While the national epidemic of opiate addiction has dominated the news in recent months, U.S. drug enforcement agencies say that trafficking and use of another life-threatening drug has rebounded: methamphetamine. Twelve years after Congress acted to combat meth manufacturing and distribution, state and local officials report that the amount of meth on U.S. streets has increased, with more people using it, and more users dying.
During the early years of the 21st century, the number of illicit, domestic meth labs exploded, with the growing practice of making meth from pseudoephedrine, the decongestant in drugstore products like Sudafed.
In 2005 Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Act, which placed pseudoephedrine behind the counter, limited sales to 7.5 grams per customer in a 30-day period and required pharmacies to track sales. As a result, the number of domestic meth labs has sharply declined in recent years, reducing the accompanying public health hazards.
But, it didn’t take long for Mexican-based cartels to step up and fill the supply gap. Today, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, most of the methamphetamine available in the United States being produced in Mexico and smuggled across the Southwest Border. At the United States border, agents are seizing 10 to 20 times the amounts they did a decade ago, the New York Times recently reported.
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agencies, since 2012, border seizures of methamphetamine have more than tripled. During that period, Office of Field Operations drug seizures increased from 14,131 in fiscal year 2012, to 44,065 in fiscal 2017. And, since 2012, U.S. Border Patrol seizures of meth have grown from 14,131 in 2012, to 44,065 in fiscal 2017. So far in fiscal 2018, the Border Patrol has made 21,199 meth seizures, according to the agency.
Customs and Border Patrol officers are responsible for screening all foreign visitors, returning American citizens and imported cargo that enters the U.S. at the nation’s more than 300 points of entry.
Crystal methamphetamine is primarily produced by Mexican nationals operating “super labs” in Mexico, and is often shipped to the New York City area through the southwestern border by vehicles, couriers, and parcel delivery services. Mexican TCOs use well-established routes, and also co-mingle methamphetamine with other drugs, such as heroin being shipped to the area, according to the federal agencies.
And, today’s methamphetamine is purer, cheaper and more dangerous.“I have been involved with meth for the last 25 years. A wholesale plummet of price per pound, combined with a huge increase of purity, tells me they have perfected the production or manufacturing of methamphetamine,” Steven Bell, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, told the New York Times. “They have figured out the chemical reactions to get the best bang for their bucks.”
The nearly new, 100 percent pure meth is difficult for users to resist. “We’re seeing a lot of longtime addicts who used crack cocaine switch to meth,” Branden Combs, a Portland, Ore. told officer told the Times “You ask them about it, and they’ll say: ‘Hey, it’s half the price, and it’s good quality.’”
According to the National Drug Threat Assessment released by the D.E.A. last fall, Mexican Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) “remain the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States; no other group is currently positioned to challenge them.” These TCOs maintain territorial influence over large regions in Mexico used for the cultivation, production, importation, and transportation of illicit drugs.
Colombian and Dominican-based TCOs are also very active in the U.S. market.
Meanwhile, meth addiction has reached crisis levels in a number of states and cities, and public health officials say more resources are needed to combat manufacturers and traffickers, and help those whose lives are being destroyed by one of the most lethal drugs ever created.