National Drug Intelligence Center
National Drug Threat Assessment 2006
Significantly decreased domestic methamphetamine production in both small- and large-scale laboratories--a result of increased law enforcement pressure, public awareness campaigns, and regulation on the sale and use of precursor and essential chemicals used in methamphetamine production, particularly pseudoephedrine--has decreased wholesale supplies of domestically produced methamphetamine. However, methamphetamine production in Mexico has increased to levels sufficient to offset domestic production decreases, to maintain distribution of the drug in established markets, and to facilitate further eastward expansion of the drug. Decreases in domestic production have resulted in a significant increase in the control that Mexican DTOs and criminal groups exert over domestic methamphetamine markets because individual users who previously relied on supplies produced in small-scale domestic laboratories are increasingly forced to purchase the drug from Mexican methamphetamine distributors.
Methamphetamine availability is generally stable, with slight increases in eastern drug markets. National-level purity data reveal an overall rise in methamphetamine purity, indicating increased availability of the drug, although some of the increase most likely reflects an increased prevalence of more refined ice methamphetamine (typically much higher purity than powder methamphetamine) that is increasingly being produced by Mexican criminal groups for distribution in domestic markets. Seizure and arrest data are not as definitive as purity data. Methamphetamine-related arrests and seizures have recently decreased. This decrease, however, does not signify a decrease in availability, but a decrease in the level of domestic methamphetamine production. According to law enforcement officials, in previous years many methamphetamine-related arrests and seizures were the result of methamphetamine production investigations and laboratory seizures. As the level of domestic methamphetamine production has declined nationally, particularly since 2003, so has the number of methamphetamine arrests and seizures (see Appendix B, Tables 3 and 4).
While national-level data on methamphetamine availability is arguably inconclusive, anecdotal law enforcement reporting is unmistakable and indicates relatively stable availability in long-established markets (particularly in the Pacific, Southwest, and West Central Regions) and increasing availability in the Great Lakes, Northeast, and Southeast Regions. The anecdotal reporting is supported by NDTS data that show that the percentage of state and local law enforcement agencies reporting high or moderate availability of methamphetamine is substantial (approximately 65%) and has been stable nationally from 2003 through 2005 but has increased in the Great Lakes, Northeast, and Southeast Regions.
Methamphetamine availability will most likely increase in the near term, particularly in eastern states. Significant decreases in wholesale production in domestic laboratories have not reduced domestic availability of the drug; these reductions have been offset by methamphetamine produced by Mexican DTOs at laboratories in Mexico and transported to domestic markets via the U.S.-Mexico border. Moreover, intelligence reports indicate that Mexican DTOs most likely will be able to offset any further declines in domestic methamphetamine production by increasing production levels at laboratories in Mexico, which have not yet reached full capacity.
Domestic methamphetamine production is decreasing; however, increased
methamphetamine production by Mexican DTOs and criminal groups in
Mexico--the principal foreign source of methamphetamine--appears to be
sustaining or slightly increasing domestic wholesale supplies. National
Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System (NCLSS) data show that the number of
reported methamphetamine laboratory seizures decreased slightly from 2003
(10,199) to 2004 (9,895) (see Table 4). This decrease, the first reported
decline since NCLSS became fully operational in 2000, is a strong
indication of a real decrease in the number of operational domestic
laboratories because it occurred even as nationwide participation in NCLSS--a
voluntary reporting system for most state and local agencies--increased.
Moreover, preliminary NCLSS data indicate a significant decrease in
methamphetamine laboratory seizures in 2005. Decreased domestic
methamphetamine production is further evidenced by NCLSS data that show a
sharp decrease in seizures of methamphetamine superlabs--laboratories
capable of producing at least 10 pounds of methamphetamine per production
Increased restrictions on cold preparations and other medicines containing pseudoephedrine in many states have contributed to sharp declines in the number of small-scale methamphetamine laboratories in those states. Similarly, restricted importation of bulk pseudoephedrine from Canada since January 2003 has resulted in significant declines in the number of domestic methamphetamine superlabs. More states are expected to enact precursor chemical control legislation; this will cause domestic methamphetamine production to further decline, particularly in small-scale laboratories.
