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DEA Releases 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment

Source: DEA

The Drug Enforcement Agency’s Strategic Intelligence Section has released the 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA), a comprehensive assessment of the threat posed to the United States by the trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs, the diversion and abuse of licit drugs, and the laundering of proceeds generated through illicit drug sales.

The report also addresses the role domestic groups, including organized violent gangs, serve in domestic drug trafficking.

Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) are the greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States; they control most of the U.S. drug market and have established varied transportation routes, have advanced communications capabilities, and hold strong affiliations with criminal groups and gangs in the United States.

Methods for opioid concealment. Credit: DEA

Illicit fentanyl—produced in foreign clandestine laboratories and trafficked into the United States in powder and pill form—is primarily responsible for fueling the ongoing opioid crisis. Fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills continue to be trafficked across the country and remain significant contributors to the rates of overdose deaths observed across the country. As inexpensive, potent fentanyl continues to push into established heroin markets, fentanyl will augment, and in some cases supplant, white powder heroin in various domestic markets.

Methamphetamine price and purity data, as well as law enforcement reporting, all indicate methamphetamine continues to be readily available throughout the United States. Seizures along with drug poisoning deaths involving methamphetamine continue to rise—purity and potency remain high while prices remain relatively low.

Availability of cocaine throughout the United States remains steady, likely based on the high levels of coca cultivation and cocaine production in the Andean Region of South America. Leading indicators of cocaine availability, including laboratory analysis of cocaine exhibits, cocaine seizure data, and price and purity of the drug, indicate that cocaine availability is steady.

Controlled Prescription Drugs (CPDs) remain a prevalent concern within the United States—availability remains constant while abuse levels decreased from the previous year. CPD diversion continues to decrease across most categories at the national level, but some states report an increase in the number of incidents. The number of opioid dosage units available on the retail market and opioid thefts and losses reached their lowest levels in nine years.

Mexico remains the most significant foreign source for marijuana in the United States; however, in U.S. markets, Mexican marijuana has largely been supplanted by domestic produced marijuana.

United States: Areas of Influence of Major Mexican Transnational Criminal Organizations by DEA Field Division, Source: DEA

The demand market for New Psychoactive Substances (NPSs) is typified by new substances constantly being created and marketed to users. Synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones are the most common classes of NPSs available and abused in the United States; however, there are many other classes of NPSs including opioids, phenethylamines, tryptamines, benzodiazepines, and piperazines.

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and the associated restrictions on daily travel, U.S. border closings, closure of nonessential businesses, and the broad shelter-in-place orders temporarily posed new challenges to criminal organizations and their movement of drugs throughout the United States during the first half of 2020. Global drug markets reported fluctuations in pricing, availability, transportation, and distribution of illicit drugs during the initial stages of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. Despite initial disruptions in drug smuggling, transportation, and distribution, TCOs operating throughout foreign countries and in the United States continued to test new methods and use existing techniques to continue operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

2020 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA). Drug Enforcement Administration, 2 March 2021.

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