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Heroin Trafficking the United States
Kristin Finklea
Specialist Domestic Security
August 23, 2016
Congressional Research Service
7-5700
www.crs.gov
R44599
Heroin Trafficking the United States
Summary
Over the past several years, the nation has seen uptick the use and abuse opioids both
prescription substances and non-prescription substances such heroin. The estimated number
individuals who had used heroin was 914,000 2014. Further, about 586,000 individuals (0.2% the and older population) had heroin use disorder 2014. addition increase
heroin use over the past several years, there has been simultaneous increase its availability
the United States. This has been fueled number factors, including increased production
and trafficking heroin principally Mexican criminal networks.
Mexican transnational criminal organizations are the major suppliers and key producers most
illegal drugs smuggled into the United States. They have been increasing their share the U.S.
drug market particularly with respect heroin. The United States still receives large portion heroin from South America (primarily Colombia) and, much lesser extent, Southwest Asia. order facilitate the distribution and sale drugs the United States, Mexican drug
traffickers have formed relationships with U.S. street, prison, and outlaw motorcycle gangs.
Although these gangs have historically been involved with retail-level drug distribution, their ties the Mexican criminal networks have allowed them become increasingly involved the
wholesale level well.
The bulk heroin smuggled into the United States transits across the Southwest border. From
2010 2015, heroin seizures this area more than doubled from 1,016 2,524 kg. This
trend mirrors the increase overall seizures throughout the country. Further, there has been
increase federal arrests and prosecutions heroin traffickers. 2015, for example, the Drug
Enforcement Administration made 6,353 heroin-related arrests. addition, U.S. Sentencing
Commission data indicate that from 2011 2015, the number individuals sentenced for heroin
trafficking offenses U.S. District Courts increased nearly 50%.
The federal government specifically, law enforcement relies number tools and
initiatives counter heroin trafficking. Many these efforts focus drug trafficking broadly
and prioritize the greatest drug trafficking threats given area, whether those threats come
from heroin other illicit drugs substances.
Going forward, there are number issues policymakers may consider they address the issue heroin trafficking. For instance, what known about drug trafficking contingent data
surrounding poppy cultivation, heroin production, and product inflows into the United States.
Given that these are often based snapshots knowledge from disparate sources, Congress
may question the collection and adequacy these data. addition, Congress may examine
current law enforcement efforts maximize the dismantling and prosecution heroin trafficking
networks. Policymakers may also look existing federal strategies drug control, transnational
crime, and Southwest border crime evaluate whether they are able target the current heroin
trafficking threat.
Congressional Research Service
Heroin Trafficking the United States
Contents
Heroin Traffickers ...........................................................................................................................
Relationships with U.S. Gangs ..................................................................................................
Heroin Seizures .........................................................................................................................
Arrests and Prosecutions ...........................................................................................................
Links Related Substances......................................................................................................
Prescription Opioids............................................................................................................
Fentanyl ..............................................................................................................................
U.S. Efforts Address Domestic Heroin Trafficking ..............................................................
National Heroin Task Force ..............................................................................................
DEA 360 Strategy .............................................................................................................
HIDTA ...............................................................................................................................
OCDETF ...........................................................................................................................
COPS Anti-Heroin Task Force Program ...........................................................................
Heroin Signature Program and Heroin Domestic Monitor Program ................................
Going Forward ..............................................................................................................................
Adequacy Data Trafficking Flows .................................................................................
Prioritizing Heroin Trafficking Enforcement ..........................................................................
Evaluating Goals and Outcomes U.S. Strategies ................................................................
National Drug Control Strategy ........................................................................................
National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy ....................................................
National Strategy Combat Transnational Organized Crime..........................................
Figures
Figure Heroin Seized the United States...................................................................................
Figure DEA Heroin Arrests .........................................................................................................
Figure Cases Sentenced U.S. District Court ............................................................................
Contacts
Author Contact Information ..........................................................................................................
Congressional Research Service
Heroin Trafficking the United States the midst national concern over illicit drug use and abuse, there has been heightened
attention the issue opioid abuse including both prescription opioids and
nonprescription opioids such heroin. The increased attention opioid abuse and addiction
first centered the abuse prescription painkillers. According the Substance Abuse and
Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 4.3 million individuals were current
(past month) nonmedical users prescription pain relievers such OxyContin 2014.1
Mirroring the nation concern about prescription drug abuse has been corresponding unease
regarding the rise heroin abuse.2
The estimated number individuals who had used heroin within the past year was 914,000
2014.3 addition, about 586,000 individuals (0.2% the and older population) had heroin
use disorder 2014.4 Heroin-related overdose deaths increased 244% between 2007 and
2013. While there has been increase heroin overdoses and heroin-related deaths across the
United States, the Midwest and Northeast regions have been highlighted areas particular
concern. addition increase heroin use over the past several years, there has been simultaneous
increase its availability the United States. This has been fueled number factors,
including increased production and trafficking heroin principally Mexican criminal
networks.6 Mexican drug traffickers have been expanding their control the U.S. heroin market,
though the United States still receives heroin from South America and Southwest Asia well.
