17 of the Biggest Drug Busts in U.S. History Are Worth Billions

From Wall Street to the underworld, if there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that crime pays and pays big. Drug trafficking is probably the most lucrative illegal money maker, which the richest drug dealers of all time can attest to. Kingpins can make billions when their drugs hit the street, but the authorities do their best to prevent that from happening. The biggest drug busts in U.S. history seized billions of dollars worth of narcotics.

This isn’t a comprehensive list of the biggest drug busts, but it gives you an idea of how much money is at stake. The biggest raids happened in the 20th century, but check out No. 5 on the list to read about the U.S. Coast Guard’s big bust in 2007.

17. $300,000, North Scituate, R.I.

biggest drug busts

Having this much marijuana will get you into trouble. | Martin Bernetti/Getty Images

Year: 2014

Rhode Island has some of the loosest marijuana laws in the country, but you avoid trouble only when you have a little bit. Authorities seized 46 pounds of pot and $300,000 in cash in 2014 during a big bust in the smallest state in America.

Next: North of the border still counts.

16. $800,000, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Edmonton downtown after sunset, alberta, Canada

The DEA helped with one of Edmonton’s biggest drug busts. | Jacek Sopotnicki/iStock/Getty Images

Year: 2014

We know what you’re thinking — Canada isn’t the United States, so how come it shows up on our countdown? Well, the Drug Enforcement Agency aided the Edmonton police force as it made its largest cash seizure to that point.

Next: Drug smuggling knows no age.

15. $870,000, San Diego

US Border Patrol in an underground drug tunnel

U.S. Border Patrol agents in San Diego seized nearly $1 million in drugs. | Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Year: 2018

Drug smuggling knows no age, and this August 2018 bust is proof. Border agents in San Diego arrested an 81-year old woman after they found 34 heroin packages weighing 92 pounds. They estimated the drugs to be worth at least $870,000 on the street.

Next: Another 2018 raid is among the biggest drug busts ever.

14. $1 million, San Luis, Ariz.

Arizona has some of the biggest drug busts in the U.S.

Smugglers use tunnels under the border to move drugs from Mexico to the U.S. | John Moore/Getty Images

Year: 2018

You can call this one the mole-man drug bust, in a sense. Police discovered more than 300 pounds of drugs worth $1 million during a traffic stop in southwestern Arizona. Then, authorities discovered how the suspect got all those drugs — via a 600-foot tunnel that crossed the border to Mexico.

Next: Let’s stay in 2018.

13. $2 million, Gwinnett County, Ga.

traffic stop drug bust

A Georgia traffic stop resulted in a $2 million drug bust. | John Moore/Getty Images

Year: 2018

Another 2018 haul is one of the biggest drug busts in U.S. history. The Georgia State Patrol pulled over a car that contained drugs. That led authorities to a house in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where they seized $2 million worth of heroin as well as methamphetamines, a stockpile of cash, and an AK-47.

Next: Not the kind of father and son activity most people do.

12. $3 million, Baldwin County, Ala.

Welcome to Alabama road sign on US-84 near Gordon

Alabama authorities nabbed a father-son drug-smuggling duo. | iStock.com/miroslav_1

Year: 2018

Drug smuggling isn’t a very wholesome father and son activity, but here we are. One of the biggest drug busts Alabama’s ever seen featured a father and his 15-year old son towing 115 pounds of crystal meth worth $3 million through Baldwin County.

Next: The biggest bust this city has ever seen.

11. $6 million, Atlanta

heroin

Authorities in Atlanta seized $6 million in heroin in 2012. | John Moore/Getty Images

Year: 2012

One of the biggest drug busts ever in Atlanta happened in 2012, and it remains one of the largest in U.S. history. Federal agents caught two men with 86 pounds of heroin, which was worth roughly $6 million at the time. If you factor in the two pounds of methamphetamines, cash, and guns, the DEA bust was probably closer to $7 million.

Next: Big city, big bust.

10. $8 million, New York City

Tourists taking a photo of the statue of liberty

Patience helped New York authorities make an $8 million drug bust, | Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

Year: 2014

In the world of drug enforcement, it pays to be patient. A DEA surveillance operation tracked two men, which led authorities to a Bronx apartment with $8 million worth of heroin and other drug paraphernalia inside. That’s a big bust in a big city, but it’s far from being one of the biggest drug busts in U.S. history.

Next: We jump way up into double digits.

