Los Angeles County remains one of the major shipping points for Mexican drug cartels fueling a rise in fentanyl across the United States, while California leads the nation in methamphetamine conversion labs, according to a federal drug study out Tuesday.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration released its 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment — the agency’s annual publication that outlines threats posed by domestic and international drug trafficking and the abuse of illicit drugs.
Among its many points, the report says that California had more fentanyl seized than any other state in 2019, and that California had the second-greatest amount of cocaine seized in 2019.
Nationally, according to the report, the opioid threat remains at epidemic levels, while the stimulant threat, including methamphetamine and cocaine, is worsening both in volume and reach.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 83,000 people lost their lives to drug-related overdoses in the 12- month period ending in July of 2020 — an increase from 2019, when more than 70,000 people died of overdoses.
“This year’s report shows the harsh reality of the drug threats facing communities across the United States,” DEA Acting Administrator D. Christopher Evans said.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic plagues this nation, so, too, do transnational criminal organizations and violent street gangs, adjusting to pandemic restrictions to flood our communities with dangerous drugs.
“DEA and our local, state, and federal partners continue to adapt to the ever changing landscape, remaining focused on the current threats and looking to the horizon for emerging threats.”
Bill Bodner, the Los Angeles field division special agent in charge, added, “Unfortunately, no community in the U.S. is untouched by the current statistics or drug threats outlined in this report. Illicit drugs, especially opioids, have taken too many lives and ripped through too many families and communities. We recognize the changing drug climate and continue to persistently pursue drug trafficking organizations that prey on individuals and perpetuate the cycle of substance abuse.”
Drugs trends in the United States continue to evolve, the report says.
Though progress has been made in reducing the smuggling of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues from China following the DEA’s 2018 emergency scheduling action of fentanyl related substances and China’s enactment of fentanyl-class controls in May 2019, Mexican drug trafficking organizations have increased production — causing more fentanyl to flow across the U.S. border, according to the report.
The report also says:
— Mexican Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) remain the greatest criminal drug threat in the U.S. — with Los Angeles being one of their major trans-shipment points.
— Illicit fentanyl is one of the primary drugs fueling the epidemic of overdose deaths in the country, while heroin and prescription opioids remain significant challenges to public health and law enforcement.
— Mexican cartels are increasingly responsible for producing and supplying fentanyl to the U.S. market. China remains a key source of supply for the precursor chemicals that Mexican cartels use to produce the large amounts of fentanyl they are smuggling into the United States.
— Drug-poisoning deaths and seizures involving methamphetamine have risen sharply as Mexican TCOs increase the drug’s availability and expand the domestic market.
— Constraints associated with the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic — daily travel restrictions, U.S. border closings, closure of nonessential businesses, and broad shelter-in-place orders — temporarily posed new challenges to criminal organizations’ movement of drugs during the first half of 2020.
Locally, the DEA said:
— In 2019, California had more fentanyl seized than any other state.
— In 2019, California, Ohio, and Texas reported the highest dollar amounts in bulk cash seizures for a combined total of $131,039,840. In the first six months of 2020, California, New York and Texas accounted for 39% of the bulk cash seized.
Border restrictions between the U.S. and Mexico, brought on due to the pandemic, have increased the difficulty of transporting loads of bulk currency from the U.S. across the southwest border into Mexico. As a result, large amounts of U.S. currency are being held along the U.S. side, awaiting transport to Mexico.
— California had the second greatest amount of cocaine seized in 2019 due to the proximity of the southwest border and high-traffic international airports and seaports.
— DEA Field Divisions seized 6,951 kilograms of heroin in 2019, a 30% increase from 2018, with the largest amounts of heroin 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 trans-shipment points for the onward movement of heroin to domestic markets throughout the United States.
— California leads the U.S. in methamphetamine conversion labs, which are used to convert powder methamphetamine into crystal methamphetamine or to recrystallize methamphetamine in solution back into crystal methamphetamine.
— In 2019, 26% of illicit fentanyl tablets contained a potential lethal dose of fentanyl, an increase from 14% and 10% the two years prior.
The National Drug Threat Assessment is available at www.dea.gov/documents/2021/03/02/2020-national-drug-threat-assessment.