‘Tsunami’ of Cocaine May Be Headed For The US

By Kelly Burch 08/18/17

As cocaine makes its way into the country in record amounts, use of the drug is on the rise for the first time in a decade. 

Coast Guard seizing 285 metric tons of cocaine.
In 2016, the Coast Guard seized 285 metric tons of cocaine. Photo via YouTube

Last weekend U.S. authorities seized four tons of cocaine from the Pacific Ocean, a small part of a so-called tidal wave of cocaine headed for the country.

"I talk about it as really an approaching tsunami of cocaine getting ready to hit the global market,” Coast Guard Adm. Christopher Tomney, the director of Joint Interagency Task Force South, told CBS News

While U.S. authorities report that Colombia has been producing more cocaine than during the peak of the Medellín and Cali cartels, they're able to seize only a fraction of the shipments that they know are bound for American consumers. 

Tomney says that agents are able to stop “very little” of the shipments they know about. “Three out of every four events that we have awareness of, we have no asset to go after,” he said. "They're getting through. We need more ships. We need more aircraft is the bottom line.”

Investing in more ships and other vehicles to intercept drugs makes good financial sense, said Capt. Mark Fedor, who runs the Coast Guard Cutter James. “Our last patrol, we were able to bring 16 tons of cocaine back," he said. "It was worth about $420 million. Nearly enough to pay for this ship. And that was just in about a 45-day period.”

In 2016 the Coast Guard seized a record amount of cocaine: 416,600 pounds, worth more than $5.6 billion. However, those on the front lines say this is a drop in the bucket compared to the actual amount of drugs being sent to the country. 

"It's very frustrating for the men and women of this task force knowing we could be doing so much more," Tomney said. "But it really comes down to a series of choices…How much do we want to make this a priority?"

The amount of the drug coming into the country is having a real effect on cocaine-loving Americans. Cocaine use is on the rise for the first time in 10 years, increasing 26% between 2014 and 2015, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). This has resulted in a 54% increase in cocaine overdose deaths between 2012 and 2015. 

Most recently, there's been a rise in reports of drug users taking cocaine alongside fentanyl, a powerful opioid. That combination was present in 37% of overdose deaths in New York City last year. The same trend had been reported in New Haven, Connecticut and Cleveland, Ohio. 

“There is a mountain of cocaine, much of it is likely headed our way,” Justin Miller, intelligence chief for the DEA’s Miami field division, said earlier this year. “But we are already seeing these drug combinations, and cocaine deaths are already going up significantly."

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