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Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey at the National Methamphetamine Chemicals Initiative Conference

St. Louis, Missouri
Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Good morning. Thank you Director Walters. And thanks to all of you for inviting me to join you today.

The National Methamphetamine Chemicals Initiative is known for promoting a culture of collaboration. That’s exactly the approach we need for this challenge – as for so many others we face in law enforcement. Collaboration – between one city and another, one state and another, one country and another – is vital to what we do; and all of you are vital to getting it done.

Given the need for collaboration, it is gratifying to see the wide mix of people here – prosecutors, investigators, and local, state, and federal officials, as well as representatives from other nations. I am especially pleased to welcome my colleague, Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora of Mexico, and our other partners from around the world.

Those in this audience are well aware that methamphetamine is an extremely addictive and destructive drug. It does fearsome damage to the user. It wreaks havoc on families, and it puts children in danger – especially when parents decide to cook meth in their home. It devastates neighborhoods. The volatility of the manufacturing process can endanger entire city blocks around a clandestine lab.

The good news is, thanks to the work of people like you, we’re making great strides in our battle against meth. Sustained and aggressive law enforcement efforts, as well as laws controlling access to over-the-counter medicines containing precursor chemicals, have led to dramatic decreases in domestic production in the United States. Since 2003, for example, the number of meth labs seized in the United States has decreased by 72 percent. By all indications, that reflects a real reduction in the number of labs out there.

The reduction in domestic labs means fewer drug-endangered children and fewer meth-related toxic dump sites in our country. It means fewer neighborhoods devastated by meth use or endangered by meth production. And, as you are all aware, it means fewer casualties among law enforcement officers and other first responders. In an especially good sign, from 2003 to 2007, the number of state and local police officers injured in connection with meth investigations dropped by close to 80 percent.

As we all know, however, criminals change their methods in response to law enforcement tactics. The crackdown on domestic labs and the tightening of controls on over-the-counter drugs containing precursor chemicals led, in large part, to an increase in the production of meth in other countries. That, in turn, has called for new enforcement tactics and increased international cooperation.

Mexico in particular has responded to that call and is a resolute ally in the fight against the meth threat. Through the brave leadership of President Calderon and Attorney General Medina Mora, Mexico has responded to the threat with its own increased restrictions on precursor chemicals and aggressive enforcement action against the manufacturers and traffickers of meth.

Mexico has seized labs, including superlabs, and has hit the traffickers where it really hurts: in their pocketbooks. Most prominent, of course, was the seizure last year by Mexican law enforcement of more than $205 million dollars from the Mexico City residence of a man charged in connection with the manufacture and sale of precursor chemicals. That remains the single largest drug-related cash seizure in world history, and by itself, appears to have put a large dent in the illicit chemicals trade and the related meth trade.

All the data indicate that these efforts – here and abroad – are working. There has been almost a 50% decrease in methamphetamine seizures across our Southwest Border. The price per gram of meth has increased dramatically nationwide – over 84% last year alone. The purity of the meth we are seizing is decreasing – over 25% in that same period. In cities throughout our country, there have been prolonged shortages of meth. And the number of people testing positive for meth in workplace drug screenings has declined more than 50% in the past two years.

We have had great successes in combating the meth problem. But we cannot let our successes diminish our efforts because the threat posed by meth is still too great, and meth producers and smugglers continue to adapt in response to what we do.

For example, in response to increased restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter medicines containing precursor chemicals, it appears that manufacturers are increasingly relying on so-called “smurfers” – that is, people who make repeated retail purchases of these medicines in quantities just below the legal threshold.

And as countries like Mexico have tightened their own controls and increased law enforcement efforts, traffickers have begun to migrate to more hospitable locations. We're already seeing alternative production methods, substitute chemicals, and more use of exotic chemical source, production, and transit countries.

Just as they react to what we do, we must react to each new shift in tactics by meth producers and smugglers. Today, I'd like to focus on four of the tools we are using to do just that.

First, the Department of Justice has many and varied enforcement structures that we can, and do, use to disrupt meth drug trafficking organizations.

Our Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Forces leverage the expertise of state, local, and federal law enforcement to target and disrupt methamphetamine organizations.

These task forces also oversee the Department’s Consolidated Priority Organization Target strategy, and lead the development of our list of the most prolific drug organizations. Notably, 12 of the 53 groups currently on that list are involved with meth, including, for the first time, a pseudoephedrine trafficking organization. These are significant targets, and we're going after them aggressively.

