
powerful group and, despite the deaths or
smuggling corridors into the United States. The
arrests of various leaders in recent years,
primary fentanyl threat to the United States
continues to function throughout Mexico in
is most likely the Sinaloa Cartel due to their
a less structured manner than the cartel
demonstrated ability to run clandestine fentanyl
historically operated. BLO relies on its loose
synthesis labs in Sinaloa Cartel dominant areas
alliances with larger cartels for access to
in Mexico.
drug smuggling corridors along the SWB.
BLO members primarily traffic heroin,
Cartel Jalisco Nueva
methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana.
Generación (CJNG)
The Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, also
Los Zetas and Cartel del
referred to as Jalisco New Generation Cartel,
Noreste (CDN)
is one of the fastest growing cartels—with
Los Zetas and their most prominent faction,
CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel being the two
Cartel del Noreste, have a presence in
most dominant TCOs in Mexico. CJNG has a
northeastern Mexico. From there, members
significant presence in 23 of the 32 Mexican
smuggle the majority of their illicit drugs through
states with most of its growth and territory
the SWB in the areas of Laredo, Texas; Eagle
being in central Mexico and strategic locations
Pass, Texas; and the Mexican states of Coahuila,
on the border between the Unites States and
Nuevo Leon, and parts of Tamaulipas. CDN’s
Mexico. The CJNG smuggles illicit drugs into the
leadership structure has been weakened by
United States by accessing various trafficking
law enforcement efforts and internal conflicts;
corridors in northern Mexico along the SWB
however, the cartel is still operational and able to
including Tijuana, Juarez, and Nuevo Laredo.
control the flow of drugs in their territories.
The CJNG also has influence over the busiest
port in Mexico, the Port of Manzanillo, and
Guerreros Unidos (GU)
utilizes that influence for the distribution of large
Guerreros Unidos is a cartel based in the
quantities of drugs. The CJNG’s rapid expansion
Mexican state of Guerrero. Its presence in the
of its drug trafficking activities is characterized
region creates a high degree of violence. GU
by the group’s willingness to engage in violent
was originally a splinter group from BLO and
confrontations with Mexican government
has become increasingly involved in the heroin
security forces and rival cartels. Like most major
trade. The cartel has a working partnership with
Mexican TCOs, the CJNG is a polydrug trafficking
the CJNG and uses the same transportation
group, manufacturing and distributing large
networks to move drug shipments into the
amounts of fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine,
United States and to return drug proceeds back
and cocaine.
to Mexico.
Gulf Cartel
Structure and Characteristics
The Gulf Cartel holds its power base in parts of
Mexican TCO members operating in the
the Mexican state of Tamaulipas and in the state
United States can be traced back to leading
of Zacatecas, and may have alliances with CJNG
cartel figures in Mexico, often through familial
members working in that region of Mexico. The
ties. U.S.-based TCO members may reside in
Gulf Cartel focuses its drug trafficking activities
the United States prior to employment by a
on heroin and cocaine by transporting loads
Mexican TCO. In some cases, U.S.-based TCO
into the United States near the McAllen and
members are given high-ranking positions within
Brownsville, Texas, areas.
the organization upon returning to Mexico after
years of successful activity in the United States.
Juarez Cartel and La Linea
The Sinaloa Cartel maintains the widest national
influence, with its most dominant positions
The Juarez Cartel and the faction unit La Linea
along the West Coast, in the Midwest, and in
are two once powerful groups and, although
the Northeast. The CJNG continues to be the
not as expansive as other cartels, they continue
Mexican TCO with second-most widespread
to impact the United States through their drug
domestic influence.
trafficking activities. These cartels’ greatest
territorial influence is in the state of Chihuahua
U.S.-based Mexican TCO affiliates compose
near the SWB. This area has profitable
various compartmentalized cells and are
smuggling opportunities between Ciudad Juarez
assigned to specific functions, to include: drug
and El Paso, Texas. These drug traffickers target
distribution or transportation, consolidation of
this corridor to smuggle shipments of heroin,
drug proceeds, or money laundering. Mexican
methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana.
TCO operations in the United States typically
function as a supply chain to maximize
La Familia Michoacána (LFM)
operational security. Operators in the chain
La Familia Michoacána’s organizational base is
are aware of their specific function, but are
in the state of Michoacán, Mexico. The group’s
unaware of other aspects of an operation. In
operational capacity has degraded recently due
most cases, individuals hired to transport
to cartel feuding and successful law enforcement
drug shipments within the United States are
operations. LFM has some ties to the CJNG and
independent, third-party “contractors” who may
also works with other smaller groups to further
work for multiple Mexican TCOs. The number
the cartel’s drug trafficking activities.
of these transportation groups is increasing in
some areas, and they often transport smaller
Los Rojos
Los Rojos is a splinter group of BLO, similar to
U.S.-based Mexican TCO members generally
GU, generating violence in the Mexican regions
coordinate the transportation and distribution
where they are active. Los Rojos is involved in
of wholesale quantities of illicit drugs to U.S.
heroin trafficking. The group’s leadership rotates
markets while smaller local groups and street
more regularly than other cartels due to frequent
gangs—who are not directly affiliated with
arrests of members.
Mexican TCOs—typically handle retail-level
distribution. At times, Mexican TCOs collaborate
While drug-related violence in Mexico remains
directly with local criminal groups and gangs
a concern, there is minimal spillover violence
across the United States to distribute and
in the United States, as U.S.-based Mexican
transport drugs at the retail level.
TCO members generally refrain from inter-cartel
violence to avoid detection and increased
Drug Smuggling and
scrutiny by law enforcement. Mexican TCO-
Transportation Methods
related acts of violence do occur in parts of
Mexican TCOs transport the majority of illicit
the United States, particularly along the SWB;
drugs entering into the United States, moving
however, they are less frequent and mainly
product across the SWB using a wide array of
associated with ‘trafficker-on-trafficker’ incidents.
smuggling techniques. Cartels transport bulk
quantity, polydrug loads via commercial and
Money Laundering Activity
passenger vehicles as well as via underground
Mexican TCOs generate billions of dollars
tunnels. These cross-border tunnels originate
annually through the sale of illegal drugs in
in Mexico and lead into safe houses on the U.S.
the United States. The cartels utilize a variety
side of the border. TCOs exploit major highway
of methodologies to counter law enforcement
routes for transportation and the most common
efforts to identify and confiscate illicit proceeds
method employed involves smuggling illicit drugs
in the United States and Mexico. TCOs use
through U.S. POEs in passenger vehicles with
members to transport cash across the border in
concealed compartments or commingled with
vehicles, small aircraft, and by couriers. They
legitimate goods on tractor-trailers.
