Trucking Industry Recruitment: The Mixing of Truck Driving and Drug Trafficking in North America

Last week, the LZBlog covered the statistics of truck drivers using illicit drugs (please see our blog post from June 19, 2024), but this isn’t the only time that illegal substances and trucking converge on the interstates and highways of America.  The stream of news stories about finding drugs on trucks at border crossings seems almost a constant in today’s twenty-four hours news cycles.  Most truck drivers in the U.S. are fantastic men and women who are willing to sacrifice their physical and mental wellbeing, as well as their home life, to transport goods across the country for the American consumer.  However, as with any other profession, there are going to be a few bad apples that wreak havoc on a system that has too many possibilities for exploitation to ignore. 

The trade in illegal drugs is a $2.2 trillion dollar a year industry, so the stakes are very high.  According to the Justice Department, overland drug smuggling continues to be the standard amongst drug traffickers, due to its many pros over air and water transportation. analyzed research from the DOJ and border patrol to come to the conclusion that more than 60% of all drugs brought into the U.S. are transported in over dry land.  Therefore, it seems, truckers have been unwittingly placed on the frontlines of the war against drug trafficking, just as they have been with human trafficking.  (For more on how truck drivers help fight human trafficking, please see our blog post from January 24, 2024.)  Today, it has become extremely important for truckers and their supervisors and trucking carrier owners to work together to make sure their company’s trucks do not become part of a drug smuggling operation.

Don’t Be “Comfortably Numb” to the Drug Trade

Why are trucks the most popular way to bring drugs into the U.S.?  As stated above, more than 60% of illegal drugs are brought in via trucking.  When it comes to moving these illicit substances across borders, truckers see their loads and vehicles checked on a regular basis by border patrol, and many of them understand the necessity of such precautions.  It seems that every day illicit substances are found in the cabs and trailers of trucks by border security.  What are these drugs being found?  Cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamines are the most prevalent of the confiscated substances by border patrol.  These drugs can be found in every nook and cranny of a semi-truck too.  From wheel wells to inside sleeper cabs to stuffed into legitimate shipments of retail items and produce, smugglers have gotten adept at hiding drugs in the most interesting of ways.  A news article from announced just last month (May 13, 2024) that nearly half a million dollars’ worth of cocaine was found tucked into boxes of cotton candy.  Border agents made the discovery as the truck driver was attempting to cross the U.S. border at one of the busiest throughways, Laredo, TX.    

In another case, one named “Operation Smoke Jumpers,” which was announced in February of this year, federal officials announced charges that were brought against seventeen individuals in San Diego, CA.  This case involved smugglers using truck loads of scrap metal to hide drugs in, and then the trucks were driven across the border into California to be brought up to Los Angeles.  The bust in this case led to over thirteen different drug seizures, including over 600,000 fentanyl pills and more than 10,000 pills containing methamphetamines.  Another case, known as “Operation Dead Hand,” actually brought both the southern and the northern border security forces together.  This case saw more than ten people arrested in a scheme to haul cocaine in from Mexico through San Diego and Odessa, TX by using Canadian truck drivers who could cross with fewer issues into the United States via Detroit, MI and Buffalo, NY.  The estimated value of this smuggling ring was calculated to be between $16 and $28 million dollars, with over $900,000 in straight cash seized.  The drug seizure included nearly 2,000 pounds of methamphetamines, another 2,000 pounds of cocaine, and over 40 pounds of fentanyl. 

Hiring Canadian truck drivers isn’t the only way America’s northern neighbors are getting into drug smuggling.  The Canada Border Services Agency (the CBSA) intercepts drug shipments from the U.S. on nearly a daily basis.  In 2023, the CBSA seized more than 72,000 kilograms of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, and other narcotics.  Operation Dead Hand even revealed that the Canadian truck drivers used to move drugs up from Mexico were, eventually, bringing some back up to Canada.  The “War on Drugs” may be an American moniker, but the problem with smuggling illicit substances definitely spans the entire North American continent. 

Unfortunately, some of these crimes are paired with other illegal activities.  One commercial truck driver was arrested and charged in February 2024 for holding, not only forty-five grams of methamphetamines in the truck cab, but also five non-citizens hidden in his truck.  Human trafficking and drug trafficking, sadly, can work hand in hand, and truck drivers and border patrols are seeing this pair daily in their security checkpoints.

Why are some truck drivers actively participating in drug smuggling?  One CBSA official commented to that they believed the lure of a making a quick buck is what attracts many drivers to drug smuggling.  Much like carrying a legitimate load in a trailer, truckers make a percentage off of what they are carrying, but, with drugs, they can haul a load without having to pay taxes or benefits out of the money they make.  By pairing an illegal load with a legitimate one, drivers find that, if they don’t get caught, the extra income can become too much of a temptation to ignore, especially under today’s economic stressors. 

Some drivers have claimed to be “blind mules” when drugs are found in their truck or in the trailer they are carrying.  A blind mule is someone who is caught carrying drugs but claims to have no knowledge of their presence.  Those using this defense argue that smugglers will hide the illicit substances in the truck while the driver is not watching, and then they will wait for the driver to cross the border before trying to procure the drugs.  While many in the industry believe that the blind mule is a fantastical notion, it does place a burden on law enforcement officials to work meticulously to discover who is behind each drug smuggling operation.  Border patrol and law enforcement, lined up with a well-informed prosecution team, is the only way to convict the right people for the right crimes.               


There are very few easy answers on how to deal with drug smuggling among truck drivers.  With smugglers becoming more sophisticated on a daily basis, it is imperative to secure the safety of the drivers, border security team members, and the citizens of all three of the big North American countries from the dangers of illegal drugs.  Many carriers and trucking associations have instituted zero tolerance policies for truckers found to be transporting drugs across borders.  There are also public education initiatives, such as United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USAIT), that are attempting to combat smugglers by teaching local community leaders and law enforcement to recognize the signs of drug smuggling and letting them know who to reach out to for help.  Other experts tout that the most important methods of curtailing smuggling are by conducting thorough background checks on all truck drivers before hiring them.  Any driver with an overwhelming debt burden is allegedly more susceptible to being bullied by drug cartels into taking loads across the border.  Some companies have added gadgets to trucks that allow for GPS to let the dispatch team know when a truck is off route or has stopped for more than two minutes.  This kind of pinpoint accuracy reminds drivers that they are under surveillance, but it also allows dispatchers to keep track of drivers who might be getting harassed or cajoled by smugglers.

It is important to understand the ins and outs of the illegal drug trade before trying to combat it.  The most common thread in all of the research completed for this article is that international collaboration is necessary for a successful win every day in the war on drugs.  By working together with Mexican and Canadian authorities, more and more illicit substances are being taken off the streets of North America, for the betterment of the citizens of all three countries.


Meaghan Goldberg covers recruitment and digital marketing for Lionzone.  A Patterson, GA native, after graduating from both Valdosta State University and Middle Tennessee State University, Meaghan joined Lionzone in 2018 as a digital recruitment strategist before becoming the social media manager.



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