The inter-agency Special Operations Division, led by the DEA, brings together agents and analysts from 14 different agencies with attorneys from the Department's Criminal Division. They coordinate large cases that cross district and national borders, and we've had great success with this approach.

A recent example of this kind of coordination is the interestingly named Operation Funk 49. In that case, a tip from a meth user on the streets of San Diego led initially to large-scale San Diego distributors. From there, the investigation spread to North Carolina, Georgia, and other parts of California, and finally into Mexico. The result was more than 200 arrests nationwide, the seizure of more than 800 pounds of meth (and a lot of cocaine as well), the recovery of 75 weapons, and the forfeiture of over $27 million in U.S. currency.

Second, in order to disrupt the evolving meth supply chain, we are continuing to work with our international partners – not only Mexico, but also other countries, including China, Germany and India, that serve as primary sources of precursor chemicals; and countries in Central and South America, Africa and the Middle East that now serve as the primary transshipment points for those chemicals.

International efforts to monitor and control the lawful trade in precursor chemicals are especially important, because such a large proportion of the chemicals used unlawfully to manufacture meth originates in that trade. The International Narcotics Control Board, for example, works directly with regulatory and law enforcement authorities from major source and recipient nations to identify suspect shipments and, once they are identified, to share that information promptly with the affected countries. In addition, to help monitor the international trade in key chemical precursors, over 100 countries and jurisdictions have shared with the Board estimates of their national needs for certain chemicals, and we are working to increase that number.

The promise of this sort of international collaboration is illustrated well by voluntary international efforts like Operation Crystal Flow, which focused on the trade in precursor chemicals to the Americas, Africa, and West Asia. The six-month operation produced notifications that resulted in the cancellation, seizure, or suspension of 53 tons of precursor chemicals – a quantity capable of producing about 48 tons of meth, with a street value in this country of over $4 billion.

Third, the Department continues to educate prosecutors and agents on how best to bring methamphetamine cases, and to assist other countries in their efforts to do the same. We offer advanced training at our National Advocacy Center in South Carolina. And we have provided significant training resources to our international partners. Through the DEA and the State Department, for example, we have helped train over 4000 Mexican law enforcement officials on meth-related subjects, including clandestine meth lab investigations and response techniques.

We are also taking steps through this training to foster the kind of international collaboration that is crucial. Thus, for example, I’m pleased to announce that we will be inviting representatives from Mexico to participate as both students and presenters at a National Advocacy Center training conference on methamphetamine this September. We intend to bring together those Mexican representatives with prosecutors and agents from our Southwest Border districts to strengthen our joint enforcement efforts.

The United States and Mexico have also joined forces to provide training to Central American law enforcement agencies, as we expect meth traffickers to target that region as they're pushed out of our countries. Prosecutors, police, and regulatory officials have done assessments and provided training in every country in Central America over the last two years. We hope to continue and expand this effort in the hemisphere. Finally, at the Department we have a responsibility not only to uphold and enforce the law, but also to help shape it. Over the last 15 years, we've worked extensively with Congress to pass laws that strengthen our hand.

The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, which took effect in 2006, put products that contain the key ingredients behind the counter at retail stores, limited retail sales, and regulated the much-abused “spot market.” State legislatures have passed their own measures to combat meth manufacturing and to make it more difficult for manufacturers to obtain precursor ingredients.

Groups like this one were crucial in highlighting the need for these reforms. We will continue to rely on your ideas, comments and analyses as we consider whether the law strikes the right balance and try to identify and close gaps that meth manufacturers and traffickers exploit.

So, while there are many reasons to celebrate our successes in combating methamphetamine, there’s still much to be done. We are also trying to draw lessons from our successes in fighting meth that we can apply to other pressing problems. In that connection, it is especially important that you are expanding your focus to the diversion of pharmaceutical controlled substances.

The increased abuse of legally produced drugs is deeply disturbing. Too many young people mistakenly view these drugs as safe for recreational use simply because they're legally produced and available by prescription. And the ease with which both adults and children can order these pills over the Internet is alarming. To help address this issue, the Administration has worked diligently with Senators Feinstein and Sessions to craft legislation to reduce the illegal trafficking of controlled substances over the Internet. That bill, the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act, passed the Senate unanimously last month, and is now pending before the House. We look forward to working with the full Congress to enact this important legislation to provide law enforcement and prosecutors with the additional tools they need.

As with meth, the Department is dedicated to addressing these problems. And we are all too glad to have the assistance of the National Methamphetamine Chemicals Initiative, which has always been at the cutting edge of these issues.

So, thank you for your efforts and for your dedication to these causes, which are of overriding importance to our nation. And thank you for your time this morning.