Data on drug seizures at the U.S. border indicate an alarming volume of trafficking taking place in recent years. Since 2009, heroin seizures at the southwestern border have almost tripled, while meth seizures quintupled through 2014. Worse yet, cocaine and marijuana remain two of the most commonly seized drugs along our southern borders, equating to millions of pounds seized by U.S. Border Patrol. 

These figures help paint the broader landscape of drug overdose and abuse reaching record levels in the United States. In this report we’ll examine the scale of substance seizures and the increase in trafficking over the last decade to gain a better understanding of how trafficking of illicit drugs has influenced the growing drug problem in America. 

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Since 2012, the number of traffickers apprehended at U.S. borders has steadily increased from 364,768 to nearly 500,000 in 2014. From 2012 to 2015 the U.S. Border Patrol has seized more than:

  • 8.2 million lbs. of marijuana
  • 32,600 lbs. of cocaine
  • 34,000 ounces of heroin
  • 17,600 lbs. of methamphetamine

Click around on the interactive above to see exactly how drug trafficking trends have changed over time.

drugs at the border


In 2010, the FBI released a statement detailing the southwestern border and Mexico’s involvement in the illicit drug trade within the United States. At the time, Mexico was the No. 1 foreign supplier of marijuana. While Mexico produces no cocaine, the cartels do move Colombian cocaine through South and Central America into the U.S. through Mexico.

Mexico is also the largest supplier of methamphetamine. The country has labs established on both sides of the border that are controlled by Mexican drug cartels. Although Asia and the Middle East were the largest producers of heroin, 39% of heroin identified by DEA signature programs originated from Mexico, making the southwest border the source for many heroin overdoses west of the Mississippi River.

Today, the data show the majority of marijuana drug trafficking still takes place along the southwest border. The coastal borders (Miami, New Orleans, Ramey) see a great deal of traffic but the emphasis is largely on marijuana and cocaine, suggesting the coastal borders are secondary channels largely for Colombian cartels that push these primary drugs from South America.

The government works tirelessly to counter the influx of illicit drugs, with drug trafficking falling under federal law and carrying a felony sentence ranging anywhere from five years to life in prison. Any individual can be charged with trafficking if authorities believe there is intent to sell. Charges can also be escalated to distribution depending on the quantity of drugs found.

the united states of marijuana and cocaine

Data from collected since 2012 shows that border patrol and government agencies are doing an exceptional job at slowing the importation of illicit drugs into the U.S. at our southern borders. Texas and Arizona hold the highest rate of seizures, totaling more than 7 million pounds of drugs seized by authorities from 2012 to 2014. This region has required a focused effort because South America has long been a primary source for cocaine and marijuana.

Unfortunately, despite the high volume of seizures, drugs are still finding their way across and have a profound impact in many states along southern and coastal borders.

In 2014 alone, California had the highest incidences of drug related deaths at 4,521. It was followed closely by Florida (2,634) and Texas (2,601). Arizona however is an exception; with the highest seized drug volume and only 1,211 drug related deaths in 2014. This is a clear indication that search and seizure by U.S. Border Patrol and local authorities has been highly effective in that region.

While the volume of drugs flowing into the U.S. through northern borders is considerably less, with fewer recorded seizures, there still remains a threat in those regions. Data shows us that some northern states are hit just as hard by drug trafficking.  In 2014, drug related deaths in some areas of the north rivaled those of southern border states including Ohio (2,744 deaths), Pennsylvania (2,732 deaths) and New York (2,300 deaths).

Search and seizure programs have effectively stopped millions of pounds of illicit drugs from entering the U.S., but there’s clearly more to be done to protect the youth of America and limit the volume of drugs traveling deeper into our cities.

trafficking around the word, by transport

Trafficking is not a problem native to the United States. Officials are combating drug trafficking around the globe. Authorities are making a concerted effort to minimize transport through methods including land, sea, and air.

The majority of drugs appear to travel by land, with 59% of total drugs seized attributed to Border Patrol efforts in the U.S. and abroad. Over the years these efforts have forced smugglers to turn to maritime routes to move illicit drugs around the globe.

While seizures by U.S. Coast Guard, DEA and naval operations of other countries only account for 8% of the total number of seizures, those seizures make up more than 30% of total quantities seized. This indicates larger volumes are being moved by watercraft and container vessels.

Smugglers also utilize other methods to move illicit drugs across borders, including buying old aircraft such as private jets or attempting to move product through commercial airlines by way of bodypacking or through drug mules forced into service. Authorities manage to halt many of these attempts, making up 46% of total drug seizures. However, smugglers are limited in the amount of drugs they can transport with these methods, contributing just 6% of the total amounts seized.


Increased drug trafficking in the U.S. has led to an epidemic level of overdoses, surpassing car accidents and firearms as the leading cause of injury and death among Americans. Drug abuse is ending too many lives, too soon.

According to data from the DEA, the number of drug overdoses has climbed more than 50% in the last decade. Death and injury can be traced back to drug-related violence, overdoses from illicit drug use, accidental deaths as a result of drug abuse and injury or death related to smuggling.

While the production of some drugs takes place within our borders, foreign drug trade into the U.S. is largely responsible for the number of dead or injured. Drug abuse has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, and the government allots billions of dollars each year to counter the growing epidemic.

Aside from the financial impact it can take a lasting toll on the health of those who abuse drugs while impacting everyone around them – especially if a fatal overdose occurs. You’re not alone in these struggles. There are trusted professionals who can offer advice and guidance to help you in the fight against drug addiction.

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  • Seizure data was collected from U.S. Customs Border Patrol for fiscal years 2012 through 2015. Substance seizures, by mode of transportation reflects global figures provided by the United Nations’ World Drug Report.