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The Coast Guard's 16-ton cocaine haul probably stopped nobody from getting high

by Keegan Hamilton
Mar 29 2017, 11:47am

The U.S. Coast Guard just brought a massive shipment of seized cocaine to Florida, but the bust probably won’t ruin anyone’s party plans this weekend.

The Coast Guard brought 16 tons of cocaine worth an estimated $1.2 billion into Port Everglades, Florida, on Tuesday, a haul that was the result of 17 busts by U.S. and Canadian authorities over the past 45 days off the coasts of South and Central America.

While the federal law enforcement agencies involved in the seizures patted themselves on the back in a press conference, workers offloaded bales of cocaine wrapped in plastic and strapped to pallets. Depending on the case, the drugs will be held as evidence, destroyed, or sent to laboratories to be analyzed for purity and point of origin, according to a Homeland Security Investigations statement cited by Florida’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper.

“To look at those bales as just cocaine is short-sighted,” U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor told reporters. “When those smugglers are racing across the Caribbean or the Pacific, they’re just not carrying cocaine. They’re delivering violence, corruption, and instability. … So we need to work with our inter-agency partners as well as our allies to deter this threat and to keep it as far from our shores as possible.”

At the same time, however, Fedor reportedly acknowledged that U.S. authorities think they catch only about one out of every five smugglers. And with demand for coke increasing along with production in Colombia, the drugs will continue to flow despite the recent busts.

The DEA reported an estimated 67 percent spike in cocaine production in Colombia last year, with the illicit crop making a comeback despite a U.S.-backed eradication campaign that has cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. Overall, cocaine seizures increased nearly 60 percent in recent years, hitting the highest levels recorded since 2010, according to the DEA’s 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment. Authorities have captured several multi-ton shipments in recent months in the Caribbean and off the coast of Ecuador.

Meanwhile, the number of fatal cocaine overdoses soared by 55 percent from 2012 to 6,800 in 2015, according to a December 2016 report by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The same report found “troubling early signs that cocaine use and availability is on the rise in the United States for the first time in nearly a decade,” and said the number of young Americans who admitted to trying cocaine for the first time increased 61 percent from 2013 to 2015.

Coast Guard officials reportedly said Tuesday that annual cocaine seizures have increased each of the last three years, and with 50,000 kilos already in the bag for 2017, U.S. law enforcement is on pace to break last year’s record of 73,000 intercepted kilos.

Fedor attributed the steady uptick to increased enforcement and more “capable assets” being deployed by the Coast Guard, but he also noted that “the United States is the biggest consumer of illicit narcotics.”