IV. A Comprehensive Approach
7. Reducing the Supply of Illegal Drugs

Supply reduction is an essential component of a well-balanced strategic approach to drug control. Demand reduction cannot be successful without limiting drug availability. When illegal drugs are readily available, the likelihood increases that they will be abused. Heroin is a case in point. Increasing heroin purity in recent years has resulted in greater numbers of initiates because injection is no longer a prerequisite for use. Undeterred by abhorrence of needles, would-be heroin users are more inclined to partake. Indeed, heroin has become more available, in part because criminal Colombian drug organizations made a strategic decision earlier in this decade to cultivate opium poppy, produce heroin, and sell it in the United States. According to DEA seizure data, Colombian heroin, which accounts for less than 2 percent of the global production potential, has captured 70 percent of the heroin market in the eastern United States. Cocaine traffickers have responded to a decline in demand for powder and crack cocaine by also selling heroin.

Supply reduction has both domestic and international dimensions. Within the United States, supply reduction includes regulation (through the Controlled Substances Act), enforcement of anti-drug laws, eradication of marijuana cultivation, control of precursor chemicals, Customs' inspection of commerce and persons entering the country, screening for drugs in prisons, and the creation of drug-free school zones. Internationally, supply reduction includes building consensus; bilateral, regional, and global accords; coordinated investigations; interdiction; control of precursors; anti-money-laundering initiatives; drug-crop substitution and eradication; alternative development; strengthening public institutions; and foreign assistance.*

Coordinated Interdiction Operations

Despite our best efforts, we will never seize all the drugs that arrive at our borders or air and seaports. Nevertheless, the fewer drugs that reach the boundaries of the United States, the less will enter our sovereign territory. Interdiction in the transit and arrival zones disrupts drug flow, increases risks to traffickers, drives them to less efficient routes and methods, and prevents significant amounts of drugs from getting to the United States. Interdiction also generates intelligence that can be used against trafficking organizations in both international and domestic operations.

Drug traffickers are adaptable, reacting to interdiction successes by shifting routes and changing modes of transportation. Large international criminal organizations have extensive access to sophisticated technology and resources to support their illegal operations. The United States must surpass traffickers' flexibility, quickly deploying resources to changing high-threat areas. Consequently, the U.S. government designs coordinated interdiction operations that anticipate shifting trafficking patterns. Such integrated operations are led by the three Joint Inter-Agency Task Forces (based in Key West, FL, Alameda, CA, and Panama) that coordinate transit zone activities; the Customs' Domestic Air Interdiction Coordination Center (in Riverside, CA) that monitors air approaches to the United States; and the El Paso, Texas-based Joint Task Force Six and Operation Alliance that coordinate activities along the Southwest border.

Interdiction resources, mostly for one time capital acquisitions, will increase significantly in 1999 as the result of Congressional appropriation of $870 million for international drug-control and interdiction spending, of which agencies attribute $844 million directly going to drug-related activities. In 1999, the merger of Joint Inter-Agency Task Forces East and South will improve the capacity to interdict drugs as they are moved to the United States from South America by way of the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico.

Transit Zone Operations

Drugs coming to the United States from South America pass through a six-million square-mile transit zone that is roughly the size of the continental United States. This zone includes the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and eastern Pacific Ocean. In 1998, eighty metric tons of cocaine were seized in the transit zone. Smuggling through "Go-Fast" boats is a significant threat in the Caribbean. Many of these high-speed craft can leave Colombia near dusk and deliver drugs to Haiti, or to vessels along its coast before dawn. Theyare difficult to detect and intercept. Analysis of detected trafficking events in 1998 suggests that the Jamaica-Cuba- Bahamas vector is being used more frequently by traffickers. Cuban authorities reportedly seized 220 "bundles" of drugs from failed drops. In December 1998, Colombian authorities seized more than seven metric tons of cocaine which reportedly were to be shipped to Havana, Cuba and probably onwards to Europe. Traffickers will likely seek to exploit the Cuban government's diminishing capabilities to control the island-nation's sovereign air and sea space.

The Coast Guard is the lead federal agency for maritime interdiction and co-lead with U.S. Customs for air interdiction. The interagency mission is to reduce the supply of drugs from source countries by denying smugglers the use of air and maritime routes in the transit zone. In patrolling this vast area, U.S. federal agencies closely coordinate their operations with the interdiction forces of a number of nations. In fiscal year 1998, Coast Guard assets participated in the seizure of thirty-eight metric tons of cocaine, fourteen metric tons of marijuana products, and 3.4 pounds of heroin. The retail value of these drugs was three billion dollars.

The Department of Defense (DoD) provides vital support to the national effort to reduce the flow of illegal drugs into the United States by performing detection and monitoring operations. Information gathered by DoD allows interdiction forces to intercept and act against traffickers. Customs also conducts detection and monitoring missions in the transit zone as well as taking direct action against traffickers.