also use wire transfers, shell and legitimate
business accounts, funnel accounts, and
Mexican TCOs also transport illicit drugs into
structured deposits with money remitters in
the United States aboard commercial cargo
order to move money while concealing the
trains, passenger buses, and maritime vessels
routing of the illicit proceeds. Mexican TCOs also
clandestinely or through official maritime
use cryptocurrencies to further their criminal
POEs. Mexican TCOs rely on traditional drug
enterprise. Furthermore, Asian MLOs engage in
smuggling methods, such as the use of
the laundering of drug proceeds on behalf of the
backpackers and couriers, when smuggling
Mexican TCOs.
drugs across remote areas of the SWB into the
United States. Mexican TCOs also exploit various
Impact of COVID-19
aerial methods to transport illicit drugs across
the SWB. These methods include the use of
Mexican TCOs’ long term operational outlook
ultralight aircraft and unmanned aerial systems
and capacities were not significantly impacted by
(drones) to conduct airdrops.
the COVID-19 pandemic with regard to their drug
trafficking and drug production activities. Most
significantly, the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG
used the COVID-19 pandemic to artificially inflate
pricing for methamphetamine. According to DEA
reporting, both the Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG may
also have been withholding regular shipments of
methamphetamine into the United States, which
allowed the cartels to increase the wholesale
price. Although DEA reporting suggests Mexican
TCOs may have encountered initial difficulties
obtaining precursor chemicals at the onset of
the pandemic, there are likely no long term
significant impacts from COVID-19-related
government restrictions. Therefore, there will
likely be no significant long term impacts on the
availability or the capability for Mexican TCOs
to obtain the necessary precursor chemicals to
produce synthetic drugs.
Mexican TCOs’ financial situations have been
influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, as DEA
reporting suggests that the pandemic has
affected both the global and domestic illicit
financial networks that the TCOs use. These
disruptions include the transportation of
bulk currency, the processing performed by
illicit money brokers, the operations of Asian
MLOs (specifically Chinese money laundering
networks), and trade-based money laundering.
Colombian Transnational Criminal Organizations
Large-scale Colombian TCOs
Colombian TCOs continue to influence the U.S.
Recently, various Armed Criminal Organizations
illicit drug market. According to DEA’s CSP,
(Grupos Armados Organizados or GAOs)
approximately 91 percent of the cocaine seized
and dissident factions of the Revolutionary
in the United States and tested by the CSP is of
Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas
Colombian origin. Colombian TCOs continue to
Revolucionarias de Colombia or FARC) have
control the production and supply of cocaine,
dominated the drug trade in Colombia.
and rely on partnerships with Mexican TCOs
The most significant Colombian TCO with an
to smuggle cocaine from Colombia to U.S.
impact on the U.S. drug market is the Gulf
markets. Mexican TCOs dominate the wholesale
Clan, also known as Los Urabeños, Clan del
distribution of Colombian cocaine into the
Golfo, and Clan Úsuga. This TCO functions as
United States. Principally, large-scale Colombian
a highly structured and centralized criminal
TCOs work closely with Mexican and Central
enterprise that has evolved into the largest GAO
American TCOs to export multi-ton quantities
in Colombia with a cohesive national presence.
of cocaine from Colombia every year. Large-
The Gulf Clan relies on drug trafficking activities
scale Colombian TCOs sell multi-ton quantities
and a military-style framework to maintain
of cocaine and smaller quantities of heroin to
operability. Since emerging in the mid-2000s,
Mexican TCOs, who smuggle those drugs through
the Gulf Clan has expanded throughout
the Central American corridor and Mexico for
northern Colombia and other regions mainly by
eventual smuggling into the United States.
capitalizing on the demise of rival GAOs. Though
Colombian TCOs also route cocaine and heroin
it maintains a national reach, the Gulf Clan
shipments through the Caribbean Corridor where
power base lies in its birthplace region of Urabá
local TCOs receive and transport them into the
in northwest Colombia. From this strategic
United States.
location, the Gulf Clan sends multi-ton quantities
Some smaller Colombian TCOs maintain direct
of cocaine via maritime conveyances to nearby
pipelines into the United States, primarily to
Panama and other countries in Central America
Northeast and East Coast drug markets, using
on a regular basis.
couriers on commercial flights and air cargo to
move smaller wholesale amounts of cocaine
Collaboration with Mexican
and heroin. Colombian TCO members also
maintain a physical presence in the
While Colombian TCOs control the production
United States to assist in laundering drug
and shipment of the majority of cocaine
proceeds. Although illicit Colombian cocaine
destined for consumption in the United States,
smuggling has decentralized and fragmented,
Mexican TCOs are responsible for smuggling
particularly in the past few years, Colombian
it into and its distribution throughout the
TCOs will remain dominant in the international
United States. Mexican TCOs work directly
cocaine trade for the foreseeable future.
with Colombian sources of supply, often
sending Mexican representatives to Colombia,
northeastern drug markets. Colombian TCOs
Ecuador, and Venezuela to coordinate cocaine
previously dominated cocaine and heroin
shipments. Similarly, Colombian TCOs maintain
wholesale markets in the Midwest and East
representatives in Mexico to serve as brokers
Coast; however, Mexican TCOs now dominate
for cocaine orders or illicit money movements.
most of these markets, increasingly serving as
Central American TCOs work with both Mexican
the primary source of supply to other TCOs in
and Colombian TCOs for the northbound
these regions.
movement of cocaine and the southbound flow
Smaller U.S.-based Colombian TCOs handle illicit
of illicit drug proceeds.
money movements on behalf of larger Colombian
TCOs, Mexican TCOs, or other criminal groups.
Colombian TCOs
Law enforcement reporting indicates Cali,
Colombia-based money launderers coordinate
Colombian TCOs export large cocaine shipments
the receipt of drug proceeds in various U.S. cities
through Mexico, the Central American Corridor,
including Boston, Chicago, Houston, Miami,
and the Caribbean Corridor, using a variety
and New York. Once received, these funds are
of maritime and aerial means including
often placed in U.S.-based bank accounts and
speedboats (go-fast vessels), fishing vessels,
wire transferred externally under the guise of
self-propelled semi-submersibles, private
payment for products and services.
aircraft, and commercial air and sea cargo.
Less commonly, Colombian TCOs transport
Money Laundering Activities
cocaine over land across the Darien Gap, which
DEA reporting indicates that Colombian TCOs
connects northwest Colombia to Panama, using
generate and receive as much as $10 billion
USC annually through the sale of drugs in the
Colombian TCOs continue to use Ecuador
United States, Central America, and Mexico.
and Venezuela as transshipment points
The principal mechanisms by which Colombian
for cocaine shipments bound for Mexico,
TCOs launder their drug proceeds are the Black
Central America, and the Caribbean. Due to
Market Peso Exchange (BMPE) and trade-based
successful counterdrug efforts by the Colombian
money laundering (TBML). Colombian TCOs rely
Government, Colombian TCOs have shifted a
on international networks of money launderers
sizable portion of their drug trafficking activities
who profit from foreign exchange transactions
to neighboring countries. Colombian TCOs
and trade-based activity. Although not as
transport and store large quantities of cocaine
prominent as with the Mexican TCOs, there has
in remote areas of Venezuela and Ecuador
been an increase in the presence of Asian MLOs
until maritime or aerial transportation can be
in areas where Colombian TCOs operate. There
has also been evidence of the utilization of
cryptocurrencies by Colombian TCOs in order to
Small-scale Colombian TCOs
transfer their proceeds internationally.