Notably, while the majority the world opium produced Afghanistan,7 only small
proportion that feeds the U.S. heroin market.
Policymakers may examine U.S. efforts combat heroin trafficking means combatting
opioid abuse the United States. This report provides overview heroin trafficking into and
within the United States. includes discussion links between the trafficking heroin and
the illicit movement related substances such controlled prescription drugs and synthetic
drugs like fentanyl. The report also outlines existing U.S. efforts combat heroin trafficking and
possible congressional considerations going forward.8
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Behavioral Health Trends the United States: Results
from the 2014 National Survey Drug Use and Health, September 2015, For more information prescription
drug abuse, see CRS Report R43559, Prescription Drug Abuse, Erin Bagalman al.
Heroin currently listed Schedule controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA, P.L. 91513), meaning the federal government has deemed heroin having high potential for abuse, currently accepted
medical use treatment, and lack accepted safety for its use under medical supervision. Under the CSA, there are
five schedules under which substances may classified Schedule being the most restrictive. For more information the CSA, see CRS Report RL34635, The Controlled Substances Act: Regulatory Requirements, Brian Yeh;
and CRS Report RL30722, Drug Offenses: Maximum Fines and Terms Imprisonment for Violation the Federal
Controlled Substances Act and Related Laws, Brian Yeh.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Behavioral Health Trends the United States: Results
from the 2014 National Survey Drug Use and Health, September 2015,
Ibid., 27.
Drug Enforcement Administration, 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary, October 2015.
Ibid.
United Nations Office Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2015, May 2015. discussion the overarching U.S. drug policy and heroin abuse, prevention, and treatment are outside the scope this report. For more information these issues, see CRS Report R43749, Drug Enforcement the United States:
History, Policy, and Trends, Lisa Sacco; and CRS Insight IN10031, Heroin and Prescription Opioid Abuse:
Access Naloxone Treat Overdose, Erin Bagalman.
Congressional Research Service
Heroin Trafficking the United States
Heroin Traffickers
Mexican transnational criminal organizations (MTCOs) remain the greatest criminal drug threat the United States; other group can challenge them the near term. They are the major
suppliers and key producers most illegal drugs smuggled into the United States. They have
been increasing their share the U.S. drug market particularly with respect heroin.10 While
there are least eight major Mexican drug trafficking organizations operating the United
States, the Sinaloa Cartel the most active.11
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) notes that Mexican criminal networks transport
the bulk their goods over the Southwest Border through ports entry (POEs) using passenger
vehicles tractor trailers. passenger vehicles, the drugs may held secret
compartments; while tractor trailers, the drugs are often comingled with other legitimate
goods.13 Less commonly used methods move drugs include smuggling them through crossborder underground tunnels and commercial cargo trains, small boats, and ultralight aircraft.14
Mexican criminal networks have not always featured prominently (or broadly) the U.S.
heroin market. Historically, Colombian criminal organizations controlled heroin markets the
Midwest and the East Coast.15 The Colombians are now receiving some their supply for
these markets directly from Mexican criminals.16 Notably, Mexican [transnational criminal
organizations] are now competing for the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic markets introducing
Mexican brown/black tar heroin,17 well developing new techniques produce highly
refined white powder heroin. Mexican poppy cultivation reportedly increased 160% from 2013 2015, and experts have estimated that this could allow for about metric tons heroin
production 2015.19
Drug Enforcement Administration, 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary, October 2015,
Ibid.
Jack Riley, Acting Deputy Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration, before the U.S. Congress, Senate
Committee Foreign Relations, Subcommittee Western Hemisphere and Global Narcotics Affairs, Cartels and the
U.S. Heroin Epidemic: Combating Drug Violence and Public Health Crisis, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., May 26, 2016.
Drug Enforcement Administration, 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary, October 2015,
Ibid.
Ibid.
Ibid., 26.
Ibid.,
For more information the production these forms heroin, see the text box Heroin Production.
Statement for the Record Jack Riley, Acting Deputy Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S.
Congress, Senate Committee Foreign Relations, Subcommittee Western Hemisphere and Global Narcotics
Affairs, Cartels and the U.S. Heroin Epidemic: Combating Drug Violence and Public Health Crisis, 114th Cong., 2nd
sess., May 26, 2016.
Ibid. See also Office National Drug Control Policy, Mexico, https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/mexico.
Congressional Research Service
Heroin Trafficking the United States
The DEA has observed that [t]he increased
role Mexican traffickers affecting heroin
trafficking patterns. Because Mexican
criminal organizations move product across
the Southwest border, western states have
started become part the heroin transit
zone. addition, the Mexican traffickers
take larger role the U.S. heroin market,
and expand their operations the East Coast,
authorities have seen black tar heroin emerge the Northeastern United States, where had
rarely been seen. However, the DEA reports
that black tar heroin seizures still comprise
very small percentage the heroin seized
the Northeast and that much the heroin
found that region has been Colombian.24
Heroin Production
Created from the morphine molecule the opium
poppy, heroin can produced number purity
grades (white powder heroin being the most pure and
black tar heroin being the least) and can administered
through number means (e.g., smoking, snorting,
injecting). the process creating heroin, [w]hite
heroin made isolating morphine from opium and
then synthesizing heroin from morphine. Producing
black tar heroin, however, skips the intermediate step morphine isolation and synthesizes heroin straight
from the opium. such, producing black tar heroin
faster and less costly than producing white heroin and
thus may particularly economical high for opioid
abusers.