Stopping drugs in the transit zone involves more than intercepting drug shipments at sea or in the air. It also entails denying traffickers safe haven in countries within the transit zone and preventing their ability to corrupt institutions or use financial systems to launder profits. Consequently, international cooperation and assistance is an essential aspect of a comprehensive transit zone strategy. Accordingly, the United States is helping Caribbean and Central American nations to implement a broad drug-control agenda that includes modernizing laws, strengthening law-enforcement and judicial institutions, developing anti-corruption measures, opposing money laundering, and backing cooperative interdiction. Interagency transit-zone operations contribute to the interdiction of drugs at our borders, air, and sea ports -- collectively known as the arrival zone. In 1998, sixty-four metric tons of cocaine were seized in this zone.

Breaking Cocaine Sources of Supply

Coca, the raw material for cocaine, is grown in the South American countries of Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. Regional efforts to eradicate this crop have been quite successful in the past three years. Coca cultivation in Peru plummeted by 56 percent from 115,300 hectares in 1995 to 51,000 hectares in 1998. Potential cocaine production declined from 460 metric tons to 240 metric tons over the same period in Peru while in Bolivia potential production declined from 255 metric tons in 1994 to 150 metric tons in 1998. These successes are attributed to many factors, including: political will in both countries to confront the illegal drug trade, the regional air interdiction campaign that targeted drug-laden aircraft flying between coca-growing regions of Peru and processing laboratories in Colombia, control of precursor chemicals, diminished strength of insurgent forces in Peru, and alternate crop programs. The fact that coca leaf prices dropped more than 50 percent in Peru over the past three years suggests that this progress can be sustained.

The estimated 325 metric ton decline in potential cocaine production in Peru and Bolivia has been slightly offset by a potential increase of 45 metric tons in Colombia between 1995 and 1997. Virtually all of the coca cultivation in Colombia is in remote, underdeveloped regions outside the government's control and often under the influence of guerrilla or paramilitary forces. This makes eradication and interdiction operations difficult. Moreover, without greater security in the countryside, the government cannot deliver adequate alternative development programs to provide licit income to growers who abandon coca cultivation. The growth of Colombian illicit drug cultivation has added substantially to the war chests of the guerrilla and paramilitary groups, which protect and/or control various aspects of the drug industry.

Net Coca Cultivation (Global)
Source: U.S. Department of State, 1998

Despite these challenges, the Colombian National Police (CNP) report that they sprayed more than 60,000 hectares of illicit crops in 1998. In response, traffickers have increased plantings in regions controlled by armed insurgent organizations. The Colombian government has formed a joint task force with elements from all the military services and the CNP to mount counterdrug operations in guerrilla-controlled territory. The CNP also instituted a general aviation aircraft control system, which resulted in the seizure of 54 trafficker aircraft in 1998.

The United States will support the government of Colombia's national alternative development plan. The United States will continue to support environmentally sound eradication and alternative development in all three countries; suppress aerial, riverine, and maritime trafficking; strengthen the anti-drug capabilities of judicial systems, law-enforcement agencies, and security forces; and encourage greater regional cooperation. The objective is to reduce total South American coca cultivation by 20 percent over the next four years and 40 percent by 2007.

Breaking Heroin Sources of Supply

Efforts to reduce domestic heroin availability face significant challenges. Worldwide illicit opium production has doubled since 1986 and was estimated at 3,465 metric tons in 1998, down 16 percent from 1997's figure. A modest decline in Burmese opium production was offset by increases in Laos and Afghanistan. Opium production in Latin America remained in check -- Mexican and Colombian farmers face significant eradication programs -- and continued to account for less than 5 percent of worldwide production. Opium cultivation and production in the Golden Triangle area of Southeast Asia continue to far outpace any other region. Burma, the world's largest opium producer, could potentially produce 217 metric tons of heroin. The United States has limited access or influence in Afghanistan and Burma which collectively account for 92 percent of the world's potential heroin production. The U.S. heroin market consumes only about 3 percent of the world's production, indicating that every pound of heroin that law enforcement takes off domestic markets can be readily replaced through the international supply. Widely dispersed growing areas, multiple trafficking organizations, and diversified routes and concealment methods make supply reduction difficult.

Colombian, Dominican, and Mexican trafficking organizations continue to be a significant threat to the United States as traffickers with links to those nations exploit cocaine and marijuana distribution networks and employ aggressive marketing techniques to expand heroin sales. Heroin produced in Mexico, either in black tar or brown powdered form, is marketed in the western half of the United States. Heroin produced in Southeast and Southwest Asia is typically smuggled into the U.S. with the help of ethnic enclaves throughout Canada and the United States. Asian gangs and Nigerian organizations are prominent in the international heroin trade.

