Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) pose the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States; no other group is currently positioned to challenge them. These Mexican poly-drug organizations traffic heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana throughout the United States, using established transportation routes and distribution networks. They control drug trafficking across the Southwest Border and are moving to expand their share, particularly in the heroin and methamphetamine markets.
The threat posed by heroin in the United States is serious and has increased since 2007. Heroin is available in larger quantities, used by a larger number of people, and is causing an increasing number of overdose deaths. In 2013, 8,620 Americans died from heroin-related overdoses, nearly triple the number in 2010. (See Chart 1.) Increased demand for, and use of, heroin is being driven by both increasing availability of heroin in the U.S. market and by some controlled prescription drug (CPD) abusers using heroin. CPD abusers who begin using heroin do so chiefly because of price differences, but also because of availability, and the reformulation of OxyContin®, a commonly abused prescription opioid.
The threat from CPD abuse is persistent and deaths involving CPDs outnumber those involving heroin and cocaine combined. The economic cost of nonmedical use of prescription opioids alone in the United States totals more than $53 billion annually. Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs), street gangs, and other criminal groups, seeing the enormous profit potential in CPD diversion, have become increasingly involved in transporting and distributing CPDs. The number of drug overdose deaths, particularly from CPDs, has grown exponentially in the past decade and has surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Rogue pain management clinics (commonly referred to as pill mills) also contribute to the extensive availability of illicit pharmaceuticals in the United States. To combat pill mills and stem the flow of illicit substances, many states are establishing new pill mill legislation and prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs).
The 2013 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) Summary addresses emerging developments related to the trafficking and use of primary illicit substances of abuse and the nonmedical use of controlled prescription drugs (CPDs). In the preparation of this report, DEA intelligence analysts considered quantitative data from various sources (seizures, investigations, arrests, drug purity or potency, and drug prices; law enforcement surveys; laboratory analyses; and interagency production and cultivation estimates) and qualitative information (subjective views of individual agencies on drug availability, information on smuggling and transportation trends, and indicators of changes in smuggling and transportation methods).