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Methamphetamine

Overview

Methamphetamine production and distribution are undergoing significant changes. Methamphetamine use has stabilized nationally after increasing during much of the 1990s through 2002, and domestic production of methamphetamine has decreased dramatically since 2004. Nevertheless, the increasing prevalence of high-purity ice methamphetamine throughout the country and the expansion of Mexican and, more recently, Asian DTO methamphetamine networks have largely sustained methamphetamine markets in the United States. Despite significant chemical import restrictions in Mexico, methamphetamine production in that country is very high, and Mexico is the primary source of methamphetamine in U.S. drug markets. Moreover, large-scale production of methamphetamine has increased significantly in Canada as outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) and Asian DTOs expand their position with respect to methamphetamine production in Canada. Some methamphetamine produced in Canada is distributed in U.S. drug markets, particularly methamphetamine tablets sold as MDMA. Nevertheless, Mexican DTOs distributing Mexican methamphetamine continue to dominate domestic markets. In fact, distribution of the drug in domestic drug markets by Mexican DTOs is increasing, supplanting many local dealers who had previously produced and distributed the drug independently.

Strategic Findings

  • Mexican DTOs are circumventing chemical sale and import restrictions in Mexico in order to maintain large-scale methamphetamine production in that country.
  • Mexican methamphetamine distribution networks are expanding in many U.S. drug markets and have supplanted many local midlevel and retail dealers in areas of the Great Lakes, Pacific, Southeast, Southwest, and West Central Regions.
  • Methamphetamine production in Canada has increased; some Canadian methamphetamine is intended for distribution in U.S. drug markets.
  • State and federal precursor chemical controls and sustained law enforcement pressure continue to drive down domestic methamphetamine production levels.
  • Methamphetamine availability trends in U.S. drug markets are mixed; some markets in western states have reported sporadic and temporary shortages, while markets in other regions have reported stable to increasing availability.
  • Law enforcement pressure and chemical controls in the United States and Mexico appear to be contributing to intermittent methamphetamine shortages in some
    western drug markets.
  • Methamphetamine use appears to be stable; however, treatment for methamphetamine abuse has more than doubled since 2000.

News about Meth Distribution

Mexican DTOs are circumventing chemical sale and import restrictions in Mexico in order to maintain large-scale methamphetamine production in that country. Available law enforcement and intelligence reporting regarding methamphetamine production in Mexico, the primary source of methamphetamine to U.S. drug markets, appears to indicate that production was high and stable in 2006. The high level of production was accomplished by Mexican DTOs despite strong restrictions placed by the government of Mexico on the importation and legitimate distribution of precursor chemicals in mid-2005. Nonetheless, the import and chemical restrictions imposed by the Mexican Government have impacted the methamphetamine operations of Mexican DTOs. In order to maintain production levels, Mexican DTOs have adapted their operating procedures in several ways, including smuggling restricted chemicals through new routes, importing nonrestricted chemical derivatives instead of precursor chemicals, and using alternative production methods. For example, Mexican DTOs smuggle pseudoephedrine and ephedrine into Mexico from source areas in China (often with assistance from ethnic Chinese associates) and India using indirect smuggling routes that include transit through Central Africa, Europe, and South America. In addition, packages containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are commonly mislabeled as other items during transit to Mexican methamphetamine producers in order to avoid inspection by law enforcement at airports and seaports in Mexico. This circumvention of chemical control laws in Mexico has enabled producers to maintain a stable level of production and a continuous flow of methamphetamine into the United States, as evidenced by methamphetamine seizures at or between POEs along the Southwest Border (see Table 11).

Table 11. Methamphetamine Seizures on the Southwest Border, in Kilograms, 1998-2007*

1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007*
23 0 777 1,254 1,200 1,861 2,410 2,893 2,790 1,447

Source: National Seizure System.
* Data as of August 14, 2007.