Relationships with U.S. Gangs order facilitate the distribution and sale drugs the United States, Mexican drug
traffickers have formed relationships with U.S. street, prison, and outlaw motorcycle gangs
(OMGs).25 The National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) reported that least U.S. gangs are
involved cross-border crimes. Reportedly, the MTCO with the greatest number gang ties
the Sinaloa Cartel.26
The relationships between U.S. gangs and Mexican criminal networks are well documented
state and local investigators. They cannot, however, detail exactly how the gangs interact with the
Mexican traffickers.27 Experts project that
gangs will naturally continue foster relationships with MTCOs and, wherever possible,
will seek heighten their role drug trafficking. MTCO partnerships are integral
gang objectives MTCOs supply gangs with access corridors along the US/Mexico
border and extend advantage the illicit drug industry, all which translates money
and power, the two primary objectives gangs.
Although these gangs have historically been involved with retail-level drug distribution, their ties the Mexican criminal networks have allowed them become increasingly involved the
Stratfor, Criminal Commodities Series: Black Tar Heroin, March 2012.
Ibid.
Drug Enforcement Administration, National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary, June 2016,
Ibid.
Statement for the Record Jack Riley, Acting Deputy Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S.
Congress, Senate Committee Foreign Relations, Subcommittee Western Hemisphere and Global Narcotics
Affairs, Cartels and the U.S. Heroin Epidemic: Combating Drug Violence and Public Health Crisis, 114th Cong., 2nd
sess., May 26, 2016.
Drug Enforcement Administration, National Drug Threat Assessment Summary 2015, 2015.
National Gang Intelligence Center, 2015 National Gang Report.
Ibid., 30.
Ibid., 48.
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wholesale level well. Trafficking and distribution illicit drugs primary source revenue
for these gangs29 and among the most common their criminal activities.30
Prison gangs particular have strong ties MTCOs and they also have some control over U.S.
street gangs (though sometimes these roles are reversed). For instance, [p]rison gangs order gang
members the street conduct crimes their behalf and thereby function brokers the
transfer drugs from the MTCOs street gangs. Both activities render prison gangs proximally
responsible for many the drug crimes that occur the United States. The NGIC has noted
that prison gangs are not particularly loyal discerning about which type drug they are
involved moving, and they tend take advantage opportunity whether heroin
another drug.32 Similarly, OMGs and street gangs are involved poly-drug criminal activities,
and law enforcement investigations street gangs participating drug trafficking often involve
multiple drug types. May 2016, federal agents near San Diego, CA, arrested alleged gang
members and their associates who were suspected trafficking drugs
including heroin and methamphetamine and weapons. Most defendants were
allegedly selling drugs, and some were thought have been involved
importing the heroin and methamphetamine from Mexico.33
Heroin Seizures
The majority heroin making its way the United States originates Mexico and Colombia,
and the bulk this supply smuggled into the country across the Southwest border. From 2010 2015, heroin seizures this area more than doubled from 1,016 2,524 kg.34 This upward
trend Southwest border seizures generally mirrors overall heroin seizures throughout the
United States (see Figure 1).
Drug Enforcement Administration, National Drug Threat Assessment Summary 2015, 2015.
National Gang Intelligence Center, 2015 National Gang Report.
Ibid., 17.
Ibid., 19.
U.S. Department Justice, Officials Take Down Gang-Affiliated Drug Traffickers; Remove Methamphetamine,
Heroin and Guns from the Street, press release, May 2016.
Drug Enforcement Administration, National Drug Threat Assessment Summary 2015, 2015.
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Heroin Trafficking the United States
Figure Heroin Seized the United States
2006 2015
Source: National Seizure System data, provided CRS the DEA, July 22, 2016.
The United Nations Office Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has outlined how seizure data can
used combination with data drug prices and purity help serve drug market indicator.
The UNODC notes that [f]alling seizures combination with rising drug prices and falling
purity levels may suggest decline overall drug supply, while rising seizures combination
with falling drug prices and rising purity levels are usually considered good indicator
increase drug supply.
The UNODC model can applied heroin seizure data assess the scope the heroin
market the United States. Notably, heroin seizures have been increasing, illustrated
Figure and according the DEA 2015 National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary,
[h]eroin today much higher purity and lower price.
Purity. For seizures heroin greater than 100 grams, the average heroin purity
was 61% 2012. This purity dropped about 31% for retail quantities heroin
(10 grams less).37 While the purity has fluctuated somewhat over the past two
decades, has remained elevated relative levels the 1980s.38 For
comparison, the average retail-level purity 1981 was 10%.39
United Nations Office Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2015, May 2015, 37.
