Cocaine production is on the rise, here’s how we stop it

This Thursday, President Trump will welcome Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to the White House to discuss our longstanding bilateral cooperation, notably how Colombia and the United States can work together to drive down the unprecedented amounts of cocaine production.

The timing could not be more appropriate.

In March, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released annual U.S. Government estimates of coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia. 

{mosads}The new numbers were unprecedented: Colombian coca cultivation reached a record high of 188,000 hectares in 2016. Colombian cocaine production also surged to record levels, reaching 710 metric tons in 2016, which is more than double what it was just two years earlier.


Even more striking, these record highs came four years after we had reported historic lows for both production and cultivation in 2012. For five straight years, cocaine cultivation and production fell.

That is largely due to the courageous interdiction work by the U.S. Coast Guard, coordinated law enforcement activities at the local, state, and federal level, and the important prevention and treatment work of our public health officials and community programs like Drug-Free Communities. Despite the surge of Colombian coca cultivation over the last four years, rates of cocaine use in the United States remained relatively constant until recently.

But the rising supply of cocaine in the United States is beginning to drive increases in domestic cocaine use.

While cocaine use among Americans aged 12 or older remained fairly constant from 2009 to 2014, it increased 23 percent from 2014 to 2015 to 1.9 million users. The number of past-year initiates for cocaine also increased 26 percent, from 766,000 in 2014 to 968,000 in 2015.

Overdose deaths involving cocaine went up by 25 percent from 2014 to 6,784 in 2015.

This is certainly bad news, but it is made worse because it can take as much as two years from when coca is first harvested to get to us as cocaine. Given this lag, and the increases in production, we can expect even more cocaine to reach America in the very near future.

That is why Thursday’s meeting is such a critical opportunity.

Colombia is working to implement a new counter-narcotics strategy that will help drive down coca cultivation and cocaine production, and the United States can help.

For nearly two decades, Colombia and the United States have worked closely to confront transnational criminal organizations, and we have seen encouraging results: in that time, all major crime indices in Colombia have dropped, and the Colombian economy has flourished.

Unfortunately, the record levels of cocaine production present a real threat to all of this progress, as well as larger efforts to enhance security and prosperity across Central America.

We must continue this critical partnership because our communities – and people’s lives – in both countries depend on it.

At the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, we will continue to support the President and work closely with Colombian authorities to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production and work to expand prevention efforts here at home. The president has also made it clear that his administration will be focused on eliminating the transnational criminal threat, which is behind the cocaine production we are seeing.

The numbers paint a troubling picture with more cocaine leaving South America every day, and the increased availability is driving more cocaine use in communities nationwide. 

But by working hand-in-hand with Colombia, we can turn the tide of the rising cocaine threat in the United States, ensure a lasting peace in Colombia, and save countless lives in the process.


Richard Baum is the Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Cocaine Colombia drug war
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