Trending Topics

Threat assessment: 4 street drugs impacting police in 2018

The drug landscape in the U.S. over the last decade has shifted, with the opioid threat reaching epidemic levels and impacting significant portions of the country


In this Nov. 8, 2017, file photo, a volunteer cleans up needles used for drug injection that were found at a homeless encampment in Everett, Wash.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

The DEA’s 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) is a comprehensive strategic assessment of the threat posed to the United States by domestic and international drug trafficking and the abuse of illicit drugs.

According to that report, which is available in full at the end of this article, the drug landscape in the United States over the last decade has shifted, with the opioid threat reaching epidemic levels and impacting significant portions of the country.

This epidemic has unleashed new drugs that present a significant safety threat to America’s law enforcement officers.

To add to that epidemic, more states are legalizing marijuana, which has allowed entrepreneurs to produce more potent strains of pot.

Let’s take a look at the drugs that will cause the most issues for cops in 2018.

1. Fentanyl

Mexican drug cartels have seen the value of producing fentanyl over heroin. Fentanyl can be produced for as little as $3,300 per kilo, and that kilo is the dosage equivalent of 50 kilos of heroin. This makes it easier on the cartel supply chain and makes smuggling much easier.

To make matters worse, a recent study showed that the availability of naloxone makes it easier for addicts to take powerful drugs like fentanyl since they believe they have a safety net. One participant in the study asked a fellow user to get his naloxone kit ready because, “He knew the opioid he was about to use had fentanyl in it and was going to use anyway.”

Fentanyl will pose a significant threat to police officers, necessitating training in fentanyl safety.

2. Cocaine

There are two reasons why cocaine use will grow in the U.S. in 2018.

One is that all opiate epidemics are followed by surges in stimulant use.

The second reason is that there has been an increase in cocaine production in Colombia, which is the primary supplier of cocaine to the United States. We have not seen an increase like this in 20 years. The reason for this is a pending peace accord with Colombia’s rebel group “Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia,” or FARC.

As part of the peace accord, FARC will renounce drug trafficking and farmers will receive subsidies from the government to replace their coca fields with traditional crops.

Unfortunately, these farmers are increasing their cocaine production now so that they can receive more money from the government once the subsidies take effect.

3. Synthetic Drugs

These new drugs go by several names: Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), research chemicals (RC), designer drugs or “herbal highs.”

These terms have all been used to describe drugs that were produced in a laboratory to skirt conventional laws.

The Controlled Substances Act (or the U.S.’s drug law) is not very nimble. A good example is Florida’s past problem with “Flakka.” As that drug ravaged Florida, the DEA placed it in schedule I (no medical necessity) and worked with China to make it illegal to manufacture it there. However, chemists in China and elsewhere picked new similar replacements to take up the slack. The new drugs that replaced Flakka were not listed in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and were more difficult to prosecute under the “Analog Law.” Chinese drug manufacturers have become adept at skirting our laws to produce these new synthetic drugs.

Another example is the drug U-47700, also known as “Pink.” This synthetic opioid has been linked to numerous overdose deaths around the U.S. and was legal until the DEA placed it into schedule I of the CSA.

Recently, I have been seeing advertisements online for U-48800 and U-49900. These are slight variations of the original U-47700 and skirt our CSA.

4. Marijuana

As more states allow recreational use of marijuana, it will adversely affect those states that choose to keep marijuana illegal. As an example, California produced 13.5 million pounds of marijuana last year, but only consumed 2.5 million pounds. That means that Californians produced five times more marijuana than it used. Obviously, the rest is going to other states, including those that wish to remain marijuana free. With the freedom of recreational marijuana use brings innovation that makes marijuana more potent, as well as new marijuana products to the market.


The biggest threat to America right now is the surge in synthetic drug production. These new synthetic drugs, which include fentanyl and its analogs, will continue to skirt the CSA and cause damage in our communities. In just the past few weeks, the DEA said it will place all fentanyl analogs into the CSA, which was refreshing to hear. However, there are many other synthetic drugs that threaten our country and are not listed in the CSA. The demand for these drugs continues to grow and our laws are making it easy for drug users to go undetected and unabated.

DEA 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment Report by Ed Praetorian on Scribd

Keith is a retired Police Sergeant who worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for 29 years. He was named as California’s Narcotics Officer of the Year and is a prior winner of MADD’s California Hero Award. He has years of experience as a Narcotics Detective and a Narcotics Unit Supervisor and is a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor (IACP #3292). He has developed several drug courses for the California Narcotics Officers Association, California POST and California Colleges, and currently consults POST on drug investigation procedures. Keith has taught thousands of officers and businesses around the world about drug use, drug trends, compliance training and drug investigations. He is recognized as an international drug expert and has testified as an expert in court proceedings on drug cases, homicide cases and rape prosecutions. Keith is the Founder and President of Graves & Associates, a company dedicated to providing drug training to law enforcement and private industry. Keith is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.