Drug Enforcement Administration, National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary, April 2015, note, the most
recent heroin price and purity data cited are from 2012.
Office National Drug Control Policy, National Drug Control Strategy, Data Supplement 2015, 89. The most
recent official data are from 2012.
Drug Enforcement Administration, National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary, April 2015,
Ibid.
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Price. For purchases grams heroin less, the average price per pure
gram was $465 2012.40 Heroin prices have declined, though have been
relatively low since the early 1990s.41
According the UNODC model, this combination seizures, purity, and price may indicate
that there increased heroin supply for the U.S. market. Indeed, experts have noted
increase Mexican heroin production, which primarily destined for the United States.
The increase seizures, however, may reflect more than just increases the heroin supply and
demand the U.S. market. This could also driven factors such enhanced U.S. law
enforcement efforts interdict and seize the contraband and/or less stringent efforts
traffickers conceal the drugs.
Arrests and Prosecutions
Not only has there been increase heroin use and seizures the United States, but there has
also been increase federal arrests and prosecutions heroin traffickers. Data from the DEA
indicate that majority heroin-related arrests are for trafficking offenses. 2015, the DEA
made 6,353 heroin-related arrests. The bulk these arrests were made for conspiracy (30%),
distribution (25%), possession with intent42 (22%), and simple possession (16%). Other offense
categories for which much smaller proportion arrests were made include importation,
manufacture, RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization), and CCE (continuing
criminal enterprise).43 other words, the majority these heroin-related arrests were for
offenses that may considered fall under the umbrella trafficking activities criminal
networks rather than simple possession individuals.44 DEA heroin arrest data indicate that
since remaining relatively flat the mid-2000s, overall heroin arrests have generally been
climbing (see Figure 2).45
Office National Drug Control Policy, National Drug Control Strategy, Data Supplement 2015, 89. The most
recent official data are from 2012.
Drug Enforcement Administration, National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary, April 2015, Prices have been
low relative those the 1980s. this category, the intention manufacture, distribute, dispense controlled substance heroin.
Data provided the DEA CRS, July 15, 2016.
Trafficking offenses are generally considered those involving unlawful distribution, possession with intent
distribute, manufacture, importation and exportation, etc. (21 U.S.C. 841, 960, 962, and U.S.C. 70506). For more
information trafficking offenses and associated penalties (as well other drug offenses and penalties), see CRS
Report RL30722, Drug Offenses: Maximum Fines and Terms Imprisonment for Violation the Federal Controlled
Substances Act and Related Laws, Brian Yeh.
Data provided the DEA CRS, July 15, 2016.
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Heroin Trafficking the United States
Figure DEA Heroin Arrests
2000 2015
Source: Data provided the DEA, July 15, 2016.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission reports that the number individuals sentenced for heroin
trafficking offenses U.S. District Courts has increased from 1,765 FY2011 2,640
FY2015 increase nearly 50%.46 FY2015 data indicate that 2,640 19,792 individuals
sentenced for drug trafficking offenses (13.3%) were sentenced for heroin trafficking.47 That
amounts 3.7% all offenses sentenced U.S. District Courts. (See Figure 3.)
U.S. Sentencing Commission, Quick Facts: Heroin Trafficking Offenses, June 2016.
U.S. Sentencing Commission, Quick Facts: Drug Trafficking Offenses, May 2016. 31.5% drug trafficking cases
were for methamphetamine offenses, 20.5% were for powder cocaine (9.5% were for crack cocaine), 17.1% were for
marijuana, 4.2% were for Oxycodone, and 3.9% were for other drug offenses.
Congressional Research Service
Heroin Trafficking the United States
Figure Cases Sentenced U.S. District Court
FY2015
Source: U.S. Sentencing Commission, Quick Facts: Drug Trafficking Offenses, May 2016.
Notes: Numbers depicted reflect the overall percentage cases sentenced.
Links Related Substances
Prescription Opioids
Some have theorized that prescription opioid abuse may lead to, gateway for,
nonprescription abuse opioids such heroin. The data are unclear. Results from one
SAMHSA study indicate that the recent (12 months preceding interview) heroin incidence rate
was times higher among those who reported prior nonmedical pain reliever (NMPR) use than
among those who did not (0.39% vs. 0.02%). However, while four out five recent heroin
initiates (79.5%) previously used NMPR ... the vast majority NMPR users have not progressed heroin use. The 2016 National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary notes that about
individuals who abuse prescription drugs start use heroin.50 noted below, one factor that
may sway opioid abusers shifts from prescription opioids heroin may the cost. addicts
cannot pay for diverted prescription opioids, they may switch heroin lower-cost
alternative. Reportedly, [d]rug trafficking organizations have responded this trend. DEA
intelligence reveals that heroin trafficking organizations are relocating areas where nonmedical use prescription drugs the rise.
