Academic level – Undergraduate 1-2
Type of paper – Case study
Topic Title – Drugs and Crime
For this discussion question, read pages 3-18 of the 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment (contained in this week’s learning resources) and answer the following questions:
DEA Field Divisions seized a total of 6,951 kilograms of heroin in 2019. How did this quantity compare to heroin seizures in 2018? In what states were the largest amounts of seizures made? What is the significance of seizures primarily occurring in these states and what impact would these seizures have on heroin markets in other areas? Fentanyl has become one of the most prominent drugs found in drug samples analyzed by drug laboratories.
What other illicit drug is fentanyl usually found in combination with? Why would fentanyl be combined with this drug? How has this combination impacted overdose deaths? None of the fentanyl or heroin in the illicit drug market is produced domestically; yet, overdose deaths from these two drugs continue to be the primary threat in our communities.
Given these facts, and using the NDTA, where is the majority of the heroin and fentanyl in US drug markets coming from and in what percentage of the total US market? How are the drugs getting from the source country into the US? State and local law enforcement agency drug units have very little direct impact on the drug supply at the international level; yet, the information that these units have from their drug investigations is critical to the overall intelligence assessment. How are state and local narcotic unit detectives able to conduct and participate in investigations that can directly impact Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) who smuggle drugs into the US? Given an example of a case that was investigated jointly with the DEA and state and local detectives.
The states of New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania reported the biggest amounts of heroin seizures. The fact that heroin seizures are concentrated in these states is significant since these areas have the biggest markets for white powder heroin. Due to heroin’s general accessibility, these seizures could have a negative effect on other regions’ heroin markets by limiting the amount of the drug that is offered there. One of the most common compounds discovered in drug sample analyses by drug laboratories is fentanyl. The fentanyl and heroin markets are still linked at the state level, according to NFLIS-Drug statistics for 2019 (U.S. Department of Justice, 2021, p. 7). Fentanyl is becoming more widely available, but heroin continues to be the opioid that is most frequently reported in NFLIS-Drug, retaining its dominant position in the U.S. drug market.
Usually, fentanyl is found in mixtures with heroin. The potency of the heroin is increased by this compound, giving addicts a stronger high. Since fentanyl is a stronger substance than heroin, this combination is particularly dangerous, as it enhances the likelihood of fatally overdosing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two-thirds of all drug overdose deaths in 2019 featured an opioid, with fentanyl being present in more than half of these cases (2022, para. 2). Thus, the use of fentanyl in conjunction with heroin has significantly increased the number of overdose deaths in the US over the last few years.
The overview report underlines that 93% of the heroin and fentanyl sold in the US comes from Mexico, which supplies the majority of the country’s drug markets. The U.S. Postal Service and commercial parcel services are the next methods used to smuggle drugs into the U.S. via the U.S.-Mexico border. Working with larger, international law enforcement organizations like the DEA, state and local narcotics unit detectives are able to conduct and take part in investigations that directly affect TCOs that smuggle drugs into the US.
By working together, state and local investigators can take advantage of their local expertise and intelligence to strengthen the case against the TCOs. For instance, the DEA’s San Diego Field Division visited a San Diego apartment in September 2019 to look into a fatal drug overdose. In the apartment, they discovered “more than five pounds of fentanyl, furanyl fentanyl, U-47700, and valeryl fentanyl” as a result of their investigation (U.S. Department of Justice, 2021, p. 17). It was discovered via further investigation that the overdose victim had ordered the fentanyl online from a Chinese supplier. A person close to the deceased claimed that the victim had bought a sizable quantity of fentanyl for distribution, as well as for personal use. After the investigation conducted by the DEA and state detectives, the drugs were seized successfully.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, June 2). Death rate maps & graphs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/index.html
U.S. Department of Justice: Drug Enforcement Administration. (2021). (rep.). 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment (pp. 1–95).