Methamphetamine production by Mexican DTOs and criminal groups in Mexico has offset recent declines in domestic production, and the ability of these DTOs and criminal groups to offset further decreases in domestic production seems assured, according to intelligence reports. The increase in methamphetamine production in Mexico is dependent upon Mexican DTOs and criminal groups acquiring large quantities of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Currently, they are reportedly obtaining these chemicals from criminal groups in Asia, who have been exporting massive quantities of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine to Mexico since 2000, far exceeding the amount needed for legitimate use in the country.
Transportation of methamphetamine from Mexico appears to be increasing, as evidenced by increasing seizures along the U.S.-Mexico border. The amount of methamphetamine seized at or between U.S.-Mexico border ports of entry (POEs) increased more than 75 percent overall from 2002 (1,129.8 kg), to 2003 (1,733.1 kg), and 2004 (1,984.6 kg).
The sharp increase in methamphetamine seizures at or between
U.S.-Mexico border POEs most likely reflects increased methamphetamine
production in Mexico since 2002. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups are the
primary transporters of Mexico-produced methamphetamine to the United
States. They use POEs primarily in Arizona and southern Texas as entry
points to smuggle methamphetamine into the country from Mexico.
Previously, California POEs were the primary entry points used by these
DTOs and criminal groups; however, increasing methamphetamine production
in the interior of Mexico has resulted in Mexican DTOs and criminal groups
shifting some smuggling routes eastward. Methamphetamine transportation
from Mexico to the United States by these DTOs and criminal groups is
likely to increase further in the near term as production in Mexico-based
methamphetamine laboratories continues to increase in order to offset
declines in domestic production.
Mexican criminal groups control most wholesale distribution of powder and ice methamphetamine. According to DEA and HIDTA reporting, Mexican criminal groups are the predominant wholesale methamphetamine distributors in the country--even in the Northeast and Florida/Caribbean Regions--supplying various midlevel distributors, including other Mexican criminal groups, with powder methamphetamine and, increasingly, ice methamphetamine. Mexican control over wholesale and midlevel methamphetamine distribution is likely to increase as a greater proportion of wholesale methamphetamine production occurs in Mexico-based laboratories. Anticipated declines in domestic methamphetamine production, particularly by independent producers, will strengthen the position of Mexican criminal groups as midlevel and retail distributors, since more individual users who previously produced their own methamphetamine in small-scale laboratories will become increasingly dependent upon consistent supplies from Mexican methamphetamine distributors.
Although most national-level methamphetamine distribution centers are located in western states (see Appendix A, Map 6), the eastward expansion of methamphetamine has recently resulted in Atlanta's emergence as a principal distribution center for the drug. In fact, much of the methamphetamine distribution by Mexican criminal groups in the Southeast Region is now coordinated through Atlanta. Much of the midlevel and retail distribution of methamphetamine throughout the country is controlled by Mexican criminal groups and Hispanic street gangs; however, Caucasian independent dealers have been the predominant retail distributors, particularly in rural areas, where much of the drug is distributed and consumed. The predominance of Caucasian independent distributors at the retail level, however, will most likely diminish significantly as domestic production of methamphetamine wanes.
Overall methamphetamine use appears to be stable, at least among casual users. According to NSDUH data, rates of past year use for methamphetamine among individuals aged 12 and older have not shown any significant change over the last 3 years (see Appendix B, Table 1). Adults are the largest user cohort for methamphetamine, and NSDUH data show relatively stable rates of past year use for methamphetamine among both young adults (aged 18-25) and older adults (aged 26 and older).
Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) data show that the number of treatment admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities for methamphetamine has increased since the mid-1990s, most likely because of increased access to drug treatment and increases in treatment referrals from drug courts (see Appendix C, Chart 1). Also contributing to rising treatment admissions for methamphetamine is a very high recidivism rate among individuals seeking treatment for abuse of the drug. As a result, many methamphetamine users seek treatment several times before they successfully stop use of the drug.
Although methamphetamine use among casual users appears stable, use
among chronic users is not likely to decline in the near term. Despite
sharp increases in the number of admissions to publicly funded treatment
facilities for methamphetamine use, primarily in the West and Midwest,
particularly since 2000, progress in reducing methamphetamine use among
frequent users is slow because of the highly addictive nature of the drug
and high recidivism rates for methamphetamine addicts pursuing treatment.
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