Smaller Colombian TCOs directly supply smaller
wholesale quantities of cocaine and heroin
to the United States, primarily to eastern and
Dominican Transnational Criminal Organizations
Areas of Influence
Concentrated in Northeast
Dominican TCOs dominate the distribution
of cocaine and white powder heroin in the
Dominican TCOs maintain their strongest
Northeastern corridor of the United States.
influence in areas of the Northeast with a
These TCOs are supplied by Mexican and
significant Dominican population, generally
Colombians TCOs, and dominate wholesale
in cities located along the I-95 highway
distribution of heroin and fentanyl in certain
corridor. Dominican traffickers conceal their
areas of the Northeast. They also engage in
drug trafficking activities behind the cover of
street-level sales in the Northeast. Illegal drugs
established ethnic Dominican communities in
destined for Dominican TCOs in the Northeast
various parts of the Northeast, where New York
initially arrive in New York City, where the
City serves as the main hub for Dominican TCO
drugs are distributed throughout the greater
activity in the Northeast.
metropolitan area, or routed to secondary hubs
and retail markets across the Northeast and
Trafficking Connections
parts of the Mid-Atlantic region. Dominican
Dominican TCOs have expanded their
TCOs work in collaboration with foreign suppliers
capabilities to have command and control
to have cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl shipped
originating in source zone countries and
directly to the Northeast from Mexico, Colombia,
orchestrate the transportation of multi-ton
and the Dominican Republic.
quantities of drugs through the Caribbean
with final destination of Northeastern cities in
Organizational Structure
the United States and in Europe. Dominican
Dominican TCOs typically operate as an
TCOs also obtain multi-kilogram quantities
unstructured network of independent groups
of cocaine and heroin from wholesalers,
without a centralized hierarchy. Each Dominican
which they subsequently break down for local
TCO independently maintains its own internal
street sales. In many cases, the customers
organized structure with an identified leader
supplied by Dominican TCOs are street gangs
and subordinates in designated roles, ensuring
with distribution amounts ranging from a few
compartmentalization of their criminal activities.
kilograms to multi-gram quantities in pre-bagged
Dominican TCOs are typically comprised of
form, ready for street-level sales.
friends and family members of Dominican
nationality or U.S. citizens of Dominican descent.
Drug Trafficking Activities
By relying on these networks of family members,
The vast majority of cocaine distributed by
friends, and hometown acquaintances,
Dominican traffickers in the Northeast is of
Dominican TCOs are often able to remain
Colombian origin, while the vast majority of white
insulated from outside threats. Dominican TCOs
powder heroin varies in origin between Mexico
are willing to collaborate with different ethnic
and Colombia. Dominican TCOs specialize in the
criminal groups in the United States, such as
distribution of cocaine and heroin. They are also
Puerto Rican, Colombian, and Mexican TCOs.
heavily involved in the distribution of fentanyl
and CPDs, due to the current demand for opioids
TCOs, particularly in the Northeast, have the
in the United States. To a lesser extent, they
infrastructure to handle all facets of drug
engage in regional supply of other illegal drugs
distribution to include the wholesale, mid-level,
to include marijuana, methamphetamine, and
and retail sectors. By diluting cocaine and
heroin for street sales, Dominican traffickers in
the Northeast can expand their inventory and
Dominican traffickers take advantage of Puerto
Rico’s status as a U.S. territory to facilitate
commercial air transport of cocaine into the
United States, mainly into the Northeast and
south Florida. Dominican TCOs typically use
small maritime vessels to transport cocaine
and heroin from the Dominican Republic into
Puerto Rico via the 80 mile stretch of sea known
as the Mona Passage, and subsequently these
traffickers utilize mail, commercial shipping
services, and maritime vessels to transport
illegal drugs to the United States. Furthermore,
Dominican TCOs exploit the vulnerabilities
of maritime commercial cargo containers
to transport multi-ton kilograms of cocaine
from the Dominican Republic to U.S. ports
in Florida, Georgia, Philadelphia, and New
York. Additionally, Dominican traffickers utilize
private maritime vessels to transport cocaine
directly from the Dominican Republic to south
Florida. Dominican traffickers utilize Chinese
money laundering organizations to facilitate the
laundering of Dominican TCO drug trafficking
Role in Retail Drug Market
The higher echelon of Dominican TCOs serve
as the command, control, and supplier for
organizations at the street level in certain
regions of the U.S. East Coast. Dominican
TCOs based in New York City, New York;
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Lawrence,
Massachusetts, mainly source Dominican drug
dealers involved in retail distribution. Dominican
Asian Transnational Criminal Organizations
state-level marijuana legalization actions, some
Asian TCOs overtly operate marijuana grows by
Asian TCOs specialize in the trafficking
adhering to local regulations governing private
of marijuana and 4-methylenedioxy-
cultivation and medical marijuana allowances.
methamphetamine (MDMA), and, to a lesser
Additionally, some produce large amounts of
extent, cocaine and methamphetamine. They
marijuana in wholly illegal residential grow
are also heavily involved in international money
operations by hiding in plain sight. As a result,
laundering activities, working with Colombian
significant amounts of marijuana produced in
and Mexican TCOs. Asian TCOs actively conduct
these grow operations are diverted to states
drug trafficking activities on both U.S. coasts and
where marijuana is much more profitable on the
have distribution networks stretching across the
black market.
country. U.S.-based Asian TCOs work in concert
with Asian TCOs in Canada, Asia, and other
MDMA Trafficking Trends
international locations to import and export illicit
Asian TCOs generally control the supply of MDMA
drugs to and from the United States.
in most U.S. markets. U.S.-based Asian TCOs
work closely with Canada-based Asian TCOs
Organizational Structure
to import MDMA. MDMA, in both tablet and
Asian TCOs are mostly small, independent
powder form, is typically either imported from
groups. Some operate with investment from
China to Canada or manufactured in clandestine
Asia-based crime bosses in Hong Kong, Macau,
laboratories in Canada, then smuggled across
and Taiwan. Asian TCOs use their contacts in
the Northern Border into the United States.
Asian diaspora communities in the United States
MDMA is also shipped to the United States from
and around the world to co-opt or establish
Asian TCOs based in Europe.
businesses to facilitate drug trafficking and
money laundering. Businesses concentrated
General Trafficking Trends
in California and New York facilitate the
Asian TCOs also traffic cocaine and
transshipment and importation of drug loads
methamphetamine. The United States is used
orchestrated by Asian TCOs. Asian TCOs also
as a transit country for some loads of cocaine
recruit diaspora community members to act as
and methamphetamine trafficked to Asia and
couriers for money and drugs.