Mexican methamphetamine distribution networks are expanding in many U.S. drug markets and have supplanted many local midlevel and retail dealers in areas of the Great Lakes, Pacific, Southeast, Southwest, and West Central Regions. Mexican DTOs have expanded their methamphetamine distribution networks, particularly in methamphetamine markets previously supplied by local distributors. Law enforcement authorities in cities, including Akron (OH), Hannibal (MO), Dallas and Houston (TX), Mobile (AL), Nashville (TN), Oklahoma City (OK), Orlando and Tampa (FL), Pueblo (CO), and Richmond and Shenandoah (VA), report the growing prevalence of Mexican DTOs at all levels of methamphetamine distribution in their areas and a concurrent increase in the availability of ice methamphetamine. Furthermore, law enforcement reporting indicates that in some cities--including Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Fort Worth (TX), Memphis and Nashville (TN), and Oklahoma City--Mexican DTOs are exploiting their relationships with Hispanic and African American gangs as a means of controlling methamphetamine distribution at the midlevel and retail level.

Methamphetamine production in Canada has increased; some Canadian methamphetamine is intended for distribution in U.S. drug markets. Anecdotal law enforcement reporting and laboratory seizure data from Canada indicate a potentially significant increase in large-scale production of both ice methamphetamine and methamphetamine tablets since 2005.17 The purported increase has been attributed by Canadian law enforcement officials to Canada-based Asian (Chinese and Vietnamese) criminal groups and OMGs (particularly Hells Angels Motorcycle Club), that reportedly produce the drug in large-scale laboratories in rural and residential areas of the country. According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), methamphetamine tablets are produced primarily by Canada-based Asian DTOs in Quebec, particularly in Montreal. Conversely, ice and, to a much lesser extent, powder methamphetamine is produced in laboratories operated by OMGs and Asian (primarily Chinese, but also Vietnamese) DTOs in superlabs18 in central and western provinces such as Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

Methamphetamine producers in Canada acquire pseudoephedrine through relationships with illicit chemical brokers in China, from Indo-Canadian brokers who smuggle the drug from India, and through the diversion of legitimate supplies in Canada. RCMP reporting and laboratory seizure data indicate that methamphetamine producers in Canada currently have little difficulty acquiring bulk ephedrine or pseudoephedrine because most methamphetamine laboratories seized in 2006--15 of 23--had the capacity to produce 20 or more pounds of product per production cycle, and 6 had the capacity to produce between 2 and 20 pounds. According to RCMP reporting, most of the methamphetamine produced in Canada is intended to supply growing demand in that country; however, some is intended for distribution in the United States, Japan, and Australia. Canada-based methamphetamine traffickers typically transport ice and tableted methamphetamine into the United States through the same smuggling routes used by traffickers to smuggle Canadian marijuana and MDMA into the United States. In fact, tableted methamphetamine produced in Canada is sometimes sold in the United States as MDMA to unsuspecting buyers, most likely in an attempt to stretch their MDMA supplies.

State and federal precursor chemical controls and sustained law enforcement pressure continue to drive down domestic methamphetamine production levels. State and federal precursor chemical restrictions combined with sustained law enforcement pressure have reduced domestic methamphetamine production over the past several years. NSS data for 2007 show that the number of reported methamphetamine laboratory seizures has decreased sharply each year since 2004--the year that states began implementing strong, retail-level sales restrictions of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products (see Chart 4). Moreover, in September 2006 the federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 became effective nationwide, setting restrictions on the retail sale of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products; this Act appears to be contributing to continued decreases in domestic methamphetamine production, according to seizure data through mid-2007.

Chart 4. Number of Reported Methamphetamine Laboratory Seizures, 2002-2007

Methamphetamine laboratory seizures in the United States have decreased dramatically since 2004.

Chart showing the number of reported methamphetamine laboratory seizures from 2002 to 2007.

Source: National Seizure System.
*Data as of October 11, 2007

Methamphetamine availability trends in U.S. drug markets are mixed; some markets in western states have reported sporadic and temporary shortages, while markets in other regions have reported stable and increasing availability. Law enforcement reporting indicates atypical trends in methamphetamine availability in the first half of 2007. Law enforcement agencies in Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Modesto, and San Diego (CA); Las Vegas (NV); Minneapolis (MN); and Oregon reported decreases in the availability and purity of methamphetamine in their areas, and most reported a concurrent rise in methamphetamine prices during the first 6 months of 2007. Conversely, law enforcement agencies in Huntsville, Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery (AL); Batesville, Conway, Jonesville, and Little Rock (AR); Pueblo (CO); Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa (FL); Hannibal (MO); Newark (NJ); Akron (OH); Oklahoma City; Memphis and Nashville; Dallas and Houston; Salt Lake City (UT); and Richmond and Shenandoah (VA) report the availability of Mexican ice methamphetamine in their areas as stable to increasing; most also report that the influence of Mexican DTOs in their areas is growing.

