Drug Trafficking

Drugs have become an epidemic in the United States as overdose deaths have reached record highs. Deaths have topped 100,000 people for the first time in FY 2021, overdose deaths of people from ages 15-24 have risen 49% in 2020, and Fentanyl has even been named the biggest killer of adults between the ages of 18-45.

But how are these drugs actually entering the country? Drugs are indeed coming across the border but not in the way that most people think. Here are a few obvious methods that drug traffickers use to ship drugs across the border:


One of the most sensationalized methods for drug traffickers to move drugs across the border is to push incoming migrants to carry drugs on their backs as they cross into the US. Migrants can either be forced or paid to carry drugs when they come within sight of the border on their long trip from Central America. Coyotes can also overwhelm border agents by sending a mass of migrants so large that it strains the resources of the CBP in the area. The CBP will strain its resources to process hundreds of people and drug traffickers will use this opportunity to move product across the border. Smaller drug traffickers take advantage of this chaos to ship drugs across the same section of the border in a different area while the CBP is occupied with the migrants.


A preferred method is to dig tunnels under the border. This has had enormous success for high-profile and well organized cartels like the Sinaloa Cartel who used drug tunnels to get under the Californian and Arizonan borders. These border tunnels can move untold amounts of drugs and people into the country with very little risk. The longest border tunnel so far was discovered in 2020 going under the California/Mexican border in between Tijuana and San Diego. This tunnel stretched over 4000 feet and have an average depth of 70 feet.

Another tunnel in Baja California led right up to the US border, but it remained unfinished. This tunnel stretched only 183 feet, but it already had electricity, ventilation, a rail system, and an electric hoist.

These tunnels are great for smuggling because they are difficult to detect especially in areas that have substantial caverns. Sections of the border that cover California, Arizona, and New Mexico have an extensive cavern system which makes it difficult for technology to find tunnels.

There is a high cost of building the tunnel and adding ventilation but once the tunnel is complete, it allows unlimited amounts of drugs and people to enter the country free of hassle from border guards and the police. An alternative to tunnels is to use drain systems for rain water that are vulnerable during the dry months.

Personal Vehicles

The next way way drug traffickers get product and people into the United States is through personal vehicles. In 2019 there were over 273,000 personal vehicles that cross into the US per day. That is 3 PASSENGER VEHICLES cross the border EVERY SECOND of every day. These personal vehicles carry people across the border for work, school, buy clothes (where it is cheaper in the US), and see family. It is impossible to search every single vehicle and searching each vehicle would cause days of delays for people entering the US.

Legitimate Freight

One of the most popular and effective methods to transport drugs is cargo containers. These cargo containers could be on a cargo ship sailing in the ocean to the Northeast, riding on a train over bridges, or on a truck crossing the US border. On a ship, corrupt customs officials can remove tags, plant drugs, and reseal the tags to ship drugs to Europe or the East Coast. They can also peel open the walls and floors of the cargo containers and place drugs in between the walls to keep inspectors from finding the drugs.

This remains one of the best ways drug traffickers transport drugs across borders and oceans. Each day over 78,700 containers enter the US by sea, truck, and rail. That means there is a container entering the country EVERY SECOND of the day. It would be impossible for any agency to thoroughly check even 1% of these containers as they arrive in their respective ports. Even if they did they could not check the walls of each cargo container. They could also not check the insides of fire extinguishers or brand new vehicles parts destined to be sold in the US.

Also, the cargo ships don’t even need to reach the US to carry drugs. They can drop the drugs overboard and let them sink to the bottom of the ocean and wait for fishermen to come by and activate a device that allows drugs to float to the surface. It would be impossible for drug dogs to smell drugs in seafood because the smell would overload the canine’s senses.

If those ways were not enough to get drugs into the US, cartels can use private planes, drug mules, narco-submarines, and yachts to ship drugs. Private yachts are an ideal way to ship drugs into the United States and Europe because they are rarely searched and can land at whatever port they like. Even if they were, they could just push drugs overboard or tow drugs behind the boat and cut the rope and wait to be searched before coming back and retrieving the drugs later. Private planes are a good option for drug cartels because they can land at airports with corrupt officials that allow them to take drugs into the country. Narco submarines can even be tied behind boats or cross oceans to deliver tons of product during a single trip.

While all of the methods are still in use today, there is a simple method that most cartels prefer over any other method.

US Postal System

While all of these options are currently in use and are viable ways to get drugs into the US, the most likely method for cartels to get drugs into the US is the U.S. Postal System. USPIS is the federal task force assigned to deal with crimes that occur through the mail system.

For FY 2019, the USPIS had a budget of $500 million. This allows the agency to deal with mail theft, search for drugs, investigate crimes against postmen, and discover mail fraud. To put that into perspective the DEA has a budget for FY 2021 of $3 billion only for drugs. With this paltry $500 million budget, the USPIS has to investigate several crimes and also tries to ensure that drugs do not come across our border. A quick search on their website shows the types of crimes the US Postal Inspection Service deals with. These crimes include things like drugs but also include crimes that range from attacks on postal carriers to thieves stealing checks from mailboxes.