Oceania by Asian TCOs. Asian TCOs reach
out to cocaine and methamphetamine
Marijuana Trafficking Trends
sources of supply in Mexico and the
Asian TCOs have historically operated large,
United States. Los Angeles-based import/export
sophisticated indoor marijuana grow houses
companies established or co-opted by Asian
in residential homes, primarily in the western
TCO members are used to send cocaine and
United States. These indoor grows are both
methamphetamine to Asia, Australia, and New
traditional and hydroponic and are frequently
located in suburban neighborhoods. With
United States, Asian MLOs operating on behalf
Role in Money Laundering
of drug traffickers have been identified in
Asian TCOs in the United States play a key role
Mexico, as well as in Central and South America.
in the laundering of illicit drug proceeds. Asian
Moreover, beyond mainland China, Asian MLOs
TCOs involved in money laundering contract their
also operate in Hong Kong, Australia, New
services and sometimes work jointly with other
Zealand, and other Far East and Southeast Asian
criminal groups, such as Mexican, Colombian,
and Dominican TCOs. Money laundering tactics
employed by Asian TCOs generally involve the
transfer of funds between China and Hong
Kong, using front companies to facilitate
international money movement. Asian TCOs
also use underground banking and mirroring
schemes. U.S.-based Asian TCOs rely on
domestic cash-intensive businesses to facilitate
money-laundering activities. Law enforcement
reporting indicates an increase in Chinese
money laundering groups and Mexican TCOs
collaborating to move/launder money.
Asian Money Laundering
Asian money laundering organizations are
working in conjunction with Hispanic DTOs with
increasing frequency. In some cases, there
appear to be agreements between Mexico-based
TCO leaders and Asian MLO heads based in
Mexico. Asian MLOs provide access to long-
standing laundering networks for U.S.-based
Mexican TCO members. Various DEA offices
have observed Mexican DTOs increasingly
utilizing domestic Asian MLOs to facilitate drug
money movement across a variety of methods,
including TBML, the Chinese Underground
Banking System virtual currencies, and even
bulk currency storage and shipment.
Within the United States, the laundering
networks operate in and around most major
metropolitan areas. Outside of the
and conveyance methods involving multiple
criminal organizations across several nations.
Barring significant, unanticipated changes
Mexican and Colombian TCOs operating in the
to the illicit drug market, Mexican TCOs will
Northeast will likely maintain their working
continue to dominate the wholesale importation
relationships with Dominican traffickers for
and distribution of cocaine, heroin, marijuana,
the retail-level distribution of illicit drugs. As
methamphetamine, and fentanyl in U.S. markets.
the Dominican Republic remains a significant
No other criminal organizations currently
drug transshipment node in the Caribbean, it
possess a logistical infrastructure to rival that
will continue to offer criminal opportunities for
of Mexican TCOs. Mexican TCOs will continue to
Dominican TCOs operating along the East Coast.
grow in the United States through expansion of
distribution networks and continued interaction
Asian TCOs will remain a drug trafficking threat
with local criminal groups and gangs. This
of concern in the United States, particularly in
relationship will insulate Mexican TCOs from
established marijuana and MDMA markets.
direct ties to street-level drug and money
They will likely continue to expand their
seizures and drug-related arrests made by U.S.
relationships with Mexican and Colombian TCOs
law enforcement.
to further their drug and money laundering
operations in the United States and abroad.
Due to sustained high cocaine production and
corresponding profits in Colombia, Colombian
TCOs are expected to maintain dominance over
the production and supply of the majority of
cocaine destined for U.S. markets. Colombian
TCOs are expected to continue to collaborate
with Mexican TCOs who purchase their products,
primarily cocaine, while Mexican TCOs will
remain the dominant cocaine wholesale supplier
in the United States. Further, Colombian
TCOs will most likely continue to maintain
representatives in Mexico, Central America, the
Caribbean, and the United States to broker and
facilitate the exportation of cocaine and heroin
to U.S. markets, and the subsequent repatriation
of drug proceeds.
Dominican TCOs are positioned to maintain
their leading role in the mid-level distribution
of illegal drugs, particularly in the Northeast.
These TCOs ensure their sustainability
through self-sufficiency and accessibility to
diverse drug supply lines, smuggling routes,
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With approximate populations of 3.2 million
and 106,000 in 2020, respectively, Puerto
Puerto Rico, the USVI, and Guam are
Rico and the USVI are part of an island chain
unincorporated, organized territories of the
located along the eastern edge of the Caribbean
United States with economies that are largely
Sea, where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Both
dependent on tourism, commercial shipment
are unincorporated, organized territories of
services, or national defense spending.
the United States, whose economies depend
Travelers from some of these U.S. island
largely on tourism. Both U.S. territories have
territories are not subject to routine customs
high unemployment rates (8.8 percent in Puerto
checks upon entering the continental
Rico and 12.1 percent in the USVI), according
United States, making them attractive to illicit
to 2020 estimates, and opportune geographic
drug traffickers and money launderers.
locations—midway between the United States
High rates of unemployment and poverty
and South America. In addition, both Puerto
contribute to Native American communities’
Rico and the USVI are attractive transshipment
issues with substance abuse and exploitation
points, as cargo shipments between these U.S.
by drug traffickers and TCOs. TCOs often
territories and the continental United States
smuggle drugs through reservations along U.S.
are considered domestic and not subject to
borders, and Native American criminal groups
obtain drugs from traffickers moving through
reservations or from TCO associates in nearby
Drug Threat
major cities.
Cocaine is the principal drug threat in the
Caribbean region, with Puerto Rico and the
Puerto Rico and the U.S.
USVI serving as major transshipment points
Virgin Islands
between cocaine-producing countries in South
The DEA Caribbean Field Division is responsible
America and the continental United States.
for supporting drug enforcement operations
Cocaine is primarily transported to the islands
in the Caribbean area, including domestic and
via maritime vessels from Colombia, Venezuela,
foreign locations. The geographical area of
and the Dominican Republic. Traffickers almost
responsibility of the DEA Caribbean Field Division
exclusively use go-fast boats or fishing vessels
extends from The Bahamas, down to Jamaica
to transport cocaine to Puerto Rico, either
in the Greater Antilles, eastward along the
departing directly from Venezuela or transiting
islands of the Lesser Antilles, to Guyana in the
the Mona Passage from the Dominican Republic.
northeastern tip of South America.
Due to Dominican law enforcement successes
and U.S. Coast Guard interdiction efforts,
enforcement reporting from Puerto Rico, USVI,
traffickers prefer to traffic large cocaine loads
and other Caribbean island nations, seizures and
directly to Puerto Rico.
seizure-load sizes of marijuana have continued
to increase over the past several years.