Pradip Muhuri, Joseph Gfroerer, and Christine Davies, Associations Nonmedical Pain Reliever Use and
Initiation Heroin Use the United States, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for
Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, August 2013,
Ibid.
Drug Enforcement Administration, National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary 2016, June 2016.
Drug Enforcement Administration, FY2017 Performance Budget Congressional Submission, DEA-86.
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Heroin Trafficking the United States
Fentanyl
Fentanyl synthetic opioid that 25-40 times more potent than heroin52 and 50-100 times
more potent than morphine. may used treat pain associated with advanced cancer. Most
cases fentanyl-related overdoses are associated with non-pharmaceutical fentanyl;53 this type
fentanyl often mixed with heroin and/or other drugs, sometimes without the consumer
knowledge.
Mexico and China have been cited the primary source countries for illicitly produced fentanyl the United States.54 addition, analogs fentanyl, such acetyl fentanyl, are manufactured China.55 Fentanyl reportedly trafficked into the United States across the Southwest border
delivered through mail couriers.56 Much the illegally diverted and clandestinely produced
fentanyl found the same U.S. markets white powder heroin.57
Law enforcement has identified increasing trend traffickers exploiting the demand for
prescription opioids creating counterfeit pills some containing deadly amounts
fentanyl. Pill press operations have popped throughout North America, suggesting growth the illicit fentanyl market.59
U.S. Efforts Address Domestic Heroin Trafficking
The United States broadly confronts the drug problem through combination efforts targeting
supply and demand. such, the Administration has put resources into the areas prevention,
treatment, and law enforcement initiatives. targeting one element the drug problem such
trafficking many the U.S. efforts cut across these areas. The Office National Drug Control
Policy (ONDCP) National Drug Control Strategy highlights disrupting domestic drug
trafficking and production one its priority areas. doing so, outlines three broad
principles:
coordinating federal enforcement initiatives with state, local, and tribal partners;
securing U.S. borders; and
focusing national efforts specific drug problems.60
Drug Enforcement Administration, National Drug Threat Assessment Summary 2015, November 2015, 41.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Increases Fentanyl Drug Confiscations and Fentanyl-related
Overdose Fatalities, CDC Health Advisory, CDCHAN-00384, October 26, 2015.
Testimony Customs and Border Protection Commission, Gil Kerlikowske before the Senate Committee
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Border Security and America Heroin Epidemic: The Impact the
Trafficking and Abuse Heroin and Prescription Opioids Wisconsin, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., April 2016. See also
Jeanne Whalen and Brian Spegele, The Chinese Connection Fueling America Fentanyl Crisis, The Wall Street
Journal, June 23, 2016.
Drug Enforcement Administration, National Drug Threat Assessment Summary 2015, November 2015, 42.
Testimony Customs and Border Protection Commission, Gil Kerlikowske before the Senate Committee
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Border Security and America Heroin Epidemic: The Impact the
Trafficking and Abuse Heroin and Prescription Opioids Wisconsin, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., April 2016.
Drug Enforcement Administration, National Drug Threat Assessment Summary 2015, November 2015, 41.
Drug Enforcement Administration, National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary 2016, June 2016,
These operations press powdered substances into pill form prepare them for distribution and consumption.
Office National Drug Control Policy, National Drug Control Strategy, 2015.
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Each these principles has several action items. Notably, the action items are not necessarily
directed combating heroin trafficking; rather, they focus countering drug trafficking broadly,
which includes heroin trafficking.
Another priority area the National Drug Control Strategy (targeting trafficking)
strengthening law enforcement and international partnerships ultimately reduce the supply and
availability foreign-produced drugs the United States. Citing the increasing flow heroin
into the United States, the strategy outlines ways federal law enforcement supports supply
reduction activities source countries. These include backing crop eradication programs,
alternative development initiatives, interdiction efforts, law enforcement operations, and
coordinated threat finance responses.
The federal government specifically, law enforcement relies number tools and
initiatives counter heroin trafficking. This section provides snapshot some these.
Notably, many law enforcement efforts focus drug trafficking broadly and prioritize the
greatest drug trafficking threats given area whether those threats come from heroin other
illicit drugs substances.
National Heroin Task Force
The National Heroin Task Force was convened the Department Justice (DOJ) and ONDCP March 2015 pursuant P.L. 113-235. The task force examined the Administration efforts
tackle the heroin epidemic from various angles including criminal enforcement, prevention, and
substance use disorder treatment and recovery services, and developed report with
recommendations.61 The report recommendations target the public safety and public health
aspects the opioid epidemic, and several specifically address countering heroin trafficking and
the related issue prescription opioid diversion.
