Smart & Aggressive
attorneys defending you.
click for a free consultation

Drug Trafficking Statistics in the United States

Posted on July 6, 2023 in Drug Crimes,News

Drug trafficking is a serious crime that is highly prevalent in the United States. It is a complex and criminal enterprise that involves the manufacturing, distribution, and sale of illegal drugs – such as heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, and others. In recent years, drug trafficking has become a major concern for law enforcement agencies as approximately 61.2 million Americans aged 12 and older used illicit drugs in 2021. It is a widespread issue, and the impact of drug trafficking can be felt across the United States 

What is Drug Trafficking vs. Drug Possession?

Drug trafficking and drug possession are two distinct criminal offenses. 

  • Drug Trafficking:  is the illegal production, distribution, sale, and transportation of illegal drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. It involves the movement of large quantities of drugs across borders or within a country.
  • Drug Possession: is the act of having illegal drugs on your person or property. It can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the type and quantity of the drugs involved

Why is Drug Trafficking an Issue in the United States 

For decades the United States has been dealing with drug trafficking, and the US is deeply affected by the crime and violence created by transnational criminal organizations – including the cartel from Mexico. The illegal drug trade is a multi-billion dollar industry that brings with it numerous consequences, including addiction, violence, and economic instability. 

  • The DEA estimates that drug trafficking organizations in the United States generate more than $60 billion annually as the demand for drugs in the US is quite high.
  • Addiction is a major problem in the United States. In 2021, 106,000 people died from a drug-related overdose, with the hardest-hit state being West Virginia. 

What Drugs are Being Trafficked in the US

In 2021, investigations into the 17,520 drug trafficking offenses that happened in the United States found that 7 drug types were responsible for 97.8% of drug trafficking offenses. The 7 drug types include methamphetamine, powder cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, marijuana, and oxycodone. 

  • Out of the 7 most common drugs trafficked, methamphetamine was the most commonly trafficked drug. 
  • However, fentanyl is the deadliest as it caused 70,601 overdose deaths reported in 2021. 

The breakdown of the distribution of drug types can be found below: 

distribution of drug types

What Drug is Trafficked the Most in Each State

Further investigation into the drug trafficking data for 2021 revealed the most commonly trafficked drug in the United States is methamphetamine. However, along the east coast fentanyl, crack, heroin, and cocaine are also prevalent. The map below demonstrates the primary drug type in federal drug trafficking cases in each state. 


primary drug type in federal cases

What are Drug Trafficking Schedules

The United States classifies different drugs into five different schedules based on their potential for abuse and dependency, and their accepted medical uses. The classification system is known as the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and was passed by Congress in 1970. The classification of a drug into a particular schedule is determined by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) based on different factors, including its potential for abuse, pharmacological effects, and scientific evidence of its medical benefits. 

  1. Schedule I: These drugs have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Examples include heroin, LSD, and marijuana (under federal law).
  2. Schedule II: These drugs have a high potential for abuse, with severe psychological or physical dependence liability, but have some accepted medical uses. Examples include cocaine, methamphetamine, and opioid painkillers like oxycodone and fentanyl.
  3. Schedule III: These drugs have a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence, with accepted medical uses. Examples include anabolic steroids, ketamine, and some barbiturates.
  4. Schedule IV: These drugs have a low potential for abuse and limited physical or psychological dependence liability, with accepted medical uses. Examples include benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax, and the sleep aid Ambien.
  5. Schedule V: These drugs have a lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV drugs and consist primarily of preparations containing limited quantities of certain narcotics. Examples include cough suppressants that contain codeine.

Punishment and Average Sentencing for Federal Drug Trafficking Offenders

The average sentence length for federal drug trafficking offenders in 2021 was 74 months, but this varied depending on the type of drug being trafficked. The breakdown of the average sentencing length for each drug type can be found in the infographic below. Out of the drug trafficking offenders convicted of a federal crime: 

  • 96.6% were sentenced to prison 
  • 67.8% were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty and of those offenders, 58.8% were relieved of that penalty. 

average sentencing length

Where is Drug Trafficking the Worst

Drug trafficking is a problem across the United States. Data from 2021 displays that the districts with the most federal drug trafficking offenders are all located along the southern half of the United States, as the bulk of drugs trafficked into the U.S. come from Mexico. The following districts (which are different from states) had the highest number of federal drug trafficking offenders in 2021: 

  • Southern District of California (1,604) 
  • Western District of Texas (998)
  • Southern District of Texas (937)
  • Northern District of Texas (625)
  • District of Arizona (571)

What State Has the Highest Number of Drug Traffickers

As demonstrated by the map below, Texas and California have the highest total number of federal drug traffickers due to their large populations and proximity to the border. Other states with a high number of drug federal drug trafficking offenders are: Florida, New York, North Carolina, Arizona, Tennessee, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.


number of federal drug trafficking offenders

Number of Federal Drug Trafficking Offenders per 100,000 People 

If state population is taken into account, the states with the highest number of drug trafficking offenders per 100,000 people are: North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont, Iowa, Texas, Missouri, and New Hampshire.