Traffickers also smuggle cocaine via the British
Virgin Islands by island hopping to the USVI
and eastern Puerto Rico, and then on to the
DEA’s Caribbean Field Division reports an
continental United States. Law enforcement
increase in cocaine seizures from inbound
officials report that smaller boats depart the
maritime cocaine smuggling ventures into Puerto
USVI and meet larger “mother ships” from
Rico arriving from Colombia and Venezuela.
Venezuela. These ships offload cocaine to
According to a U.S. Government database
smaller fishing vessels, which then transit to the
of known and suspected drug seizure and
Netherlands Antilles, St. Martin/Maarten, the
movement events, roughly eight percent of
British Virgin Islands, and/or Puerto Rico.
documented cocaine departing South America
The smuggling and abuse of heroin and fentanyl
moved toward the Caribbean Islands in 2019,
are also major concerns in the Caribbean region.
mostly aboard go-fast vessels. According to DEA
Heroin availability in Puerto Rico is moderate;
reporting, TCOs operating in South America and
it is used locally and also transported to the
the Caribbean coordinate multi-ton maritime
continental United States. Heroin is available
smuggling ventures originating in Colombia
in almost all drug points throughout Puerto
or Venezuela and transiting Puerto Rico, the
Rico and widely consumed. In the USVI, heroin
Dominican Republic, and neighboring Eastern
does not pose a major threat, as the demand is
Caribbean islands for destinations in the
typically for resale. However, there was a slight
continental United States, Europe, and Africa.
increase in heroin use in 2019 on St. Croix,
It is estimated that a third of the cocaine and
USVI and one seizure of heroin which contained
heroin trafficked into Puerto Rico and the USVI
fentanyl. The heroin trafficked to Puerto Rico
remains for local consumption, but most is
and the USVI is of South American origin, which
smuggled onwards to the continental
typically arrives commingled with cocaine on
United States. Traffickers conceal cocaine in
maritime shipments. DEA’s Caribbean Field
parcels mailed from Puerto Rico and the USVI
Division has also reported minimal heroin-laced
to Florida and the northeastern United States,
fentanyl seizures sent via parcel services from
primarily Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York,
California to Puerto Rico.
and New Jersey. Additionally, traffickers utilize
Fentanyl availability in Puerto Rico is low.
commercial airlines in Puerto Rico to smuggle
However, fentanyl related deaths in Puerto Rico
cocaine concealed within passenger luggage or
have increased from 10 deaths in 2015 to 70
body cavities to continental U.S. destinations
reported fentanyl-involved overdose deaths in
including Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania,
New York, and Massachusetts.
Marijuana is the most consumed illicit drug
in Puerto Rico and the USVI. According to law
along the East Coast and finally to Puerto Rico in
Drug-related Crime
order to evade law enforcement scrutiny. DTOs
Drug-related violence continues to pose a threat
based in the Dominican Republic also smuggle
to public safety in Puerto Rico and the USVI.
heroin directly into Puerto Rico by using human
Puerto Rico and the USVI have the highest
couriers on the ferry that operates between the
homicide rates in the United States. According
Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
to the UNODC, the USVI averaged approximately
52 murders per 100,000 people in 2018.
The diversion of CPDs for distribution and
healthcare fraud are serious threats in Puerto
Local law enforcement agencies in Puerto Rico
Rico. Puerto Rico did not have a Prescription
estimate that over 60 percent of homicides
Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) until August
are drug-related; however, violent crime and
2017; however, it was not until September 2018
homicide rates have declined every year since
that the PDMP in Puerto Rico was
peaking in 2011. The majority of DTOs operating
able to interconnect with PDMPs in the
in Puerto Rico are based in the public housing
United States. DEA diversion investigations
projects located throughout the island, with
reveal that the majority of controlled substances
controlled “drug point” locations used for
abused and diverted are obtained through
the retail sale of illicit drugs. The DTOs use
fraudulent prescriptions, doctor shopping,
intimidation, violence, and murder to gain or
pharmacy thefts, and illegal online prescription
retain control of the drug markets in the area.
Drug Trafficking Groups
Colombian, Dominican, Venezuelan, and Puerto
Guam is an organized and unincorporated
Rican DTOs are involved with the illicit drug trade
territory of the United States, located in the
in Puerto Rico and the USVI. While Dominican,
North Pacific Ocean; it is the largest and
Colombian, and Venezuelan traffickers
southernmost island in the Mariana Islands
serve as crewmembers during maritime
archipelago and is an important military and
operations, the majority of the boat captains
commercial hub between the United States,
are Dominican. Dominican DTOs are becoming
Asia, and Australia. In 2020, Guam’s population
more sophisticated and dominant in the drug
was an estimated 168,000 people. The
trade throughout the region, including brokering
island’s economy depends largely on tourism
drug deals and coordinating maritime ventures.
and U.S. national defense spending, followed
Dominican and Puerto Rican DTOs dominate
by construction and transshipment services.
wholesale and retail distribution of cocaine in
According to the Guam Visitors Bureau, the
Puerto Rico.
island had its best year, with over 1.63 million
Puerto Rico-based DTOs have established heroin
visitors during FY 2019. Many of Guam’s violent
trafficking routes from Venezuela to Puerto Rico.
crimes are linked to drugs, alcohol abuse, lack of
In some cases, traffickers instruct couriers to
economic opportunities, and lack of educational
take an indirect route to deliver heroin from
Caracas, Venezuela, to various major U.S. cities
Drug proceeds are often mailed back to the
Drug Threat and Availability
United States or sent electronically through
Methamphetamine and marijuana are the
established bank accounts. Similarly, proceeds
two principal drugs used in Guam. Cocaine
are sent via wire transfer to South Korea, China,
is resurgent and is popular with the college-
and other Asian countries. Generally, the
aged population. MDMA, ketamine, and illicit
proceeds are reinvested to purchase additional
pharmaceuticals are also available to a lesser
drug supplies and are used to purchase vehicles
degree and often purchased in clubs and bars.
or personal goods.
Methamphetamine poses the greatest threat
to Guam. Most of the methamphetamine
Indian Country
shipped to Guam originates from the continental
The drug threat in Indian Country varies by
United States, primarily from California and
region and is influenced by the illicit drugs
Washington, via postal packages or courier.
available in major cities near the reservations.
Guamanians residing in the continental U.S.
Native American criminal groups and
often mail methamphetamine to criminal
independent dealers transport most of the
associates in Guam, who sell the drug for very
illicit drugs available throughout Indian Country.
large profit margins. During 2019, the DEA’s
These individuals and organizations travel to
Guam RO seized approximately 30 kilograms of
nearby cities to purchase drugs, primarily from
methamphetamine, a significant increase from
Mexican traffickers and other criminal groups. In
the 12 kilograms seized in 2018.
some instances, distributors residing on remote
reservations travel long distances to obtain
During 2019, DEA’s Guam RO seized
drugs for distribution in their home communities.
approximately 29 kilograms of cocaine, a
decrease compared to 45 kilograms seized in
The number of drug cases and arrests
conducted by Indian Country law enforcement
programs has increased substantially since
Low-quality marijuana is cultivated in Guam, with
2013. In FY 2019, there was a nearly 26
grow sites typically located within heavy jungle
percent increase from FY 2018 to FY 2019 in the
growth in close proximity to residential dwellings.
number of drug cases opened across all Indian
Marijuana is also shipped to Guam in lesser
Country law enforcement programs according
amounts via postal packages or transported
to data from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (See
via commercial air flights from the continental
Figure 60).
