Last month we learned that the outbreak of COVID-19 has really been eating into the mafia’s ability to generate revenue in its usual fashion. (That is, if you believe there actually is a mafia consisting of criminal Italian-Americans. Which of course I don’t.) But it turns out that disruption of global supply chains is affecting all sorts of enterprises of the illegal kind as well as the regular ebb and flow of conventional commerce.
According to a report from the Associated Press, meth cookers and dealers across the country are really struggling because of this crisis. So are the larger, international drug cartels. Some drugs that are more organic in nature and sourced closer to our country are still flowing, but the toxic supply of chemicals required to cook meth come largely from China. And one of the biggest sources there is, somewhat ironically, located right in Wuhan. So supplies of raw materials are running low.
Coronavirus is dealing a gut punch to the illegal drug trade, paralyzing economies, closing borders and severing supply chains in China that traffickers rely on for the chemicals to make such profitable drugs as methamphetamine and fentanyl.
One of the main suppliers that shut down is in Wuhan, the epicenter of the global outbreak.
Associated Press interviews with nearly two dozen law enforcement officials and trafficking experts found Mexican and Colombian cartels are still plying their trade as evidenced by recent drug seizures but the lockdowns that have turned cities into ghost towns are disrupting everything from production to transport to sales.
Apparently, traffic at the southern border has slowed to a trickle as compared to the same time last year, so sneaking through a vehicle packed with drugs or dubious chemicals becomes considerably riskier. The same applies to international flights and incoming ships at our seaports. Fewer containers to be searched translates to more time to search them all.
One former Mexican intelligence agency official is quoted as saying that the cartels are “scrambling” both in terms of supply and demand. Not only is it hard to get your hands on the drugs and raw materials, but the usual spots where dealers sling their products have also been affected. With so many motels, bars and restaurants closed down and fewer people on the streets, dealers stand out like a sore thumb.
All of this is impacting illegal drug prices as well as the amount of product available. Denver and Chicago are reportedly running out of heroin. (Gasp!) The cost of cocaine has risen as much as 20% while methamphetamines in Los Angeles cost twice what they did last year at roughly $1,800 per pound. It’s getting so a person can’t even make a dishonest living any more.
The other irony here, at least according to one DEA official, is that Mexico is the source of a lot of both finished meth and the precursor chemicals that American meth cookers use, but they get all of their supplies from China. (Primarily one company in Wuhan.) But now, just as with legitimate manufacturing enterprises, they may need to cut their reliance on the Chinese and figure out how to source those chemicals locally.
Exit question: With the prices going up and supplies dwindling, is there any chance that drug addiction will sag in the United States as addicts are forced to go cold turkey? While a horrible way to accomplish it, that would at least be one positive outcome of the pandemic.