The task force suggested, for instance, that the federal government prioritize prosecutions
heroin distributors and enhance investigation and prosecution techniques target the heroin
supply chain particularly when the drug causes death. The report noted that identifying the
source particularly potent heroin can help cut off the source and may ultimately save lives.
also noted that prominent prosecutions distributors and traffickers can help spread information
about the public health consequences heroin use and may serve deterrent other potential
drug dealers.62
The task force also recommended using coordinated, real time data sharing disrupt drug supply
and focus prevention, treatment, and intervention resources the areas that need them most.
highlights the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program and the Organized Crime
Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program examples task forces that can
leveraged for these information sharing purposes.63
DEA 360 Strategy
The DEA has developed 360 Strategy aimed tackling the cycle violence and addiction
generated the link between drug cartels, violent gangs, and the rising problem prescription
opioid and heroin abuse. The strategy was launched November 2015 pilot program
National Heroin Task Force, Final Report and Recommendations, December 31, 2015.
Ibid., 12.
Ibid., 10. Both these programs are discussed below.
Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA 360 Strategy: Working Together Break the Cycle Drug Trafficking,
(continued...)
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Pittsburgh, PA, and has since expanded other cities.65 leverages federal, state, and local
entities the law enforcement, diversion control, and community outreach fronts. the
program relatively new, there have only been anecdotal reports operations that fall under the
360 Strategy framework.
HIDTA
The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program provides assistance law
enforcement agencies the federal, state, local, and tribal levels that are operating regions the United States that have been deemed critical drug trafficking areas. The program aims
reduce drug production and trafficking through four means:
promoting coordination and information sharing between federal, state, local, and
tribal law enforcement;
bolstering intelligence sharing between federal, state, local, and tribal law
enforcement;
providing reliable intelligence law enforcement agencies such that they may
better equipped design effective enforcement operations and strategies; and
promoting coordinated law enforcement strategies that rely upon available
resources reduce illegal drug supplies not only given area, but throughout
the country.66
The HIDTA program does not focus specific drug threat such heroin trafficking; rather,
funds can used support the most pressing initiatives region. such, when countering
heroin trafficking top priority HIDTA region, funds may used support such
initiatives. There are HIDTAs, encompassing nearly 18% U.S. counties and almost 24%
the U.S. population.67 August 2015, the Administration launched Heroin Response Strategy address heroin abuse
from both public health and criminal justice approaches.68 This strategy leverages the HIDTA
program,69 relying upon HIDTAs across states and the District Columbia. This effort
reportedly combines prevention, education, intelligence, and enforcement resources coordinate
the public health and safety responses the heroin epidemic those areas.70
(...continued)
Drug Violence, and Drug Abuse,
See, for example, the expansion St. Louis, MO. Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA Announces 360
Strategy St. Louis Address Heroin, Prescription Drugs and Violent Crime, press release, January 28, 2016. U.S.C. 1706(a)(2).
White House, Office National Drug Control Policy, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Program,
https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/high-intensity-drug-trafficking-areas-program.
White House, White House Drug Policy Office Funds New Projects High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas,
press release, August 17, 2015.
The HIDTA program provides assistance law enforcement agencies the federal, state, local, and tribal levels
that are operating regions the United States that have been deemed critical drug trafficking regions.
The HIDTAs participating the Heroin Response Strategy are the Appalachia, New England, Philadelphia/Camden,
New York/New Jersey, and Washington/Baltimore HIDTAs, and these are all located regions the country
identified being particularly impacted the heroin epidemic. See also testimony Michael Botticelli, Director National Drug Control Policy before U.S. Congress, House Committee Oversight and Government Reform,
Heroin Abuse the United States, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., March 22, 2016.
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OCDETF
The OCDETF program targets with the intent disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking
and money laundering organizations. Federal agencies that participate the OCDETF program
include the DEA; Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI); Bureau Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms,
and Explosives (ATF); U.S. Marshals; Internal Revenue Service (IRS); U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE); U.S. Coast Guard (USCG); U.S. Attorneys Offices; and DOJ
Criminal Division. These federal agencies also collaborate with state and local law enforcement task forces.71 There are OCDETF strike forces around the country and OCDETF Fusion
Center that gathers and analyzes intelligence and information support OCDETF operations.
The OCDETFs target those organizations that have been identified the Consolidated Priority
Organization Targets (CPOT) List, which the most wanted list for leaders drug trafficking
and money laundering organizations. For FY2015, 22% (1,063) active OCDETF investigations
were linked valid CPOTs.72 Notably, 41% the current CPOT targets are involved
trafficking heroin.73
COPS Anti-Heroin Task Force Program
Within DOJ, the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office Anti-Heroin Task Force
(AHTF) Program provides assistance state law enforcement agencies investigate illicit
activities related the unlawful trafficking distribution heroin unlawfully diverted
prescription opioids. Funds cannot used for treatment other purposes because the program
focuses trafficking and distribution. Further, the program focuses its funding state law
enforcement agencies with multi-jurisdictional reach.74 Reportedly, FY2015 these AHTF funds
supported six awards for purpose areas including portable drug detection devices, automated
license plate readers, lab equipment, expanded data collection, and information systems
manage data service/hotline calls, seized currency, etc. for mapping and other crime
analysis.
Heroin Signature Program and Heroin Domestic Monitor Program
The DEA operates heroin signature program (HSP) and heroin domestic monitor program
(HDMP), with the goal identifying the geographic source heroin found the United States.
