The majority of narcotics labs are located in remote southern and central regions of Columbia, away from the coca plantations. Three-quarters of the world's annual yield of cocaine was produced there, both from cocaine base imported from Peru (primarily the Huallaga Valley) and Bolivia, and from locally grown coca. This, combined with crop reductions in Bolivia and Peru, made Colombia the nation with the largest area of coca under cultivation after the mid-1990s.
(Photo courtesy DeSoto County Sheriff's Office, Arcadia, Florida)
Making Cocaine involves a three-step process:
1) Leaf to Paste,
2) Paste to Base,
3) Base to cocaine hydrochloride (HCL), or 99 percent pure cocaine
Unprocessed cocaine, such as coca leaves, are occasionally purchased and sold, but this is exceedingly rare as it is much easier and more profitable to conceal and smuggle it in powdered form. Attempts to eradicate coca fields through the use of defoliants have devastated part of the farming economy in some coca growing regions of Colombia, and strains appear to have been developed that are more resistant or immune to their use. The traditional use of the raw leaf to prevent altitude sickness (and it does work) is another reason why it is so difficult to eradicate cocaine production in Peru and Bolivia.
Organized criminal gangs operating on a large scale dominate the cocaine trade. Cocaine traffickers from Colombia, and recently Mexico, have also established a labyrinth of smuggling routes throughout the Caribbean, the Bahama Island chain, and South Florida. Or use airdrops of 500–700 kg in the Bahama Islands or off the coast of Puerto Rico, mid-ocean boat-to-boat transfers of 500–2,000 kg, and the commercial shipment of tonnes of cocaine through the port of Miami. These vessels are typically 150–250-foot (50–80 m) coastal freighters that carry an average cocaine load of approximately 2000kg. Traffickers from Mexico or the Dominican Republic are often hired to transport the drug. Cocaine is also carried in small, concealed, kilogram quantities across the border by couriers known as “mules” (or “mulas”). The drugs are strapped to the waist or legs or hidden in bags, or hidden in the body.
Dealers are often eager to cut their with merchandise to increase their profit magins. At the street level, anything remotely similar to the texture of cocaine is used such as sugars, corn starch or flour. Higher up the chain other chemicals from the cocaine family are used. Cutting cocaine with procaine is a popular choice.
The extent to which the producers and smugglers are intent on distributing their cocaine product explains the huge commitment of the U.S. government to combat this illicit trade: $14 billion to the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces since 2001.