10 of the Biggest Drug Seizures in History

If you've read some of the recently published pieces on the black market industry and the war on drugs, you probably have a good idea of just how big the money in drug trafficking is. Because of the illicit nature of selling drugs, accurate statistics on their exact values are hard to come by but even by conservative estimates, the global illegal drug industry has generated an estimated $321 billion dollars, and this figure is most likely growing every year.

Despite the criticisms that the war on drugs is failing to rid or even slow down the drug trade, law enforcement agencies around the world still do their part. Throughout the last 20 years they have investigated, tracked down, and seized often massive amounts of narcotics and cash that would have otherwise flooded the consumer market. This comprises everything from heroin, cannabis and cocaine to pill-making materials, opium and methamphetamine.

Some people may say money isn’t everything. But if you're a high-ranking drug lord, or even a small-time dealer, money is the driving force which persuades you to risk everything for the big payout. If caught, those in the drugs trade can lose millions — or even billions — at once. When we consider the figures and amounts on the following list, it’s hard to imagine that so much money can exist underground. But as these huge losses indicate, big money in the illegal drugs trade can disappear in the blink of an eye.


10 22.6 Million Amphetamine Pills - $267 Million

Just last week (mid-April, 2014), police arrested 6 people in Saudi Arabia. Smugglers were caught bringing over 22 million amphetamine pills, worth an estimated $267 million, across the border from Bahrain, concealed in plastic and barbed wire. It has been reported that the drugs were connected to an international drug smuggling ring led by a Syrian national.

9 30 Tons of Hashish - $300 Million


Hashish is clay-like substance made by collecting the resin from the cannabis plant’s leaves and stems. The resin is then compacted into a solid form, similar to the packages of cocaine bricks, for easy weighing and transport. In 2010, 30 tons of the drug was seized in Afghanistan by joined forces after it was found in a series of underground bunkers. It was also discovered that money from the sale of the meth was to be used to help finance the Taliban, a terrorist organization known for their attacks in both the Middle-East and Western countries.

8 13.8 Tons of Cocaine - $350 Million

In southern Colombia, a country drug where trafficking is endemic, 13.8 tons of cocaine was found by the local authorities near a riverbank. In 2005, it was called the biggest drug bust in history. The huge stash of cocaine was hidden by right-wing military groups, including the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, an outlawed faction. The drug money was believed to contribute to military operations against Marxist rebels.

7 33,450 Cocaine Blocks & $2.8 million Cash - $360 Million


In Colombia in 2011, authorities uncovered 12 tons of cocaine, and $2.8 million in cash that was going to be used for another purchase. This time the suspects tried their best to hide it but the stash was found by sniffer dogs, who weren't wrong footed by the fact that the cocaine was mixed with brown sugar. According to authorities, Colombian cocaine is now sold predominantly to Mexicans who are responsible for smuggling it onto U.S. soil.

6 42,000 Pounds of Cocaine - $600 Million

In 2007, another seizure record was broken when the U.S. Coast Guard discovered more than 42 000 pounds of cocaine aboard a Panamanian ship called Gatun. The ship was spotted by an aircraft near the coast of Panama. A Coast Guard official boarded the ship and found the drugs hidden in 2 shipping containers. All of the 14 members of the crew were detained and arrested. Before that, the largest maritime drug seizure was only 30 000 pounds, discovered in 2004 on a ship called the Lina Maria. Without a maritime agreement between the U.S. and Panama, the coast guard never would have been allowed to board the ship, and the discovery never would have been made.

5 14 Tons of Cocaine - $1 Billion


In the fall of 1989, 14 tons of cocaine originating from Colombia with a street-value of $1 billion was seized in Texas by U.S. drug authorities. At the time, the bust was the biggest there ever was, but it was actually two separate busts on the same day. Authorities raided a house that was “literally stuffed” with 9 tons of cocaine. Earlier in the day, a sea vessel was raided and 5 tons of cocaine was found. All the suspects believed to be involved were arrested.

4 5.7 Tons of Heroin / 11.3 Tons of Opium / 841 kg of Hashish - $1.1 Billion

When Afghan authorities seized literally tons of heroin, opium, and hashish worth $1.1 billion, 63 terrorists were killed, 10 insurgents arrested, and 14 hostages were set free. This type of operation goes to show that deals involving such a level of narcotics are organized and overseen by powerful groups sometimes numbering in the thousands. Fighting against these types of transactions must not be for the faint of heart. This particular raid happened in the Baramcha and Haji Wakil areas of Helmand province. Bomb making materials were also found on site. The chemicals essential to making heroin and a processing lab were destroyed after the bust.


3 30 Tons of Captagon Pill Material - $1.6 Billion


Captagon is the brand name of a pill that uses the ingredient phenethylline, a synthetic drug used as a stimulant (otherwise known as an “upper"). In 2010, in a series of operations to take down the sale and transfer of the material, several arrests stopped 10.54 million Captagon tablets, as well as other drugs, from entering Saudi Arabia. Smuggling illegal drugs is taken so seriously in the Middle-East that Saudi Arabia has imposed capital punishments on drug traffickers.

2 1080 Pounds of Heroin - $4 Billion

In 1991, San Francisco drug traffickers lost so much heroin that, if sold, every citizen of the city could take an average dose — twice. Four people were arrested from the Asian drug ring responsible for the deal. The shipment of  "China white" was headed to a warehouse in a San Franciscan suburb called Hayward. Allegedly, the heroin came from areas of Burma, Laos and Thailand.  The half-ton of heroin was discovered by custom officials in an Oakland port; the bricks  were covered in birthday wrapping paper. The criminals' heroin, and their money, was lost forever. Officials also seized the bank accounts of all the arrested suspects.

1 21.4 Tons of Cocaine - $6 Billion


Of the 10 largest seizures in history, cocaine makes the list once more at the very top of the most costly. However, this time, the drug was seized on American soil in Los Angeles, California, in 1989. The seizure was described as the second biggest in United States history. The cocaine was found hidden in concrete fence posts inside a secret warehouse. The posts were also inserted into metal tubes, and had about 6 kilograms of cocaine in kilo and half-kilo sized bricks. Five men were arrested in the bust worth billions.

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