A report from the Postal Service Office of Inspector General in 2018 details the level that drug traffickers rely on the US postal system to move drugs across the border and within the United States itself. One drug trafficker was quoted as using the US postal system, “to successfully distribute nearly 4,000 shipments, stating that they had a 100 percent delivery success rate”. The number of border tunnels found has dropped in recent history because why would you use a mile-long border tunnel when the US postal system in conjunction with FedEx, UPS, or DHL will deliver it to your front door or the door of your unsuspecting neighbor.

The report also found, “of the 104 illicit drug websites we searched on the dark web that identified a shipper, 92 percent (96) indicated they used the Postal Service.” This means that 92% of the drugs bought online were shipped via the US Postal Service. Larger cartels naturally have their own routes into the US where they bribe border guards or ship tons of product via cargo containers. This is probably the best way to ship the tonnage that most cartels need but it is startling to see how drug traffickers can ship Fentanyl and Meth into the US. And this is the cheapest, easiest, and most secure way possible.

This is not even the worst of it. The USPIS report is even quoted as saying, “The Postal Service is generally prohibited from opening international and domestic mail, including packages” which is astounding considering how many tons of drugs could be coming across in the mail.

The DEA is tasked with stopping drugs by putting American citizens and permanent residents in a federal, MAXIMUM SECURITY, prison for a decade because they committed drug trafficking. If this system was working that would be one thing. But can anyone in America honestly say that what is happening on our border is working? Can anyone say that this is having any impact on the amount of drugs coming into the country if drugs can be delivered right to your front door? How can this war on drugs continue with drugs flowing freely into the country and us filling up our maximum-security prisons for the staggering price of approximately $60,000 per inmate?

AOC loves to tweet about reducing the prison population in the US. Under this current system that will only happen if these synthetic drugs are either legalized or decriminalized which would have a devastating effect on our population. Most Americans do not remember the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. This created horrific scenes that should never be felt by any community again as Americans got addicted to drugs and gangs used their new drug profits to buy guns.

If we want to fight the drug war, then we cannot do it halfway anymore. We cannot allow drugs to flow into our country unabated and continue to lock up people for the rest of the best parts of their life. We also cannot decriminalize these synthetic drugs and still decry the number of overdoses, chronic homelessness, mental illness, and the repression of the most vulnerable sections of our population. We need to pick one path and follow it.

Solutions Moving Forward

If we want to start fighting the drug war, there are a couple of methods that we can employ to make it harder for drug traffickers to import drugs. It would be nice if there was one overarching solution but this is going to be a game of trial and error to find what will work best against the cartels.

The first step is to employ different methods in a controlled environment and see how a single cartel will react to each method.

Juarez Cartel

The Juarez Cartel is the best chance America has for a case study on how the cartels react to the US trying to shut them down. The Juarez Cartel mainly operates within the vicinity of the El Paso/Juarez border. This area of Texas and Mexico is deep in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert.

They may or may not control the route into Puerto Palomas to the west or near the old Foxconn plant but the ports wouldn’t make good smuggling routes since they are tiny border crossings. They are also penned in by the Davis Mountains as well as Big Bend to the southeast. This terrain makes it difficult to traffic drugs since the walls of the mountains have been cut by the Rio Grande and there are high vertical drop-offs between the banks of the Rio Grande. Also there are very few border crossings and even fewer people living in the southeast.

If the state of Texas implemented a policy that EVERY cargo container and personal vehicle that crossed into Texas through that particular border crossing had to be scanned and searched, then the cartel would have to find another way to import their product. They might resort to drones but importing 20 tons of drugs a year by drone would be tough to disguise. Plus, American satellites would be able to track drone activity making it even easier to capture their entire network.

Location of Suggested Runways

They could import drugs through private planes but if America were to create landing strips in 3 or 4 places along the southern border, then divert private planes to these runways, this would allow the CBP to search 90% of private planes entering the country. They could stop, refuel, be searched, and then continue on their journey safe and sound within an hour. This would not be a cheap option, but it would be an effective option to dissuade drug traffickers. It would also allow the government to study how the cartel reacts to different methods that the CBP will employ.

The border wall has been built around El Paso so it would be tough to overwhelm border agents with migrants to let drugs slip past another checkpoint. Searching every single passenger vehicle would be tough but if this were done it would mean that the cartel would have almost no way of getting product through El Paso except with tunnels. Tunnels might be an option but most the border is covered by the Rio Grande and it would be difficult to dig a tunnel underneath the river.

One possible solution for stopping border tunnels is to get a spudder rig from the Permian Basin, which is close by, and try to drill a shallow horizontal well parallel to the Rio Grande. Several oil rigs were stacked in the Permian Basin since oil prices crashed and drilling has not yet recovered. The price of a mile-long well a hundred feet deep would not be that expensive if rigs were still stacked in their yards. If the US government could get one of these rigs for a couple of days they could drill several shallow surface monitor wells to determine if someone is tunneling near El Paso. They could also fill the caverns with concrete to prevent further digging or fill them with water and monitor the water pressure to see if any tunnelers broke through one of the caverns.

What ever the US must do it has to change the way it operates. Either we are still in the drug war or we are not.

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