United States.
Native American communities face challenges
Drug Trafficking Groups
and risks rooted in poverty, high levels of
DTOs in Guam are typically comprised of Korean,
unemployment, chronic trauma, and a lack
Filipino, and Chinese traffickers who smuggle
of resources. These factors contribute to
methamphetamine to the island via couriers.
Native American communities’ susceptibility
Mexican organizations may supply some of the
to substance abuse and exploitation by
methamphetamine reaching Guam indirectly via
drug traffickers. While marijuana and
the continental United States.
methamphetamine are the most widely used
Figure 60. Drug Cases Opened in Indian Country, 2013 - 2019
Source: Bureau of Indian Affairs
illicit substances, prescription drug and heroin
desert bordering Mexico and the highways that
use have increased. Additionally, powder
connect the reservation to major metropolitan
and crack cocaine, fentanyl, fentanyl-laced
counterfeit pills, and MDMA are also available
TCOs also smuggle large amounts of illicit drugs
at various levels. Mexican traffickers are the
into the United States through reservations that
principal wholesale suppliers and producers
border Canada, especially the St. Regis Mohawk
of most illicit drugs available on reservations
Reservation in New York, commonly referred
throughout Indian Country.
to as the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne. TCOs
Drug production in Indian Country is limited.
smuggle marijuana and thousands of MDMA
Mexican traffickers play a prominent role in
tablets into the United States and multi-kilogram
producing cannabis at outdoor grow sites in
quantities of cocaine into Canada through the
remote locations on reservations, particularly
in the Pacific Region. Illicit drug transportation
The widespread availability and abuse of drugs
routes run through the reservations that border
in Indian Country, coupled with drug trafficking
Mexico or Canada, ensuring nearby reservations
groups operating in Indian Country, contribute
have reliable access to drugs.
to high rates of crime on reservations. Due to
TCOs continue to smuggle multiple tons of
the wide range of violent and property crimes
marijuana through the Tohono O’odham Nation
in which traffickers engage, the crime rates
in southeastern Arizona. This reservation
on some reservations can be higher than the
accounts for almost four percent of the SWB.
national averages for similar crimes. DTOs
TCOs also smuggle lesser amounts of cocaine
engage in these crimes to facilitate their
and heroin, with methamphetamine on the rise,
operations, while users generally engage in such
through this reservation. Drug traffickers exploit
crimes to support their drug use.
the vast stretches of remote, sparsely populated
The drug threats in Indian Country will likely
remain tied to the predominant threats of
nearby markets in major cities. Native American
criminal groups will continue travel to major
cities outside of Indian Country to acquire all
types of illicit drugs, mainly supplied by Mexican
traffickers. Methamphetamine and marijuana
may likely remain the most widely used drugs,
but increases in CPDs and heroin abuse may
continue. Reservations near the borders of
Canada and Mexico will likely continue to be
exploited for their location along transnational
smuggling routes.
a payment method to purchase illegal drugs
online, it is now becoming more commonly
DTOs and TCOs continue to generate tens of
utilized by international money launderers to
billions of dollars in illicit proceeds through the
transfer proceeds across borders on behalf of
sale of drugs every year in the United States.
Illicit drug proceeds change hands numerous
times between the smuggling, wholesale, or
Effects of COVID-19
retail levels of the illegal drug market. The
The COVID-19 pandemic directly led to
onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused
traffickers facing hurdles maintaining the flow
significant shifts in the money laundering
of drugs and money around the world. Border
landscape. Border restrictions between the
restrictions between the United States and
United States and Mexico, as well as concerns
Mexico, brought on due to the pandemic, have
regarding exposure to the virus have made it
increased the difficulty of transporting loads of
more difficult for TCOs to transport loads of bulk
bulk currency from the United States across the
currency across the SWB. Trade-Based Money
SWB into Mexico. As a result, large amounts
Laundering (TBML) activity has been disrupted
of U.S. currency are being held along the U.S.
due to shipping delays around the world.
side, awaiting transport to Mexico. With this
These shipping delays also disrupt dark web
stockpile forming, TCOs have begun increasing
marketplace vendors who are already vulnerable
the frequency and volume of bulk currency
to fluctuations of virtual currencies held in
shipments across the SWB in an attempt to
escrow while drugs are traveling in the mail.
continue the repatriation of their drug proceeds.
TCOs employ various strategies to move and
However, reporting indicates fewer money
launder drug proceeds into, within, and out of
pickups being conducted by couriers for fear
the United States to avoid detection from law
of exposure to COVID-19 and increased law
enforcement and financial institutions. The
enforcement presence.
preferred methods to move and launder illicit
• DEA’s New Jersey Field Division reported in May
proceeds have largely remained the same
2020, that money couriers were less likely to meet
throughout the years, e.g. bulk cash smuggling,
with individuals looking to move money from certain
Black Market Peso Exchange, and TBML;
heavily infected population centers due to concerns of
however, significant shifts have occurred in the
contracting COVID-19.
illicit finance landscape over the years, further
The shipping trade was affected in many parts
complicating the enforcement of anti-money
of the world due to the pandemic that caused
laundering (AML) laws. Although for a number
disruptions to TBML activity in the
of years virtual currency has been utilized as
United States and other countries. Many
Bulk Cash Smuggling
companies involved in TBML are considered
TCOs continue to repatriate a significant
non-essential, and are either not permitted to
volume of illicit proceeds every year via bulk
operate during the pandemic, or are subject
cash smuggling, despite the existence of more
to increased restrictions. As such, the ability
modern methods of transferring money. In
for TCOs to move money under the guise of
2019, there were over 3,000 bulk currency
legitimate trade transactions has diminished.
seizures in the United States according to EPIC’s
Dark web marketplaces trading in illicit
NSS data. This represents more than $368
drugs have experienced disruptions due to
million USC seized, a 62 percent increase in
the COVID-19 pandemic, due in part to drug
volume from the almost $227 million USC seized
shortages and shipping delays which exacerbate
in 2018. Between 2010 and 2018, the volume
the risk of selling drugs for highly volatile virtual
of bulk currency seized has steadily dropped,
currencies. In March 2020, the value of Bitcoin
with 2019’s increase being an outlier to this
rapidly dropped, which caused a withdrawal of
trend. The number of seizure events in 2019
many dark web vendors from the market for fear
(3,454) was a 39 percent increase from the
of loss of funds due to the possibility of Bitcoin
previous year (2,487) (See Figure 61).z
devaluation while in escrow. Delays of drug
Drug traffickers commonly transport bulk
shipments means that funds may be held in
currency from various places in the United States
escrow for longer periods, which gives more time
over the SWB into Mexico and other Central and
for their value to decrease before the drug dealer
South American countries via privately owned
is able to convert the funds into fiat currency.
