FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) - Drug enforcement officials say traffickers are bringing more cocaine into South Florida than at any time in the past decade.
Officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration say Colombia has been producing more cocaine than at the height of the notorious 1980s. Back then, South Florida was the main conduit for cocaine shipments headed to the United States in an era famous for "cocaine cowboys."
The Sun Sentinel of South Florida reported Sunday that 90 percent of the cocaine seized in the United States can be traced back to Colombia, and Colombia has tripled its production in the past few years.
"There is a mountain of cocaine, much of it is likely headed our way," said Justin Miller, intelligence chief for the DEA's Miami field division. "But we are already seeing these drug combinations, and cocaine deaths are already going up significantly."
Customs and Border Protection officials in Florida said they confiscated 61 percent more cocaine last year over the prior year, amounting to 9,500 pounds of cocaine.
Because there is a lag time between production and distribution, the full impact of the increase has yet to hit South Florida, authorities said.
Experts trace the boom in production to when the Colombia government stopped aerial spraying of herbicides over cocoa fields used to make cocaine in the fall of 2015 because of health concerns.
"The aerial spraying worked quite well," said Richard Mangan, a former DEA agent and Florida Atlantic University criminal justice professor. "But there was a lot of pushback after a while to the damage it was doing to legitimate crops, the damage it was doing to people."
Meanwhile, the state Medical Examiner Commission reports that overdose deaths from cocaine are at their highest level in Florida since 2007. From 2012 to 2015, cocaine deaths in Florida went from 1,318 fatalities to 1,834 fatalities.
Only the synthetic painkiller fentanyl surpassed cocaine for contributing to Florida overdose deaths in Florida for the first half of last year, according to medical examiner records.
The increase in production in Colombia already is driving down prices in South Florida.
One kilo, or about 2.2 pounds, of pure cocaine was worth between $28,000 and $35,000 two to three years ago. Today, the same amount is worth $26,000 to $28,000, Miller said.