Still, progress is achievable if governments can cordon off growing areas, increase their commitment, and implement counternarcotics programs. U.S.-backed crop control programs have eliminated or are reducing illicit opium cultivation in countries like Guatemala, Mexico, Pakistan, Thailand, and Turkey. However, progress is unlikely in Afghanistan where the ruling Taliban does not appear committed to narcotics control. The United States will continue supporting UN drug-control programs in Burma and encourage other countries to press the Burmese government to take effective anti-drug action. In Colombia, the United States will provide additional support to the CNP opium poppy eradication campaign. We will also help strengthen law-enforcement efforts in heroin source and transit countries by supporting training programs, information sharing, extradition of fugitives, and anti-money laundering measures. Finally, the United States will work through diplomatic and public channels to increase the level of international cooperation and support the ambitious UNDCP initiative to eradicate illicit opium poppy cultivation in ten years.

Domestic heroin demand-reduction programs are all the more essential due to difficulties in attacking heroin sources of supply. U.S. law-enforcement agencies use strategic information about domestic heroin distribution rings to break up international criminal organizations. Coordinated federal, state, and local anti-heroin efforts are important. The ad-hoc task force established in Plano, Texas is an excellent example of this approach. It consists of representatives from numerous area sheriffs' offices and police departments as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety, the U.S. Attorneys' Offices, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the FBI, and DEA.

Countering the Spread of Methamphetamine

Since the mid-1980s, the world has faced a wave of synthetic stimulant abuse with approximately nine times the quantity seized in 1993 than in 1978, equivalent to an average annual increase of 16 percent.29 The principal synthetic drugs manufactured clandestinely are amphetamine-type stimulants. Domestic manufacture and importation of methamphetamine pose a continuing public-health threat. In the past, methamphetamine was largely produced and supplied by outlaw motorcycle gangs. More recently, Mexico-based trafficking groups are dominating wholesale trafficking in the United States. These organized crime groups have developed large-scale laboratories -- both in Mexico and the United States -- which are capable of producing enormous quantities of methamphetamine. The manufacturing process involves toxic and flammable chemicals. Abandoned labs require expensive, dangerous clean-up. Between January 1, 1994 and September 30, 1998, the DEA was involved in the seizure of over 4,140 methamphetamine laboratories throughout the country, including 1,240 labs in the first nine months of 1998. State and locallaw-enforcement authorities, especially in California but increasingly in other states, uncovered thousands of additional clandestine labs.

The 1996 National Methamphetamine Strategy (updated in May of 1997) remains the basis of the federal response to this problem. It was buttressed by the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996, which increased penalties for production and trafficking while expanding control over precursor chemicals (like ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine). In addition, the Methamphetamine Trafficking Penalty Enhancement Act of 1998 was signed into law as part of the omnibus spending agreement for FY 1999, further stiffening sanctions against trafficking this dangerous drug. Federal, state, and local investigators and prosecutors are targeting companies that supply precursor chemicals to methamphetamine producers. The DEA also supports state and local law-enforcement agencies by conducting training in Kansas City and San Diego. Many retailers are adopting tighter controls for over-the-counter drugs containing ingredients that can be made into methamphetamine. Useful actions include educating employees, limiting shelf space for these products, and capping sales.

Internationally, the United States is promoting controls over precursor chemicals. Cooperation with Mexico, which is home to powerful methamphetamine trafficking organizations, is crucial. A bilateral chemical-control-working group oversees cooperative investigation of cases that interest both countries and exchanges information on legal and regulatory matters. Mexico recently came into compliance with the 1988 U.N. Convention against Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Reducing Domestic Marijuana Cultivation

Marijuana is the most readily available illegal drug in the United States. While no comprehensive survey of domestic cannabis cultivation has been conducted, the DEA estimates that much of the marijuana consumed in the United States is grown domestically, both outdoors and indoors, by commercial and private operators. The Department of the Interior has deep concerns about marijuana cultivation on public and tribal lands. Suppression of marijuana cultivation (and of clandestine drug laboratories) on the approximately 525 million acres for which it has stewardship a priority for its four bureaus with major law-enforcement responsibilities. The Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, likewise, is gravely concerned about the significant amount of marijuana cultivation and clandestine drug laboratories on the 191 million acres of public land it manages. Recognizing that successful domestic cannabis eradication efforts must be supported by accurate information about the acreage of illegal drug cultivation, Congress has directed the Secretary of Agriculture to annually submit to the ONDCP Director an assessment of the acreage of illegal drug cultivation in the United States.30 Congress also appropriated funds in FY 1999 for USDA to research and develop environmentally sound biological control techniques to eliminate illicit drug crops, including cannabis, coca, and opium poppy, both in the United States and in foreign countries.

* Additional information about U.S. supply reduction programs is contained in a classified annex to this Strategy.


1999 National Drug Control Strategy Office of National Drug Control Policy