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Drug Availability in the United States

There are no current estimates for the amount of drugs available in U.S. drug markets, nor are there sufficient data to more accurately measure quantities of specific drugs nationally. Thus, a determination of whether drug availability is increasing or decreasing is based on analysis of indicator data, including foreign and domestic production estimates, price and purity data, seizure data, transportation and distribution trends, and demand data.13 These indicator data show that in 2009, cocaine availability was decreasing, while heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine, and MDMA remained readily available, with increases in some areas.

Cocaine Availability

Cocaine availability has decreased sharply in the United States since 2006. Every national-level cocaine availability data indicator (seizures, price, purity, workplace drug tests, and ED data) points to significantly less availability in 2009 than in 2006. For example, federal cocaine seizures decreased 25 percent from 2006 (53,755 kg) to 2008 (40,449 kg) and remained low in 2009 (see Figure 4). The price per pure gram of cocaine increased from $94.73 in the third quarter of 2006 to $174.03 in the third quarter of 2009, while cocaine purity decreased from 68.1 percent to 46.2 percent (see Figure 5).

Figure 4. Federal Cocaine Seizure Totals, in Kilograms, 2005-2009*

Chart showing federal cocaine seizure totals, in kilograms, from 2005 to 2009.

Source: National Drug Intelligence Center analysis of Federal-Wide Drug Seizure System data.
*Data as of June 2009.
Note: Federal-wide Drug Seizure System totals have been adjusted to exclude seizures that did not occur within the United States or its territorial waters.

Figure 5. Cocaine Price and Purity Data

Graph showing all cocaine purchase prices and purity, per quarter, based on domestic STRIDE data from January 2006 to September 2009.

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration, Intelligence Division - Indications and Warning Section

Workplace drug tests also indicated a reduction in cocaine availability; the percentage of positive tests for cocaine among samples submitted to Quest Diagnostics declined substantially between the end of 2006 and midyear 2009 (see Figure 6). In addition, all 14 cities monitored by DAWN reported that the proportion of drug-related emergency department admissions attributed to cocaine has declined since 2006.

Figure 6. National Cocaine Positivity Rates in Workplace Drug Tests, 2005-2009*

Graph showing the national percentage of workplace drug tests that tested positive for cocaine from January to June 2005 through January to June 2009.

Source: Quest Diagnostics Incorporated.
*Data as of December 9, 2009.

Anecdotal reporting from law enforcement officials throughout the country supports the trend reflected in the national data. Of the 51 U.S. drug markets where cocaine availability is closely monitored, officials in 22 drug markets (primarily markets east of the Mississippi River and along the Southwest Border) report that during the first half of 2009, availability was below 2006 levels; the cocaine shortages have been attributed to several factors (see text box). Officials in only 4 of the 51 markets--Boise, Idaho; Omaha, Nebraska; Portland, Oregon; and Salt Lake City, Utah--reported that cocaine availability levels were higher than in 2006.

Potential Causes for Cocaine Shortages in U.S. Drug Markets

Although no single factor for the decline in cocaine availability can be identified, a combination of factors, including increased law enforcement efforts in Mexico and the transit zones, decreased cocaine production in Colombia, high levels of cartel violence, and cocaine flow to non-U.S. markets likely contributed to decreased amounts being transported to the U.S.-Mexico border for subsequent smuggling into the United States. Cocaine production estimates for Colombia decreased slightly in 2007 and significantly in 2008 (see Figure 7), reducing the amount of cocaine available to world markets. Traffickers in Bolivia and Peru produced sizable quantities of cocaine during the 2-year period, but their estimated production capability and well-established trafficking networks would not be able to quickly fill voids in the U.S. cocaine supply caused by the decline in Colombian production. Moreover, during 2007, several exceptionally large seizures of cocaine destined for Mexico may have initiated the first reported cocaine shortages in U.S. drug markets. These seizures coincided with the decline in seizures along the Southwest Border and were followed by an unprecedented decline in cocaine availability, a trend that continued through 2009. Helping to sustain the shortages were counterdrug efforts on both sides of the border, which most likely diminished the ability of one or more major DTOs to obtain cocaine from South America for subsequent distribution in the United States. Finally, expanding world markets for cocaine in Europe (a highly profitable market) and South America may be further reducing the already reduced amount available from Colombian sources to distribute in the United States.

Figure 7. Potential Pure Cocaine Production in Colombia, in Metric Tons, 2004-2008

Chart showing potential pure cocaine production estimates, in Colombia, in metric tons, from 2004 to 2008.

Source: U.S. Government estimate.


13. Availability indicators vary by drug type and include drug and laboratory seizure data, DAWN emergency department data, Quest Diagnostics workplace testing data, National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) data, and DEA price and purity data.

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