The HSP analyzes wholesale-level samples heroin seized U.S. ports entry (POEs), all
non-POE heroin exhibits weighing more than one kilogram, randomly chosen samples, and
special requests for analysis. Chemical analysis given heroin sample results its
signature, which indicates particular heroin production process that has been linked
specific geographic source region. The HDMP assesses the signature source retail-level heroin
purchased the United States. This program samples retail-level heroin cities across the
country and provides data the price, purity, and geographic source the heroin.77 The results
U.S. Department Justice, FY2017 Interagency Crime and Drug Enforcement, Congressional Budget Submission.
Ibid., 36.
Ibid., 25.
U.S. Department Justice, Community Oriented Policing Services, Fact Sheet: 2016 COPS Anti-Heroin Task Force
Program.
National Heroin Task Force, Final Report and Recommendations, December 31, 2015, p.11.
Drug Enforcement Administration, Heroin Signature Program: 2013, December 2015,
Drug Enforcement Administration, National Drug Threat Assessment Summary 2015, November 2015, 30.
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from the HSP and HDMP can used help understand trafficking and distribution patterns
throughout the country. The HSP started 1977, and the HDMP began 1979.
The HSP tests about 600-900 heroin samples annually.78 2013, the HSP tested 765 samples
totaling 1,613 slightly more than 35% the total heroin seizures that year.79 the heroin
analyzed the HSP 2013, Mexican samples represented 54%, South American samples 44%,
and Southwest Asian samples 2%. The average purity Mexican heroin was 45% 2013, and
purity had increased since the previous year. While the purity South American heroin has
historically been higher than Mexican heroin, its average purity only increased 4%, from 56%
2012 60% 2013.80
Going Forward
Adequacy Data Trafficking Flows
What known about drug trafficking flows contingent number factors surrounding the
collection and reporting these data. Drug trafficking data are complex, and data various
elements (e.g., price, purity, seizures, etc.) can help provide insight into the landscape drug
trafficking. the bulk heroin consumed the United States has been traced Mexico and Colombia,
one central piece data understanding trafficking flows the United States the total
potential production these source countries. The United Nations Office Drugs and Crime
has noted, however, that [o]nly partial information about the extent opium poppy cultivation
and heroin production the Americas available. For instance, Mexico reportedly eradicated
14,662 hectares opium poppy 2013, and Colombia reportedly eradicated 514 hectares.82
Eradication numbers, however, not speak the total amount opium poppy cultivated and
the proportion that was still viable produce heroin. The DEA 2015 National Drug Threat
Assessment Summary estimates that Mexico may have cultivated 17,000 hectares opium poppy 2014, yielding estimated pure potential production metric tons heroin. The
report also notes that this estimate not made with high confidence because the crop yield data
are unreliable. Even without reliable data, U.S. officials have reiterated the general trend that
production heroin Mexico has increased. unknown how much the heroin produced
these countries specifically destined for the United States rather than other nations.
Prioritizing Heroin Trafficking Enforcement
Over the past few years, officials have repeatedly referred heroin top drug threat the
United States. The 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary notes that controlled
Drug Enforcement Administration, FY2017 Performance Budget Congressional Submission.
Drug Enforcement Administration, Heroin Signature Program: 2013, December 2015. Percentage calculated
CRS based total seizure data reported the Drug Enforcement Administration, National Heroin Threat Assessment
Summary, April 2015.
Drug Enforcement Administration, Heroin Signature Program: 2013, December 2015,
United Nations Office Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2015, 2015, 41.
Ibid.
Drug Enforcement Administration, National Drug Threat Assessment Summary 2015, November 2015, 34.
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prescription drugs (CPD) and heroin were the two most significant drug threats.84 This largely
based the health risks overdose and death posed these substances. Heroin does not,
however, comprise the bulk the illegal drugs seized the United States. Marijuana the most
commonly seized drug (in kilograms), followed cocaine, methamphetamine, and then heroin.85
Seizures heroin have generally increased the past several years, however. Policymakers may
question whether federal enforcement efforts prioritize curbing heroin trafficking extent
commensurate with the reported threat the drug. While seizures have increased both along the
Southwest border and throughout the country, unclear whether enforcement efforts should
are able target heroin trafficking networks greater degree. addition, law enforcement data indicate that there have been changes heroin trafficking
patterns along the Southwest border. For instance, between 2013 and 2014 heroin trafficking
increased 138% the Paso corridor and 129% the Big Bend corridor, while declined
other areas such Del Rio 90% decline).86 Policymakers may ask (and so, how) heroin
enforcement efforts maximize seizures the areas where heroin flows are increasing.
