More Cocaine Is Coming Into Florida Than Ever Before

By Kelly Burch 06/01/17

Cocaine-related deaths are also on the rise, reaching their highest level since 2007.

person holding a baggie of cocaine.

While much of the nation focuses its attention on the opioid epidemic, the amount of cocaine coming into the United States is rising dramatically, fueling a resurgence in cocaine-related overdose deaths. 

According to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials, Colombia—which is said to produce 90% of the cocaine found in the United States—has tripled its production of the drug in the past three years. 

“We’ve never seen cocaine production at these numbers, which tells you there is more cocaine being produced now than at the height of the Medellín and Cali cartels,” Justin Miller, intelligence chief for the DEA’s Miami field division, told The Sun Sentinel. “That’s significant.”

Most of the cocaine that enters the U.S. comes through Florida, and officials in The Sunshine State have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of cocaine they are seizing. Florida Customs and Border Protection seized 61% more cocaine in 2016 than it did in 2015.

Last year the Coast Guard confiscated a record amount of cocaine. However, officials said the true amount of drugs getting into the country is much higher, estimating that they only seized 7% of cocaine bound for the U.S. 

Officials claim the government knows about 80% of cocaine shipments. However, they “can only act on about 20% of that because of the resource constraints we have. We’re giving 60% of what we know, literally, a free pass,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul F. Zukunft said in a report. 

At the same time, cocaine-related deaths in Florida are rising, reaching their highest level since 2007. Many of the cocaine-related deaths involve other substances, including opioids. There have been reports of cocaine laced with fentanyl, a particularly deadly combination of drugs. 

“There is a mountain of cocaine, much of it is likely headed our way,” Miller said. “But we are already seeing these drug combinations, and cocaine deaths are already going up significantly."

The surge in cocaine coming into the U.S. can be traced back to policy changes in Colombia, according DEA officials who spoke with The Sun Sentinel.

In 2015, Colombia stopped spraying herbicides over coca fields because of concerns for the health of legitimate crops and of people. In addition, negotiations between the FARC rebels and the Colombian government meant less aggressive operations to disrupt coca fields. At the same time, the FARC encouraged farmers to plant more coca ahead of the peace deal, according to a U.S. State Department report

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.