The nation’s Heartland is ridding itself of the scourge of homemade methamphetamine, with lab seizures down by nearly half in many high-meth states. Any celebration is muted: Meth use remains high, but people are increasingly turning to cheaper, imported Mexican meth rather than making their own.WireAP_3696968d89aa47cc83a2025f9c0a7908_16x9_992

Meth lab busts and seizures are down 40 percent or more in states that traditionally lead the country in the undesirable category, narcotics experts told The Associated Press.

Enforcement actions and stricter laws are partly responsible, but the meth now coming through Mexican cartel pipelines is so cheap and pure that it is supplanting meth made in homes or soda bottles inside cars. The cartels have even expanded their meth reach to rural areas and small towns.

“The great news is that meth from Mexico doesn’t explode, doesn’t burn down your house and your neighbor’s home, doesn’t contaminate your property, doesn’t kill children the way meth labs have done here in the U.S. for decades,” said Jason Grellner, the chief narcotics officer in Franklin County, Missouri.

Meth lab seizures peaked nationally in 2004, when nearly 24,000 labs were seized. The Drug Enforcement Administration reported 11,573 seizures last year (the most recent available), up 363 from 2012.

Grellner’s county has often topped 100 meth lab seizures in a year, but have only had about a dozen this year. Statistics provided by the Missouri State Highway Patrol show 558 meth lab seizures occurred statewide for the first six months of 2014, putting Missouri on pace for 1,116. That would be a 34 percent drop from the 1,496 meth lab seizures in 2013, and only a little over half in 2012.

The decline is more pronounced in other high-meth states.

In Tennessee, lab seizures are down 40 percent this year, said Tommy Farmer, director of the Tennessee Meth and Pharmaceutical Task Force. Oklahoma had 160 meth lab seizures through September and is on pace for 213 — about half last year’s seizure total, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics spokesman Mark Woodward said.

One only needs to go to the morgue to know that, despite fewer lab busts, the meth problem isn’t going away.

In Oklahoma, which tracks meth-related deaths, 167 died of meth overdoses last year — up from 140 in 2012 and 108 in 2011, Woodward said. Figures for 2014 weren’t available. “I don’t think meth use has ever been higher in the state of Oklahoma,” he said.

The Mexican cartels have long controlled the market for illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Meth was trickier. For years, many U.S. users have chosen to make their own, first in homemade labs that often caught fire or ruined houses. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s website lists thousands of homes contaminated by meth.

When federal and state lawmakers began implementing laws limiting the sale of key meth ingredient pseudoephedrine in the mid-2000s, it became difficult to obtain enough for large batches. Users turned to “one-pot” or “shake-and-bake” methods — mixing a couple of cold pills with household chemicals such as lighter fluid or drain cleaner in a 2-liter soda bottle.

Meanwhile, Mexican cartels have upped their meth-making, turning to an old recipe known as P2P that first appeared in the 1960s and 1970s. It uses the organic compound phenylacetone — banned in the U.S. but obtainable in Mexico, according to the DEA — rather than pseudoephedrine.

Chemists in Mexico have refined the process to the point where the meth is both potent and cheap. The purity of Mexican meth increased from 39 percent in 2007 to essentially 100 percent today, said Jim Shroba, special agent in charge for the DEA’s St. Louis office. The price over that same period has fallen sharply, from $290 per pure gram to around $100 per pure gram.

Marijuana is by far the most seized drug in the United States, with DEA statistics showing 268,000 kilograms seized in 2013. That compares to 22,500 kilograms of cocaine, 3,990 kilograms of meth and 965 kilograms of heroin.

Shroba and other experts say there are other reasons, too, why meth seizures are down. Two states — Oregon and Mississippi — now require a prescription to buy pills containing pseudoephedrine. And federal law requires strict monitoring and limits on pseudoephedrine purchases.

At first, the Mexican meth was aimed mainly at big cities and suburbs. Indiana’s meth suppression commander Niki Crawford said it is increasingly showing up in her state’s mid-sized cities — Evansville, Terre Haute and Kokomo.

The imported drug has even reached rural areas. Woodward cited recent large-scale busts of distribution rings in communities like Lindsay (population 3,000) and Okmulgee (population 12,000). And Shroba said huge seizures of Mexican meth have occurred in rural areas of western Nebraska and Iowa.

“If they’re smoking weed or doing heroin in small-town America, there’s going to be a market for methamphetamine, too,” Shroba said.

Woodward said the reduction in meth labs has “wonderful collateral benefits,” meaning narcotics officers can turn attention to stopping trafficking.

“We all know that if we get a handle on meth labs, we will still have meth addicts who will work very hard to get their drug,” Crawford said. “This is where the Mexican cartel meth will fill the void.”





  1. KC says:

    While this might be true in some cases, I live in an area where the Mexicans, and to a lesser degree, the Koreans, hire the Caucasians to make it for them in apartments. The Mexicans and Koreans supply the pseudo and in return the Caucasians have the citizenship identification to be able to rent a space, and these spaces, say, in an apartment building, are used as labs only.

    The cooks live in separate apartments that are close in proximity, but not right next door, kind of like how tweaker networks set up in hotels within one building. Many have building management approval (both hotels and apartments) and almost always involve the maintenance men who have all-access keys to vacant units, as well as construction workers who may have helped build the building, if a new structure. These tweaker networks have grown in size and now work together, abusing higher levels of authority as these addict “communities” take root and expand.

    The same goes for real estate house rentals. Many property management companies and real estate agents are abusing their listings, many times without the house owner’s knowledge. If there is a vacant space, a meth head will find it and use it. And now with several layers of authority working together, it’s hard for normal folks to find a clean place to live.

    The prevalence of these types of networked activities in new apartment buildings specifically makes me wonder whether the actual building owners built some of these new high-rise structures for the purpose of making meth. Let’s face it, it makes way more money than renting to tenants, right?

    Mandatory semi-annual random building inspection of all units for meth and higher than healthy air quality, similar to the way restaurants are inspected for health code violations unannounced but do wipe and air tests, would go a long way for consumer protection.

    Another solution would be to keep the manufacture of meth illegal and impose stiffer penalties for it along with mandatory inspections, but legalize a much purer finished product that you can get anywhere, which would drop the bottom out of the black market, immediately stopping any further toxification of real estates, water, soil, food, and air.

    Use the proceeds from owner penalties an government real property confiscations (almost all networks in these buildings are at federal scale for penalties and local law enforcement are easily corrupted by the local money changing hands, and therefore should be busted and prosecuted by feds) from seizures and bankruptcy filings to pay for the raids. There’s enough money to be had to finance the cleanup of America, if folks know where to look.

    We have a long way to go, but it’s not impossible. The laws have to change first. How does that happen?