Law enforcement pressure and chemical controls in the United States and Mexico appear to be contributing to intermittent methamphetamine shortages in some western drug markets. Several factors, including declining domestic methamphetamine production, precursor chemical controls and import restrictions in the United States and Mexico, and law enforcement pressure in both countries quite likely are contributing to recent shortages in some markets in western states. Limited domestic methamphetamine production--primarily the result of domestic precursor chemical controls--has resulted in decreased supplies of domestically produced methamphetamine nationwide and a subsequent dependence on Mexican methamphetamine. However, precursor chemical controls and import restrictions in Mexico have challenged Mexican DTOs' ability to access bulk quantities of precursor chemicals and, reportedly, have created difficulty in maintaining the high level of production in Mexico. Despite these challenges, Mexican DTOs have been able to maintain stable (or possibly slightly decreased) methamphetamine production in Mexico. Nevertheless, decreases in the availability of methamphetamine have reportedly occurred in a number of U.S. drug markets, particularly markets in western states that rely on supplies of Mexican methamphetamine as well as supplementary supplies of locally produced methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine use appears to be stable; however, treatment for methamphetamine abuse has more than doubled since 2000. NSDUH data show that the number of past month methamphetamine users remained relatively stable at approximately 0.7 million between 2002 and 2006. NSDUH data also show that rates of past year use for methamphetamine were relatively stable between 2002 (0.7%) and 2006 (0.8%) for individuals aged 12 and older. Despite apparently stable rates of use, methamphetamine-related admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities have increased sharply since 2000 (see Chart 5). A very likely contributor to the rise in methamphetamine treatment has been the increased availability of Mexican ice methamphetamine since approximately 2001. Ice methamphetamine typically is a more pure form of methamphetamine that usually is smoked. According to reporting from the National Institutes of Health, smoking methamphetamine results in a more rapid onset of addiction to the drug than does snorting or ingesting. The result is quite likely a higher percentage of addicted users who would be seeking treatment for addiction within the methamphetamine user population.

Chart 5. Number of Primary Methamphetamine Treatment Admissions to Publicly Funded Treatment Facilities, 2000-2005

Treatment admissions for methamphetamine have significantly increased since 2000, more than doubling from 67,568 in 2000 to 152,368 in 2005.

Chart showing the number of primary methamphetamine treatment admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities from 2000 to 2005.

Source: Treatment Episode Data Set.

Gaps

Production estimates and information regarding production potential and laboratory seizures in foreign source areas such as Canada, Mexico, and Southeast Asia are very limited. As a result, it is difficult to precisely estimate the relative influence of foreign methamphetamine production on U.S. drug markets.

Although law enforcement reporting in the Mid-Atlantic, New England, and New York/New Jersey Regions suggests an increase in methamphetamine distribution by Canada-based Asian DTOs, detailed information on the extent of their operations is somewhat limited. Asian DTOs typically operate within highly insular Asian communities in Canada and the United States that are very difficult for law enforcement to investigate and infiltrate.

Estimates

Bulk ephedrine smuggling through Colombia and to Mexico may increase in the near term. U.S. Department of State reporting indicates that Colombian DTOs are smuggling ephedrine shipments into Colombia for subsequent sale to Mexican DTOs. Detailed information on the extent of their operations is limited; however, this practice of smuggling ephedrine from Colombia, through Venezuela, to Mexico will very likely escalate if the government of Mexico further reduces legal importation of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Also of concern is the potential for Colombian DTOs to produce methamphetamine on a large scale if Mexico is unable to maintain a production level sufficient to meet U.S. demand.


17. Precise estimates of the amount of methamphetamine produced in Canada do not exist because there are no comprehensive estimates regarding the amount of pseudoephedrine illegally acquired by methamphetamine production groups in Canada.
18. Superlabs are clandestine laboratories in which 10 or more pounds of methamphetamine can be produced per cycle.

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