State State Population Number of Federal Drug Trafficking Offenders # of Federal Drug Trafficking Offenders (in each state) Per 100,000 People
Alabama 5,024,279 268 5.334
Alaska 737,438 50 6.78
Arizona 7,529,767 581 7.716
Arkansas 3,011,524 241 8.003
California 39,538,223 2,303 5.825
Colorado 5,987,979 119 1.987
Connecticut 5,987,979 137 2.288
Delaware 1,001,149 24 2.397
DC 712,816 38 5.331
Florida 21,944,577 796 3.627
Georgia 10,711,908 383 3.575
Hawaii 1,455,271 79 5.429
Idaho 1,853,746 98 5.287
Illinois 12,689,334 335 2.64
Indiana 6,785,528 251 3.699
Iowa 3,190,369 350 10.971
Kansas 2,937,880 142 4.833
Kentucky 4,505,836 292 6.48
Louisiana 4,667,990 164 3.513
Maine 1,361,574 109 8.005
Maryland 6,177,224 201 3.254
Massachusetts 7,120,804 179 2.514
Michigan 10,084,442 246 2.439
Minnesota 5,696,424 96 1.685
Mississippi 2,961,279 100 3.377
Missouri 6,164,195 547 8.874
Montana 1,090,095 142 13.026
Nebraska 1,961,504 144 7.341
Nevada 3,143,335 79 2.513
New Hampshire 1,384,742 118 8.521
New Jersey 9,288,994 230 2.476
New Mexico 2,106,361 260 12.344
New York 20,215,751 661 3.27
North Carolina 10,801,845 613 5.675
North Dakota 779,094 128 16.429
Ohio 11,703,668 546 4.665
Oklahoma 3,981,782 222 5.575
Oregon 4,268,055 154 3.608
Pennsylvania 13,011,844 438 3.366
Rhode Island 1,097,408 28 2.551
South Carolina 5,251,276 260 4.951
South Dakota 898,332 143 15.918
Tennessee 6,949,421 563 8.101
Texas 29,768,737 2,917 9.799
Utah 3,356,635 244 7.269
Vermont 623,347 74 11.871
Virginia 8,631,393 352 4.078
Washington 7,769,097 184 2.368
West Virginia 1,784,787 270 15.128
Wisconsin 5,893,718 167 2.834
Wyoming 572,884 48 8.379

Change in the Number of Offenders from 2017 to 2021

Between the years 2017 and 2021 data demonstrates the following: 

  • Methamphetamine increased 17.2%;
  • Crack Cocaine decreased 32.0%;
  • Powder Cocaine decreased 26.2%;
  • Heroin decreased 33.8%;
  • Fentanyl increased 897.6%;
  • Oxycodone decreased 61.9%;
  • Marijuana decreased 63.7%.

number of federal drug trafficking offenders

Demographics of Federal Drug Trafficking Offenders

While every drug trafficker is different, law enforcement officials found the following demographics were common among federal drug trafficking offenders:

82.2% of drug trafficking offenders were men. 

The race distribution among federal drug traffickers:

  • 44.7% were Hispanic
  • 26.1% were White
  • 26.0% were Black
  • 3.2% were other races
    • Drug traffickers are 37 years old on average
    • 82.6% were United States citizens.
    • 43.5% had little or no prior criminal history while 5.6% were career offenders.

Sentences were increased for: 

  • possessing a weapon (24.3%);
  •  a leadership or supervisory role in the offense (5.9%)

Sentences were decreased for: 

  • Minor or minimal participation in the offense (20.4%) 
  • Meeting the safety valve criteria in sentencing guidelines (36.7%)

This study was conducted using data primarily from the United States Sentencing Commission on federal drug trafficking offenders in the fiscal year 2021.

If you would like to utilize any of the images, findings, or data in this study for a report or republishing purposes, please link to this page to provide credit. If you would like to schedule a consultation to speak with a Phoenix drug crimes lawyer, please contact our firm today.