Most Recent Drug Hauls
The United States is unequivocally the largest consumer of illegal drugs on the planet.This was the somewhat bizarre question that drifted into my mind a month ago while re-watching an episode of Breaking Bad - the addictive story of a high school science teacher, Walter White, turned super meth cook. I already knew that the U.S. is unequivocally the largest consumer of illegal drugs on the planet (accounting for only 5% of the world's population, but a massive 25% of its demand for narcotics1), but I wanted a much more detailed picture of the American drug landscape. I wanted to see it as it exists right now, across every state and all 3,000 counties.
I wanted to know which state is the most awash with amphetamines and heaving with heroin. And where can't you find a brick of cannabis no matter how hard you try?
Clearly there's no way to know the precise amount of each drug present in each state without some kind of omniscient, omnipresent drug-sniffing dog, and the DEA doesn't have one yet, so a less direct approach would be required. I decided to use reported seizures of narcotics to
Our study focuses on the 'big four': Cannabis, Cocaine, Heroin and MethGovernment stats offer the most comprehensive overview of drug interdictions and they're great for assessing the country's drug trends in hindsight and on a national scale, but they're only released twice a year or so, and I wanted the most up-to-date figures possible and, moreover, I wanted to see them at the state-, or even county-level. I therefore needed to find a totally up-to-the-minute catalogue of the thousands of daily drug busts being made around the country - preferably one that tracks the exact geographical position they are made. Fortuitously, I found GlobalIncidentMap.com, which does all of the above. It aggregates media reports of drug interdictions (as well as forest fires, human trafficking incidents and a whole host of other unsettling events) from thousands of local media outlets around the country and outputs them as a filterable, constantly-updating news ticker. Every report is tagged with the type of drug seized, the time and date it was intercepted and the exact location (by longitude and latitude).
For drug types, I decided to focus on the 'big four': cannabis, cocaine, heroin and meth (which together account for 69% of the seized drugs analyzed by American forensic labs each year3), and I'd begin by extracting the 5,000 most recently reported busts.
It took 1,500 media outlets 13 months to report on 5,000 drug busts.It took roughly 1,500 different media outlets, from ABC News to the Zanesville Times Recorder, a year and a month to report 5,000 drug busts. This, of course, is only a fraction of the total number of seizures made by the DEA, FBI, U.S. Customs Service and U.S. Border Patrol on a yearly basis, but nevertheless, it gives a fresh perspective on American's war on drugs. Every dot on the map above is a drug bust that was big enough to make the news and it doesn't take more than a second to see which illicit substance secured the most column inches over the 58 weeks. The constellation of green dots are interceptions of cannabis: America's favorite drug and easily its more frequently seized. 70.5% of the 5,000 most recent busts involved cannabis, with the remaining 29.5% going to cocaine (13%), heroin (10%) and meth (6%). DEA drug seizure stats confirm that, of the 'big four', cannabis is far and away the most seized drug (780,000 lbs in 2012), followed by cocaine (79,000 lbs)4.
Cannabis is the most seized drug, coming in at 780,000lbs in 2012Meth and heroin take third and fourth places respectively (5,400 lbs and 2,400 lbs), reversed in comparison to their volume of media reports. It's no mystery why cannabis swamps the map above. Many more people consume it than the other three drugs. According to the 2011 World Drug Report, in 2009 between 2.8% and 4.5% of the world population aged 15-64, which is 125-203 million people, used cannabis at least once in the previous year6. In North America, the figure was more than double that, at 11%7. Supply therefore strives to meet demand and the result is absolutely vast quantities of marijuana circulating throughout the U.S., with about half of it originating in Mexico and the other half being home grown, or coming from Canada or Jamaica8.
In terms of the geographical distribution of the 5,000 most recent seizures, the map above gives us a rough indication, with many more blue dots (cocaine) and red dots (heroin) visible in the east of the country, while the west (i.e. California) accounts for a hefty sprinkle of yellow meth dots. To get a clearer idea we need to drill down into the numbers a bit more.
North Dakota takes the cake when it comes to cannabis busts per capita.While the rankings are quite interesting, it's the sheer volume of cannabis seizures that is a cause for concern. What kind of concern depends on whether you feel marijuana laws are necessary or not. There's a national debate raging at the moment on the subject and just last week more evidence came in to suggest that law enforcement, at least in New York City, is shifting its focus away from making arrests for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Weed-related arrests are set to drop 20% in 2013, and in 2012 they'd already dropped 22 percent compared to the previous year, from 52,220 to 40,6619. Of course, the authorities are unlikely to adopt a more lenient position any time soon in regard to hauls that make the news due to their unusual size, like the 1,700lbs of marijuana police discovered in a U-Haul truck this May in Irving, Texas10.
What's for certain is that while marijuana laws are on the verge of an evolution of sorts, the restrictions on the other three drugs I'm looking at are as tight as ever. Let's take a stroll down the line-up to see which of our states has the most white powder under his nails.
