Record Amount of Cocaine Seized During 2016

By Kelly Burch 03/02/17

The amount of cocaine entering the US and the number of cocaine-related deaths have steadily risen in recent years.

A large amount of seized cocaine

While much of the country has been focused on the opioid epidemic, the Coast Guard seized a record amount of cocaine in 2016—showing that drugs other than opioids continue to have a heavy presence in the United States. 

The Coast Guard seized more than 416,600 pounds of cocaine worth more than $5.6 billion, according to ABC News. Over the course of 263 incidents, the Coast Guard apprehended 585 drug smugglers and transported 465 people to the United States to be prosecuted. 

Many of the interactions happened in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean. 

The flow of cocaine, particularly by sea from South America, has risen dramatically in recent years. According to a Coast Guard report shared by CNS News, estimated shipments of cocaine to the United States was 577 tons in 2013, but increased to 2,834 tons by 2016. 

Comparing the estimated amount of cocaine seized with the amount that made it into the country shows that the agency only stopped about 7% of shipments to the United States. In previous years, the Coast Guard has stopped as much as 11.5% of cocaine that was bound for the U.S. 

According to Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, the government knows about 80% of shipments, but “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.”

At the same time, drug traffickers have been using more complicated shipment methods, including the use of submarines built especially to avoid Coast Guard detection. Last month, a Colombian man pleaded guilty in federal court to charges related to building a semi-submersible "narcosubmarine" that could hold three tons of cocaine. 

Although most drug prevention efforts have been focused on opioids, cocaine-related deaths have also been increasing. According to data from the CDC, overdose deaths involving cocaine rose from 11% in 2010 to 13% in 2015. Although it was a slower rise than opioid-related deaths, the increase was still significant. 

Officials say that in order to stop the flow of cocaine into the country, the Coast Guard needs more of a presence on our southern waters. 

“You need more Coast Guard cutters on the water and the package that goes with them, the airborne use of force helicopters, the overhead maritime patrol aircraft, and when you raise that number," said Coast Guard Vice Admiral Charles Ray. "You’d make a pretty good dent.”

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