vehicles and tractor-trailers. However, transport
• DEA’s Denver Field Division reported shortages of a
of bulk currency by passengers on commercial
variety of illicit drugs available on the dark web, as
airlines also accounts for a significant amount
well as shipping delays due to COVID-19 restrictions.
of drug proceeds traveling within, and exiting the
Many dark web marketplace sellers were taking extra
precautions to sanitize their products and packaging
United States.
prior to transport, possibly adding to the shipping
Figure 61. Bulk Currency Smuggling Seizure Totals, 2012 - 2019
Source: El Paso Intelligence Center
z. This recorded increase in both seizure events as well as seizure volume is due in part to changes in NSS bulk currency reporting methodologies. As
such, analytical statements regarding the reasons for this increase cannot be made at this time.
Figure 62. Top 3 States for Bulk Currency Seizure Amounts, 2012 - 2019
New York
1st State
New York
New York
2nd State
3rd State
Source: El Paso Intelligence Center
• In May 2020, DEA’s Washington Field Division
banks, and real estate. Layering is the process
conducted an enforcement operation against a DTO
of moving money to disguise its origin. This can
that was working with a Chinese MLO to structure
take various forms such as wire transfers and
deposits of USC into the banking system. A traffic
TBML, with this step in the money laundering
stop on a member of the DTO who had been seen
conducting money pick-ups using a tractor-trailer
process often involving money moving through
yielded the seizure of $1.5 million USC hidden in bags
multiple countries, further obfuscating the
inside the tractor-trailer.
origin of the funds. The final step in the cycle
• In June 2020, the Los Angeles HIDTA performed a K-9
is integration, in which the illicit funds now
check on 15 pieces of luggage being transported on a
appear to be clean, and are able to re-enter the
privately chartered flight. Law enforcement seized an
economy without drawing attention to the illegal
excess of $3 million USC contained between the 15
activity that produced the money.
In 2019, California, Ohio, and Texas reported
Traditional Methods
the highest dollar amounts in bulk cash seizures
TCOs and DTOs widely utilize traditional money
for a combined total of $131,039,840 USC
laundering methods, often combining well-
(See Figure 62). These states accounted for 36
tested methods with newer ones to decrease
percent of all the bulk cash seized in 2019. In
their likelihood of discovery by law enforcement.
the first six months of 2020, California, New
Casinos, with their high volume of currency
York, and Texas accounted for 39 percent of the
transactions, remain a popular way for
bulk cash seized.
launderers to obfuscate their drug proceeds.
Money launderers commonly utilize businesses
Money Laundering Methods
trading high value commodities such as real
Money laundering is generally comprised of a
estate, vehicles, and jewelry to make their illicit
cycle, which includes placement, layering, and
funds appear legitimate by investing the value
integration—with launderers developing multiple
of their funds into these items. This, combined
methods to complete each step. Placement
with avoiding reporting requirements, allows the
involves illicit funds entering into the financial
value of the illicit funds to be moved from person
system through various businesses—such as
to person under the guise of legitimate business
money service businesses—as well as casinos,
The use of shell and front companies remains an
TCOs continue to highly favor TBML as a method
extremely common method for DTOs to disguise
to transport and launder illicit proceeds through
the origin of their illicit funds. The Financial
the manipulation of international trade and
Action Task Force, an intergovernmental
financial institutions. Illicit funds are used to
organization designed to combat money
purchase real or fictitious trade goods, which are
laundering, reports that more than two million
then shipped to another country where they are
limited liability companies and corporations are
then sold. This allows the value derived from
established in the United States each year. Shell
the original illicit activity to move in and out of
companies are businesses that exist only as an
the United States under the guise of legitimate
entity through which money may be transferred
trade transactions. Free Trade Zones are often
to hide beneficial ownership, as well as to
involved in TBML schemes because they offer
provide plausible deniability for the origin of drug
opportunities for cash to be inserted into the
proceeds. Front companies operate as a mostly
financial system in exchange for consumer
normal business; however, DTOs commingle
their drug proceeds with the legitimate revenue
In 2017, the Government of China implemented
stream from the front company. Due to U.S. laws
economic policies that placed a $50,000 USC
easily allowing the establishment of businesses
limit on the amount of foreign currency per
and the minimal amount of information required
person that can be exchanged annually. Due
to start a company, shell and front companies
to China’s economic policy and the restrictions
are frequently utilized in the money laundering
Mexico has placed on depositing USC, Asian
MLOs have emerged within the last few years as
leaders within the money laundering networks.
Modern Methods
These groups have quickly grown to dominate
The complexity of money laundering systems
the money laundering landscape due to a
has greatly increased in modern times, as
combination of charging lower fees and the
criminal organizations continue to find ways
efficiency of the services they provide. These
to combine methods to further hide their illicit
MLOs perform services at all stages of the
proceeds. One example of this is the use of
money laundering cycle; however, Asian
third party money brokers to move and handle
MLOs are especially prominent in the areas
money. Drug traffickers seeking to repatriate
of bulk currency movement and TBML. Asian
funds outside of the United States will utilize
MLOs seek to profit from illicit activities
networks of money brokers to move money
associated with Mexican and Colombian TCOs
through various accounts and businesses. The
as well as from the resale of U.S. dollars in the
money movement that these brokers perform is
United States to Chinese nationals seeking to
often intertwined with other money laundering
evade China’s currency control laws. Chinese
systems such as BMPE and TBML activity. Due
nationals utilize an informal black market that
to the third party nature of these brokers, they
allows them to move their money out of China
are often insulated from legal ramifications of
by trading Chinese-based assets for currency
money laundering, as it can be difficult to prove
or other assets located abroad, such as drug
that they had knowledge of the illicit nature of
proceeds. The services provided by Asian
the funds they assisted in moving.
MLOs increasingly have been utilized by TCOs
designed to accept fiat currency in exchange
to simplify the acquisition and payment for
for virtual currency, and are subject to federal
precursor chemical shipments.
AML regulations. Despite these regulations,
unscrupulous owners of these machines utilize
Virtual Currency
their functions to assist in obfuscating drug
proceeds. Money couriers deposit large volumes
Technological innovations in the financial sphere
of cash into these machines to convert the value
have led to an environment where purchasing
to virtual currency; the cash in the machine is
goods and transferring money is easier and
then integrated into the revenue stream of the
more seamless than ever. Newer technologies,
owner of the ATM to hide the origin of the funds.
such virtual currency, create new opportunities
The value of the original drug proceeds, now in a
for commerce to expand, as well as for criminals
virtual form, can easily be transferred to another
to more readily launder illicit proceeds. Virtual
user of the virtual currency instantaneously,
currencies like Bitcoin have been increasing
removing much of the risk associated with
in popularity, both among the public as well as
transporting large amounts of bulk currency.
among criminals, in the years since inception
Virtual currency ATMs used in such a manner
due in part to the ability of virtual currencies
may be unlisted, and unavailable for use by the
to change hands rapidly without limits on the
general public; instead kept hidden away for
amount being transferred.
exclusive use by money launderers and couriers.