9. $18 million, Antioch, Calif.

seized methamphetamines in Australia

Authorities in California nabbed $18 million in meth in 2014. | William West/AFP/Getty Images

Year: 2014

One California raid in 2014 remains one of the biggest drug busts the U.S. has ever seen. Authorities seized nearly 500 pounds of methamphetamines worth roughly $18 million. Police arrested 22 people and confiscated more than $700,000 in cash along with the drugs.

Next: A bust that saved the equivalent of 26 million lives.

8. $20 million, Kearney, Neb.

Heroin dose compared to Fentanyl

A Nebraska drug bust prevented millions of lethal fentanyl doses from hitting the street. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Year: 2018

Nebraska might not be among the states with the most opioid abuse, but apparently, it’s a way station along the route to those places. During a routine traffic stop near Kearney, Neb., state troopers found 118 pounds of fentanyl, which is enough to kill 26 million people when you consider two milligrams is a potentially fatal dose.

Next: Proof that you can’t hide anything from the authorities.

7. $24 million, Miami Lakes, Fla.

Indoor Marijuana Grow Room

A fake wall in a Florida home contained $24 million from marijuana smuggling and growing. | iStock Photo

Year: 2016

One of the biggest drug busts Florida has ever seen was straight out of a movie. A brother-sister duo, a quiet suburb, and a false attic wall hiding $24 million in cash made trafficking marijuana. The seizure also helped police shut down business specializing in selling marijuana horticulture supplies.

Next: Where have we heard this one before?

6. $65 million, San Diego

California drug tunnel

A drug tunnel near San Diego produced one of the biggest busts ever. | Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Year: 2011

Remember when we discussed a secret drug tunnel in Arizona that authorities discovered in 2018? Well, a 2011 raid in San Diego originated the idea. The tunnel police found in California was 600 yards long, had lights and a working elevator, and contained 32 tons of marijuana worth roughly $65 million.

Next: The U.S. Coast Guard goes to work.

5. $350 million, Panama

Coast guard ship

The U.S. Coast Guard made one of the biggest drug busts in U.S. history. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Year: 2007

The U.S. Coast Guard has been involved in plenty of massive drug seizures in its history, but one from 2007 is one of the biggest drug busts in U.S. history. In cooperation with Panama’s government, a Coast Guard ship stopped and searched a container ship, and discovered more than 42,000 pounds of cocaine worth $350 million.

Next: We remain in the 20th century the rest of the way.

4. $1 billion, Harlingen, Texas

person in handcuffs

A big cocaine bust in Texas nabbed $1 billion worth of the drug. | Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images

Year: 1989

All the smaller busts we’ve discussed so far happened in the 21st century, and we’re guessing it’s because the kingpins and cartels got tired of all the mammoth seizures late in the 20th century. One happened in Harlingen in southeast Texas in 1989. Acting on a tip, authorities searched a house and discovered nearly 18,000 pounds of wrapped cocaine estimated to be worth $1 billion.

Next: The U.S. helps with an international drug bust.

3. $1.2 billion, Colombia

Pablo Emilio Escobar mugshot

A $1.2 billion bust was just a fraction of what Pablo Escobar made in a year. | Colombian National Police/Wikimedia Commons

Year: 1984

Forget talking about just drug dealers, Pablo Escobar is one of the richest criminals who ever lived. He and his Medellin cartel cohorts made an estimated $420 million each week supplying 80% of the cocaine in the United States in the 1980s. So, while a 1984 raid in Colombia (with the help of the DEA) seizing 13.8 metric tons of cocaine worth $1.2 billion represents one of the biggest drug busts in U.S. history, that was just a good month for Escobar’s clan.

Next: Big-time Bay Area bust.

2. $3 billion, Hayward, Calif.

Anthony Bourdain Massachusetts

Seized heroin near San Francisco was one of the biggest drug busts ever. | CNN

Year: 1991

A month of surveillance and a coordinated law enforcement effort produced one of the biggest drug busts we’ve ever seen. A warehouse raid in Hayward in the east bay seized 1,200 pounds of heroin worth roughly $3 billion.

Next: Let’s head down the coast for No. 1 on the countdown.

1. $6.9 billion, Sylmar, Calif.

Cocaine

Authorities near Los Angeles seized nearly $7 billion worth of cocaine in 1989. | Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Year: 1989

Sylmar is something of a sleepy town northwest of Los Angeles, but it’s the site of what might be the biggest drug bust ever. In 1989, authorities seized more than 21 tons of cocaine worth roughly $6.9 billion on the street sitting in a nondescript warehouse. When the main players had their cases go to trial, the warehouse owner received a life sentence, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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