Cocaine production is booming again in Colombia and the resurgent cartels are behind roughly 90 percent of cocaine flooding onto U.S. streets.
Agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration say traffickers are smuggling more cocaine into South Florida than officials have seen since 2007. The coca crop is flourishing in Colombia after a decade of decline. Officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection said cocaine seizures in Florida totaled 9,500 pounds in 2015, a 61 percent increase over the previous year, reports NBC Miami.
Experts say due to the rapid spike in Colombian cocaine production, the full effects of the boom have yet to hit American shores. Cocaine fatalities are on a steady rise, claiming 1,834 lives in Florida between 2012 and 2015, surpassed only by deaths from fentanyl, an opiate based painkiller 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
Coca cultivation is back to dominating the agricultural market in Colombia. Production today even eclipses the cocaine output of Pablo Escobar’s infamous Medellin Cartel. Roughly 460,000 acres of coca is currently planted throughout the country, producing 710 metric tons of cocaine in 2015, up from only 235 metric tons of output in 2013.
“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, told NBC Miami. “But we are already seeing these drug combinations, and cocaine deaths are already going up significantly.”
Gangs, traffickers and farmers are growing so much of the crop, excess coca leaves are being left rotting in fields. Prices are also falling amid the production boom, partially driven by financial incentives from the Colombian government. (RELATED: Cocaine Markets Are So Saturated, Cartels Are Doing The Unthinkable)
The street price of one kilo of pure cocaine is down from as high as $35,000 to $26,000 in South Florida.
The resurgence of cocaine comes amid the opioid epidemic, which claimed more than 33,000 lives in 2015. The rise in opioid related deaths is largely blamed on the emergence of deadly chemicals like fentanyl, which dealers cut into their supplies. Officials in the U.S. are becoming increasingly concerned about fentanyl cropping up in cocaine supplies, which is already being seen in Chicago and New York.
Less than half a teaspoon of pure fentanyl is enough to kill 10 people.
“We’re hearing indications of some cocaine-fentanyl overdose deaths not involving heroin in New York City as well, suggestive of fentanyl directly mixed with cocaine,” Daniel Raymond, policy director for the national Harm Reduction Coalition, told Cincinnati.com. “It’s not clear that any specific demographics are being targeted or even the market rationale.”
Cocaine use increased among young Americans between 2013 and 2015, over the same period cocaine cultivation began increasing again in Colombia. The substance was responsible for 13 percent of fatal drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2015.
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