There are over 2,000 distinct virtual currencies
Drug traffickers and money launderers are
in circulation, with more being developed every
increasingly incorporating virtual currency into
year; however, Bitcoin continues to be the most
TBML activity as the use of these currencies
widely used due to its status as one of the
becomes more widely adopted. DEA reporting
original virtual currencies. Bitcoin is sometimes
has revealed instances in which bulk currency
a stand-in term, for virtual currency as a whole.
contracts were fulfilled through the use of
In recent years, virtual currency exchangers have
virtual currency instead of cash, with this money
emerged as a service to ease the conversion of
subsequently being integrated into the TBML
fiat currency into virtual currency and vice versa.
cycle. These combinations of virtual currency
Virtual currencies continue to be popular for use
with already established forms of money
on dark web marketplaces as a method for users
laundering suggest an increased willingness by
to anonymously purchase illicit drugs without
illicit actors to utilize this complex technology to
having to use traditional payment methods that
further their money laundering endeavors.
pose a greater risk of exposing the individual’s
true identity.
Illicit actors have integrated virtual currencies
into many different money-laundering
methodologies. Increasingly, MLOs are using
virtual currency automated teller machines
(ATMs) to aid in the movement of illicit
bulk currency. These ATMs are specifically
Drug traffickers seek to transform their monetary
proceeds from their criminal activity into revenue
through legal sources. Apprehending criminals
who circumvent formal regulated financial
systems and disrupting their illicit profits is a
key element of disrupting TCOs and crucial to
protecting the integrity and stability of domestic
and global financial systems. Enhanced anti-
money laundering regulations and international
standards make it more challenging to launder
illicit proceeds; however, TCOs constantly evolve
in an attempt to thwart law enforcement and
regulatory requirements.
Source: DEA
American Association of Poison Control Centers
Anti-Money Laundering
Area of Responsibility
Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System
Beltran-Leyva Organization
Butane Hash Oil
Customs and Border Protection
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (Jalisco New Generation Cartel)
Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act
Controlled Prescription Drugs
Consolidated Priority Organization Target
Controlled Substances Act
Cocaine Signature Program
Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program
Drug Enforcement Administration
Drug Trafficking Organization
El Paso Intelligence Center
Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Federal Bureau of Investigation
DEA Field Division
Financial and Crime Enforcement Network
Fentanyl-related Substances
Fentanyl Signature Profiling Program
Fiscal Year
Grupos Armados Organizados (Armed Criminal Organizations)
Heroin Domestic Monitor Program
High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area
Methamphetamine Profiling Program
Metric Ton
National Drug Threat Assessment
National Forensic Laboratory Information System
New Psychoactive Substances
National Survey on Drug Use and Health
National Seizure System
Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force
Outside Continental United States
Prescription Drug Monitoring Program
Ports of Entry
Privately Owned Vehicles
DEA Resident Office
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Synthetic Opioids Other Than Methadone
Southwest Border
Trade-Based Money Laundering
Transnational Criminal Organization
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid
United Nations Office of Drug Control
United States Currency
United States Government
El Paso Intelligence Center, National Seizure System
The El Paso Intelligence Center’s National Seizure System (NSS) tabulates information pertaining to drug
seizures made by participating law enforcement agencies. NSS also includes data on clandestine
methamphetamine laboratories seized by local, state, and Federal law enforcement agencies. NSS
records are under the control and custody of the DEA, and are maintained in accordance of Federal
laws and regulations. Use of the information is limited to law enforcement agencies in connection
with criminal law enforcement activities. The El Paso Intelligence Center is the central repository for
this data. For example, the methamphetamine data is useful in determining, the types, numbers, and
locations of methamphetamine laboratories seized; manufacturing trends; precursor and chemical
sources; the number of children and law enforcement officers affected; and investigative leads. NSS
superseded the Federal-Wide Drug Seizure System (FDSS), a computerized system that deconflicted
overlapping information about drug seizures made by and with the participation of the FBI, DEA, and
the Department of Homeland Security.
NFLIS Summary for 2020 NDTA
The National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) is a voluntary program of the Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA) Diversion Control Division. NFLIS-Drug is a database where drug
identification results and associated information from drug cases are submitted to and analyzed
by federal, state, and local forensic laboratories. The NFLIS-Drug participation rate, defined as
the percentage of the national drug caseload represented by laboratories that have joined NFLIS,
is currently more than 98 percent. Based on the voluntary system, data in NFLIS-Drug fluctuates
frequently depending on the date it is queried as more encounters may be added daily. The 2020
NDTA includes information queried on July 10, 2020, so all raw data points were identified on or
before that date.
In reference to the data’s unit of measure, one count represents one single report in the NFLIS-Drug
database. Drug evidence secured in law enforcement operations (i.e., drug seizures) are submitted
to forensic laboratories for analysis. However, drug evidence can vary in size, and one case can
consist of one or more items of drug evidence. Within each item, multiple drugs may be identified
and reported. One single report equates to one documented occurrence of a drug, whereas each
report is counted separately and added to the data in NFLIS-Drug.
U.S. Government Drug Production Estimates
The U.S. Government’s annual illicit crop cultivation and drug production estimates provide a strategic
overview of drug trends in the world’s leading heroin and cocaine producing countries. The illicit crop
estimates are based on imagery collected from the world’s coca and opium poppy growing regions.
The cocaine and heroin production estimates are based on scientific analysis of data collected on
cocaine and heroin processing methods.
National Vital Statistics Data
Data on drug-induced and drug poisoning deaths are based on information from all death certificates
filed (2.839 million in 2018) in the 50 States and the District of Columbia. Information from the
states is provided to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a component of CDC. NCHS
makes available causes of death attributable to drug-induced mortality. Drug-induced deaths include
not only deaths from dependent and nondependent use of legal or illegal drugs, but also poisoning
from medically prescribed and other drugs. Drug-induced causes exclude unintentional injuries,
homicides, and other causes indirectly related to drug use. Also excluded are newborn deaths due to
the mother’s drug use. The International Classification of Diseases, Version 10 (ICD-10) was implemented
in 1999 following conventions defined by the World Health Organization to replace Version 9 (ICD-9),
in use since 1979. In addition to tables published by CDC, unpublished sub-national tabulations and
drug poisoning deaths involving specific drugs were extracted by ONDCP from CDC’s online system
WONDER (Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research).
DEA PRB 01-12-21-43