The Administration has noted that the responsibility for curbing heroin production and
trafficking lies primarily with the source countries. Policymakers may examine the balance
resources targeted toward domestic efforts reduce drug trafficking through interdiction and
prosecution relative resources dedicated eradication, alternative development, and other
options abroad.88
Evaluating Goals and Outcomes U.S. Strategies
The United States has number strategies targeting illicit drugs. While these strategies not
all focus drug trafficking per even more specifically, heroin trafficking they have
goals reduce criminality associated with drug trafficking. Policymakers may evaluate whether
these strategies are sufficient target the threat heroin trafficking the United States. not,
how might strategy look that focuses specifically heroin/opioid trafficking, and would such
strategy nimble enough counter the constantly evolving drug trafficking threats facing the
United States? Examples existing strategies are outlined here.
National Drug Control Strategy
The Office National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) responsible for producing the annual
National Drug Control Strategy, the purpose which outline plan reduce (1) illicit drug
consumption the United States and (2) the consequences such use.89 Since the Obama
Ibid.
Ibid., 127.
Ibid., 36. The Paso corridor the CBP sector including parts west Texas (including Paso and Fort
Hancock) and New Mexico (including Albuquerque and Las Cruces). The Big Bend corridor the CBP sector directly
east the Paso corridor, covering portion south Texas (including Marfa, Midland, and Lubbock). The Del Rio
corridor the CBP sector directly east the Big Bend corridor, covering portion south Texas (including
Comstock and Del Rio). For more information these and other sectors, see https://www.cbp.gov/border-security/
along-us-borders/border-patrol-sectors.
Office National Drug Control Policy, The International Heroin Market, https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/
global-heroin-market.
International options are beyond the scope this report. For more information, see CRS Focus IF10400, Heroin
Production Mexico and U.S. Policy, Clare Ribando Seelke and Liana Rosen. U.S.C. 1705(a)(1).
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Administration released its flagship strategy 2010, has included specific objectives (to
accomplished 2015)90 aimed reducing both illicit drug use and its consequences thereby
improving public health and safety.
The 2015 strategy prioritizes seven broad issue areas:
preventing drug use U.S. communities;
seeking early intervention opportunities health care;
integrating substance use treatment into health care and supporting recovery;
stopping the cycle drug use, crime, and incarceration;
disrupting domestic drug trafficking and production;
bolstering international partnerships; and
improving information systems for analysis, assessment, and management.91
Specifically, with respect disrupting drug trafficking and production, the strategy outlines three
main principles along with supporting action items.92 noted, these principles not focus
specifically countering heroin trafficking, but are broadly designed combat the most
pressing drug trafficking threats (which currently involve heroin).
National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy
The National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy (NSBCS) was first launched 2009,
and outlines domestic and transnational efforts reduce the flow illegal drugs, money, and
contraband across the Southwest border. has number strategic objectives:
bolster criminal intelligence and information sharing;
secure the border;
strengthen communities;
enhance investigations and prosecutions;
minimize collateral challenges such money laundering, weapons trafficking,
and hazardous materials; and
engage partners such Mexico and Central American countries.93
The 2016 NSBCS focuses drug trafficking broadly, noting that the Southwest border the
primary entry point for many illegal drugs arriving the United States. Nonetheless, mentions
that the threat posed heroin the United States serious and continues intensify. The
objectives and action items, however, target the broader array drug and criminal threats the
border.
The strategy outlined metrics for seven goals across these two objectives. While there has been progress toward
meeting some these goals, others have seen progress. See the National Drug Control Strategy, 2015 for
assessment each goal.
Office National Drug Control Policy, National Drug Control Strategy, 2015.
Ibid. noted before, these principles are coordinating federal enforcement initiatives with state, local, and tribal
partners; securing national borders; and focusing national efforts the most pressing drug trafficking threats.
Office National Drug Control Policy, National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, May 2016.
Ibid.,
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National Strategy Combat Transnational Organized Crime July 2011, the Obama Administration released the Strategy Combat Transnational
Organized Crime: Addressing Converging Threats National Security.95 The strategy provides
the federal government first broad conceptualization transnational organized crime,
highlighting national security concern.96 highlights primary categories threats
posed transnational organized crime, one which the expansion drug trafficking.
Additionally, the strategy outlines six key priority actions counter threats posed
transnational organized crime:
taking shared responsibility and identifying what actions the United States can
take protect against the threat and impact transnational organized crime;
enhancing intelligence and information sharing;
protecting the financial system and strategic markets;
strengthening interdiction, investigations, and prosecutions;
disrupting drug trafficking and its facilitation other transnational threats; and
building international capacity, cooperation, and partnerships.
While this strategy not tailored solely drug trafficking (or more specifically, heroin
trafficking) activities criminal networks, includes discussion the threat. Additionally, the
strategy notes that number the threats outlined the strategy may facilitated drug
trafficking and the proceeds generated those activities. For instance, the illicit drugs trade
times linked crimes such weapons trafficking human trafficking.
Author Contact Information
Kristin Finklea
Specialist Domestic Security
kfinklea@crs.loc.gov, 7-6259
The White House, Strategy Combat Transnational Organized Crime: Addressing Converging Threats National
Security, July 2011.
For discussion organized crime and this strategy, see CRS Report R41547, Organized Crime: Evolving
Challenge for U.S. Law Enforcement, Jerome Bjelopera and Kristin Finklea.
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