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Lots of big cocaine busts in 2019 but how much still gets through?

PortandTerminal.com, December 29, 2019

2019 was the year of record-setting, $1 billion+ cocaine busts. How much cocaine though still manages to evade authorities and end up on the streets?

NEW YORK – Last Saturday there was another massive cocaine bust at Montevideo Port in Uruguay. A record haul of 6 tonnes of cocaine worth an estimated $1 billion was seized. The drugs were hidden in four soy flour containers at the port that were destined for Lome, Togo. Another 1.5 tonnes was found nearby on a ranch. It is the largest drug bust in the history of the country.

Photo showing bags of cocaine at an official centre and lying in a field.
On Saturday a record $1 billion worth of cocaine was seized at Montevideo Port and at a local ranch. The total quantity seized (5.9 tonnes) was the largest in the history of the country

Similarly, in June, we covered a record-setting $1.1 billion dollar cocaine bust that took place at the Port of Philadelphia. In that one, authorities at the port seized 17.5 tons of cocaine hidden onboard an MSC container ship.

READ: More cocaine?? Record MSC bust in Philly just got bigger by $100 million

With news like that, you would be justified in thinking that cocaine busts the size of the recent ones in Uruguay and Philadelphia would be making a serious dent in the supply of the drug.

But to know if that is true or not you would need to understand how much cocaine is actually produced each year compared to the amount seized. So let’s look at the numbers.

How much cocaine is produced each year?

A coca farmer in his field.
A coca farmer in his field. Colombian cocaine production has more than tripled since 2013 

In 2019 the United Nations published a report titled The World Drug Report which helps answer our question about the total amount of cocaine produced. Their report is based upon data from 2017.

What the UN report found was that in the decade to 2017, there was a 50% increase in the manufacture of cocaine, reaching a record of 1,976 tonnes produced in the world. Note by-the-way, that that figure is at 100% purity.

How much cocaine is seized each year?

Photo showing cardboard boxes and green bricks of cocaine. American flag handing beside the drugs. Staircase in the background.
In June $1.1 billion worth of cocaine was seized at the Port of Philadelphia from an MSC container ship

The same UN study reported that in 2017, authorities across the globe seized 1,275 tonnes of cocaine which, like the amount of cocaine produced, was also a record.

In fact, over the 10-year period to 2017, the amount of cocaine seized worldwide rose by 74%. “Law enforcement efforts have become more effective and strengthened international cooperation may be helping to increase interception rates” the study reported.

How much cocaine still gets through?

Young man in black t-shirt snorting cocaine off of a glass table

The difference in 2017 between the quantity of cocaine that was produced and the amount that was seized is 701 tonnes. It turns out that that is still plenty for the number of cocaine users in the world.

The UN drugs study reported that there are 18 million people globally who used cocaine in 2017. While that number seems low to us, let’s take it at face value.

Each tonne of pure cocaine contains 1 million grams. Dealers don’t sell pure cocaine to their customers though. They cut its purity down to an average of 64% according to UK laboratories.

So with those numbers to work with, it turns out that the 701 tonnes of cocaine that was not seized in 2017 is still enough to supply each of the 18 million users in the world with 61 grams of the drug.

And clearly, that’s more than enough to make a business producing, smuggling and selling it viable.

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