Texas had 70% as many reported cocaine seizures as the rest of the top five states combined.Cocaine is America's second most frequently seized drug and the DEA intercepted almost 80,000 lbs of it in 2012. It took American media outlets 573 days to report 1,000 coke seizures around the country and on the map above-left, you can see every single one of them. Looking at the total number of busts for each state, I noticed that Texas, with 207, accounted for about 20% of the 1,000 most recent, putting it firmly in the number one spot. In fact, Texas had 70% as many reported cocaine seizures as the rest of the top five states combined (California - 102, Florida - 63, Arizona - 62, New York - 61). The most obvious reason is because of its proximity to, and shared border with, Mexico. In 2010, 95 percent of all cocaine entering the United States came from south of the border,11 up from 77% in 200312. North Texas also acts as a distribution and transshipment area for cocaine that is moved via passenger vehicles and tractor-trailers to destinations in the Midwestern, Northern and Eastern U.S.13
So, Texas is the big daddy of cocaine busts, but which of our fifty anthropomorphized states gets another line on their rap sheet for having the most coke busts relative to population size?
The Green Mountain State was one of the top ten states for drug-use in several categories, including cocaine use among persons age 12 and older.Arizona and Texas together account for the vast majority of the border between the U.S. and Mexico, so it stands to reason that they are, both in total seizures reported and seizures reported per capita, the top two states for cocaine busts. But what about Vermont in spot number three? Vermont produces more maple syrup than any other state14, but cocaine? Well, its ranking will certainly have something to do with the fact that it's the 2nd least populous state in America, which makes every bust stand out, but in 2009-2010, the Green Mountain State was one of the top ten for rates of drug-use in several categories, including past-year cocaine use among persons age 12 or older and past-year cocaine use among young adults age 18-2515 - so there is clearly a demand for cocaine in Vermont. There's also a trafficking route for it: Vermont has a long and sparsely populated border with Canada and a lot of cocaine enters the U.S. through it, with much of the drug coming from Montreal16.
Five states didn't have any of the 1,000 most recent cocaine interdictions featured in the news: Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Montana and Mr. Most Weed Busts Per Capita: North Dakota. Would these same states have clean hands when it came to heroin busts within their borders?
Delaware ranked first for per capita heroin seizures, at 3.56 per 100k people.Dakota and Iowa again kept their hands clean, as did Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming. They all have small enough populations and are far enough from the Mexican border to avoid having big heroin busts hit the newstands. The same cannot be said for Delaware, which ranked first for per capita heroin seizures (3.56 per 100K people). Delware is only the 45th most populous state, so perhaps this is why it topped the heroin rankings. But a different story emerges when its close proximity to other states with high totals of heroin busts is examined. Pennsylvania, for instance, had the most heroin busts of any state, with 134 of the most recent 1,000, more than California and New York combined, whose populations are 4.5 times larger than Pennsylvania's. New Jersey ranked second for the most heroin seizures (101) and New York came in third (85) and all three states cluster geographically above Delaware. So what's going on? A Delaware Drug Threat Assessment listed heroin as the state's greatest threat in 200217 and noted that the drug is mainly found in the north of the state, and it seems that a high rate of use is what is responsible for the majority of heroin seizures; in 1999, Delaware had the fifth highest rate of heroin-related treatment admissions to publicly-funded facilities in the nation. The Drug Threat Assessment from 2002 also mentioned that most heroin within Delaware is brought into the state by dealers who get it in multiounce and gram quantities from Philidelphia - the capital of Pennsylvania, which as we've just seen, is America's emperor of opium interdictions.
Mexican-based groups control 70-90% of methamphetamine production distributed in the US per year.Methamphetamine has been exploding across America in recent years - literally, in the form of backyard labs blowing up in the faces of the people running them, and figuratively in the sheer amount of meth being produced and consumed nationwide. DEA Domestic Drug Seizure statistics show that, in the main, law enforcement has been seizing more meth year over year since 198618.
There are a few different ways to manufacture meth. There's the 'mom and pop' approach, which often results in the aforementioned explosions and typically only produces a relatively small amount of the drug (less than 50 grams a time), and then there's the super lab method (anything over 10lbs of product per run), favored by the Mexico-based groups, who control 70-90% of methamphetamine production and distribution in the U.S.19
It's the superlab approach you'll see in Breaking Bad, in a state-of-the-art underground facility in the state of New Mexico. And so, does fact mirror fiction? Just how much meth is being seized in New Mexico and, for that matter, the other 49 states?
Thanks to data provided by the DEA20, I was able to map the 1,000 most recent labs (see above maps) and also do a per capita ranking of each state.
Which state across America kept its hands the cleanest? Montana.In the end, do any of our personified states get to leave the line-up and go home with a free cup of coffee and an apology for wasting their time? In other words, out of the 15,000 most recent drug busts across America, was there a single state who kept its hands angelically clean? Well, not really. Including the 10,000 most recent cannabis busts means that every state has at least a few each. Okay, then what if we only book our perps if they've been responsible for one or more of only the 1,000 most recent drug seizures for each drug type? In that case, Montana comes extremely close. It only accounted for two busts out of the 4,000 most recent. Wyoming (3), District of Columbia (5) (technically a territory, not a state), South Dakota (5) and New Hampshire (8) followed Montana. So, should we let Mr. Montana walk free?
I suppose if we follow in the footsteps of New York City cops, we could cut him free if the two busts were small amounts of weed, intended strictly for personal use. Unfortunately though, on checking his booking sheet, one of those busts was for meth and the other heroin. Oh well.
'Take 'em away, boys.'