DEA Releases 2013 Drug Threat Assessment Summary

November 20, 2013

By Karla L. Palmer

On Monday, November 18, 2013, DEA released the 2013 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary, which provides an assessment of the threat posed to the United States by trafficking and abuse of illicit substances and non-medical use of controlled prescription drugs.  The Summary also provides an analysis of the domestic drug situation during 2012 based on available law enforcement, intelligence, and public health data.  DEA took over responsibility for preparation of the Summary in June 2012 as a result of the closure of the National Drug Intelligence Center.  DEA considered both quantitative data from various sources (seizures, investigations, arrests, drug purity or potency, and drug prices; law enforcement surveys; laboratory analyses; and interagency production and cultivation estimates) and qualitative information (subjective views of individual agencies on drug availability, information on smuggling and transportation trends, and indicators of changes in smuggling and transportation methods).

Highlights include the following:

  • The trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs continue to constitute a “dynamic and challenging” threat to the United States.
  • Controlled prescription drug abuse continues to be the United States’ fastest growing drug problem.  The rate of abuse of controlled prescription drugs remains high; abuse remains at a higher rate than any illicit drug except marijuana.  Pain relievers are the most common type of abused prescription drug, and are most commonly involved in overdose incidents.
  • The availability of heroin continued to increase in 2012, likely due to high levels of heroin production in Mexico, and Mexican traffickers expanding into in the eastern and midwestern United States.  Some metropolitan areas observed an increase in heroin overdose deaths.  Reports reveal that many prescription opioid users have turned to heroin as a cheaper and/or more easily obtained alternative to prescription drugs.
  • The trend of lower cocaine availability in the United States that began in 2007 continued through 2012.
  • Methamphetamine availability is likely increasing because of sustained production in Mexico (the primary foreign source for the United States market) and continuing small-scale domestic production.
  • Marijuana availability appears to be increasing because of sustained high levels of production in Mexico (the primary foreign source of United States supply) and increased domestic cultivation.
  • The abuse of synthetic designer drugs has emerged as a serious problem in the United States.  The abuse of synthetic cannabinoids, such as “K2” and “Spice,” and synthetic cathinones, like “bath salts,” increased over the past few years, and “abusers have suffered severe consequences.”  Both state legislation and national scheduling of these drugs have helped to “mitigate the threat.”  DEA noted that the threat posed by synthetics most likely will continue to increase, in part because the chemical make-up of these drugs often differs by only one compound.  Thus as DEA exercises its scheduling authority to control certain substances, producers quickly change the chemical component of the newly banned substance to create a new one
  • MDMA (ecstasy) is available in markets throughout the United States.  However, data suggest availability and abuse of the drug may have peaked.