Officials in Argentina have expressed concern over high levels of drug consumption and rising drug violence in the north and central regions, as the country's local markets continue to flourish amid drug trade expansion.
In one local court, in the northern town of Oran, 20 kilometers from the border with Bolivia, nearly 7,000 drug trafficking cases remain unresolved, the highest number of any court in the country. According to Judge Raul Reynoso, 18 tons of drugs have been seized in the town in the past eight years, reported Clarin.
Much of the product passing through heads towards Buenos Aires and other major markets, but a significant amount remains for local distribution. He said "thousands" of area youth have developed drug addictions, which has in turn led to increasing robberies.
"And it's in the entire north, not just here," Reynoso added.
In central Argentina, growing drug violence has sparked concern, reported La Nacion. In January, the governor of Argentina's Santa Fe province, Antonio Bonfatti, met with US officials in Washington to discuss the expansion of drug trafficking in the country's central provinces. The discussion centered on Rosario -- the largest city in Santa Fe, which has already seen a spike in homicides this year -- as well as the provinces of Cordoba and Entre Rios.
US State Department experts said Rosario's geography made it particularly vulnerable. The city sits at the crossroads between Buenos Aires and the drug production states of Bolivia and Paraguay.
InSight Crime Analysis
Argentina has long been a transit point for cocaine, but in recent years transnational criminal organizations have consolidated their presence and begun to use the country as an operational center. Argentina's security minister recently acknowledged the country had become a producer and major consumer of drugs, as well as a transit nation.
The comments from the Salta judge and US officials illustrate the local effects of the expanding trade. As Argentine towns -- particularly those lying near border crossings and along major transit routes -- have been saturated with illicit drugs, microtrafficking has boomed. This has led to increased addiction rates and more petty crime, as well as gang violence and higher levels of homicides. To cite one example, there were a record number of homicides registered in Rosario in 2013.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Microtrafficking
There have also been various signs the country's drug trade is evolving, including the discovery of several cocaine laboratories -- the largest of which was found near Rosario -- in 2013, and increasingly sophisticated tactics used by drug gangs in major cities.