The recent attention on drug abuse in the United States focuses on the opioid and heroin epidemic. But cocaine producers have some ace up its sleeve, and now it’s making a comeback.
According to the report of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the number of cocaine overdose deaths in the United States in 2015 was the highest and second since 1994. This increase is attributed to the boom of Colombia’s illegal cocaine crop.
Where does cocaine come from?
The ridge of the Andes Mountain in South America and the lowland jungles in Colombia hold more than just the lush greenery of nature. They have been a source of coca plants. These plants are the source of a grand cocaine production that happens in Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia.
Pure cocaine has been a great deal for those countries. In 2008, Bolivia produced 113 metric tons of pure cocaine. Peru and Colombia had 450 metric tons each.
Recent estimates in 2014 show that Colombia is growing more coca plants than Bolivia and Peru combined. But Bolivian and Peruvian plants produce more cocaine than Colombian coca plants. This means Colombian production units need to harvest more coca plants for them to provide similar amounts of cocaine. Also, Chile is making a name in the cocaine production industry.
Coca plants grow in protected areas. Some of these are the national parks, areas along the border, and native reserves. In these regions, spraying efforts to kill the crops are prohibited.
Coca leaves can be harvested 3-5 times a year. But in some cases, these can be collected for up to 8 times a year depending on the plant’s species and the area where it grows.
How is cocaine made?
There are various ways to make cocaine. One method involves the following steps.
- Drying of coca leaves.
- Soaking of dried leaves with lime water or other alkaline liquids.
- The extraction of the leaves with kerosene in metal drums.
- Usage of sulfuric acid to extract the dissolved cocaine.
- The formation of a liquid solution to which lime is added. This stage leads to precipitation of coca paste.
- The addition of more sulfuric acid and potassium permanganate to remove impurities.
- The addition of lime, sodium bicarbonate, or ammonia to cause the base to separate.
- The base is further dissolved in a solvent like acetone.
- Then the base is soaked in hydrochloric acid.
- Finally, the cocaine paste is filtered through a cloth to separate.
- The paste is dried as a solid deposit of white powder.
Another process involves:
- Dissolving the base in a solvent like ether, ethyl acetate, and acetone.
- Then the base is heated in a water bath.
- The addition of Methyl ethyl ketone and hydrochloric acid to the hot liquid mixture. This process leads to cocaine crystallization in the solution.
- Solvents are pressed out by hand, followed by a hydraulic press, then the mixture is heated in a microwave to create cocaine powder.
About 450-600 kg of fresh Colombian coca leaves may create 1 kilogram of cocaine base. The cocaine base may be converted into a kilogram of powdered cocaine or cocaine hydrochloride.
Crack cocaine process
Powdered cocaine may be processed in crack through the following steps.
- Mixing of the powdered cocaine into a solution of either ammonia or a combination of baking soda and water.
- Heating the mixture to create a substance that forms rocks for smoking.
- Alternately, an alkali substance can be mixed into a heated liquid cocaine solution that cracks then settles to the bottom of as a solid.
- Some adulterants, or cutting agents, can be filtered out through the creation of crack cocaine.
How is it distributed?
Cocaine distribution is a chain that involves different massive groups.
The growers of coca plants sell the coca paste or the leaves to laboratories for processing. Cartels own the labs. After the processing of cocaine hydrochloride or the cocaine base, the local cocaine trafficking agents smuggle them to a larger organization. Those organizations arrange for another group that can ship them to another country.
The distributors circulate cocaine through South and Central America. They smuggle it to Mexico, or sometimes, through the Caribbean.
The majority of the supply ends up in the United States. But, areas in Europe, Australia, Africa, or Asia may also receive them.
By sea, the drug from Colombia is sent to Mexico or Central America. From there, the drugs land in the United States via land borders. An estimate of about 90% of U.S. cocaine comes through the U.S.-Mexico border. Most of the supply comes through Texas.
When the cocaine reaches the United States, the drugs are sold to wholesale dealers.
The dealers then sell the drugs to mid-level drug dealers. Then those mid-level drug dealers sell them to low-level street dealers.