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Published on July 17, 2023

A Closer Look at Drug Trafficking in the United States

Drug trafficking in the United States is a highly prevalent issue today, and there are many facets to this issue. In a recent study conducted by AZ Defenders, a nationwide analysis is done on the drug trafficking problem that the country faces, providing state-by-state data, information regarding punishment and sentencing for drug trafficking, and insight on the type of drugs most commonly trafficked. This article will give an overview of the recent study, and highlight some of its key points. 

What is Drug Trafficking and Why is it an Issue for the United States? 

Drug trafficking involves transporting, producing, and distributing a large quantity of illegal drugs across borders. It is a different crime than drug possession, which involves having illegal drugs on your property or body. In the United States, drug addiction takes around 100,000+ lives per year. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) estimates that drug trafficking makes about $60 billion annually in the United States. 

Types of Drugs Being Trafficked 

According to AZ Defender’s recent study, methamphetamine was the most commonly trafficked drug as of 2021. 

In federal drug trafficking cases, the following drugs were trafficked most: 

  • Methamphetamine (48.3%) 
  • Powder Cocaine (6.2%) 
  • Heroin (10.2%) 
  • Fentanyl (9.4%) 
  • Crack Cocaine (6.2%) 
  • Marijuana (5.7%) 
  • Other (2.3%) 

The South of the United States and Drug Trafficking 

The southern parts of the United States have the highest amount of drug trafficking. This is due to the fact that a majority of the drugs being trafficked are coming from Mexico. Texas, Arizona, and California all had the highest amount of drug trafficking offenders in 2021. In Texas, there were a total of 2,560 drug trafficking offenders. In Arizona, there were 571. In California, there were 1,604 drug trafficking offenders. 

Texas and California have a high volume of drug trafficking offenders largely due to their high populations and close proximity to the Mexican border. However, many other states have a high number of drug trafficking offenders. According to the study, some other notable states are Florida, New York, North Carolina, Arizona, and Tennessee.  

An interactive table within the study displays the number of federal drug trafficking offenders per 100,000 people, on a state-by-state basis. 

Drug Trafficker Demographics 

Although there is no one-size-fits-all for drug traffickers, there were some commonalities discovered among federal drug trafficking offenders. A vast majority of federal drug trafficking offenders were male, with 82.2% of offenders being men. In regards to race, the highest percentage of federal drug trafficking offenders were Hispanic (44.7%), followed by White (26.1%), Black (26.0%), and other races (3.2%). 

Drug Trafficking Sentencing 

On average a federal drug trafficking offender spent 74 months in prison as of 2021. However, sentencing varies based on a variety of factors, including the type of drug trafficked. Here is a closer look at the sentencing length based on type of drug trafficked: 

  • Methamphetamine – 90 months
  • Crack Cocaine – 69 months
  • Powder Cocaine – 68 months
  • Heroin – 60 months
  • Fentanyl – 60 months 
  • Oxytocin – 42 months
  • Marijuana – 30 months 


Drug trafficking continues to be one of the most damaging and persistent issues in the United States. Certain states have more federal drug trafficking offenses than others, but it remains a nationwide issue. If you’re looking for more information, you can view the full study by AZ Defenders

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