News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 21, 2006

Prepared Remarks of Special Agent in Charge Rodney G. Benson
2006 Pacific Rim Meth Summit
September 21, 2006

Good morning.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to be with you today - the dedicated men and women who are committed to making our communities safer and making a difference in someone’s life.

As many of you know, Clandestine laboratory activity and the illegal manufacturing of methamphetamine have been synonymous to the Pacific Northwest since the early 1980s. However, the landscape of the methamphetamine trade has changed considerably in the past two decades. Traditionally dominated by Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, the meth market has been transformed by the entrance of Mexican drug trafficking organizations, beginning in the 1990s. While use had been generally confined to the western United States, methamphetamine availability, abuse and associated crime have spread like wildfire throughout our Nation.

Every day newspapers throughout the country highlight the profound negative impact methamphetamine is having on families, communities, and the environment. Thousands of children are placed at risk by meth production, both by the harmful by-products generated during manufacture, and by abandonment and neglect at the hands of addicted parents.

As the lead federal drug enforcement official assigned to the Pacific Northwest, I am routinely asked by the media whether taking down a meth drug trafficking organization is really going to make a difference in our community – does it really matter?

While you and I are committed to fighting the methamphetamine scourge through a balanced approach combining enforcement, prevention and treatment, there are those who argue that the war on drugs has failed and that our efforts are futile. This view is primarily shared by those who favor some type of a legalization agenda, and by those who say Europe has the right idea by decriminalizing drugs or moving towards harm reduction.

I believe this way of thinking sells people short. Even more importantly, it sells hope short and it sells our future short. As a member of the law enforcement community and a father of three, I see victories, each step of the way, marked by changed lives, less usage, and reduced availability of illicit drugs. What you and I do does matter and it does make a difference in someone’s life and in our community. And we have plenty of reasons to be optimistic:

  • Meth use in general is declining. The number of new meth users declined by 40% between 2004 and 2005. Past year use declined by 19% while lifetime use declined by more than 33% between 2002 and 2005.

  • In just 1 year of tough state legislation, we have seen locally operated, clandestine labs slashed by 31% nationally. In our region, the reduction is even more significant: 45% in Washington, 60% in Oregon, and 51% in Idaho. And that downward trend should continue across the country between new state laws and the passage of the Combat Meth Act – which will prevent America from becoming a toxic waste dump, and saving thousands of innocent children from contamination.

  • In the Pacific Northwest Region alone, we have reduced the number of chemical registrants by 42 percent between 2000 and 2005. The state of Washington experienced the most significant decrease: 68 percent.

  • And to protect innocent citizens, DEA is creating, for the first time, a national listing on its website of the addresses of properties in which meth labs or chemical dumpsites have been found.

I’m also optimistic because every day I witness the results of our strong partnerships with federal, State, Local and Canadian counterparts in our region. With 56 federally deputized Task Force Officers from 27 State and Local law enforcement agencies working in DEA Task Forces across the Pacific Northwest, we are doing our part to take down methamphetamine trafficking organizations that are making millions of dollars at the expense of our communities and children, and endangering our neighborhoods with their criminal activities. We are not only having success in taking down these groups, but also making great strides in taking away the profits that fuel the cycle of drug trafficking:

  • This year, in the Northwest alone, we have taken away more than $37 million of assets associated with these traffickers – removing the lifeblood of these criminals.

  • This past June, the DEA, working closely with our State and Local law enforcement partners from King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties, arrested 91 individuals and dismantled a major drug trafficking organization that brought drugs from Mexico, including methamphetamine, and distributed them in Seattle, Tacoma and Yakima. 20 Drug Endangered Children were removed from hazardous conditions.

  • In Oregon, DEA and its State and Local partners in Oregon dismantled a methamphetamine “super lab,” capable of producing 90 pounds of meth per reaction, in the small rural community of Brownsville, Linn County, thereby eliminating one of the largest clandestine laboratories in Oregon’s history.

  • In Idaho, DEA and its state and local partners arrested 19 individuals and dismantled a major poly-drug trafficking organization operating in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California and Mexico. The crystal methamphetamine seized in that case had purity levels up to 97 percent.

  • Nationwide, DEA has redirected its Mobile Enforcement Teams to focus on violent methamphetamine trafficking organizations. During the past two years, the Seattle Mobile Enforcement Team has been deployed to Downtown Seattle and the White Center area in Washington; Boise, Idaho; and Portland, Oregon. These teams are deployed on a temporary basis at the request of State and Local law enforcement officials to assist with disrupting and dismantling violent drug trafficking organizations and gangs threatening the local community.

And no! The members of these trafficking groups that DEA targets are not in need of treatment – most of them don’t even use the drugs they peddle to our children. Instead, they are just content to make millions at their expense.

And they are not in need of education – all of them are well aware of the dangers of methamphetamine and the devastating effects their illegal business has on families and individuals, and that’s why most of them don’t even touch the poison they are peddling. What they need is strong law enforcement, and we are happy to oblige.

Our efforts in support of our community do not stop with enforcement:

  • The DEA has provided more than $2 million through the COPS program to clean-up more than 860 clandestine laboratories in the Pacific Northwest during the past two years alone.

  • And more than 300 State and Local law enforcement officers from the Pacific Northwest Region, including Native American tribal police officers, have received Clandestine Laboratory Training through DEA and the National Guard. Each student attending the Basic Safety Certification course receives approximately $2,500 worth of equipment that allows him or her to seize and process clandestine methamphetamine laboratories in a safe manner.

While we have achieved these and many other remarkable successes in the fight against meth domestically, there is still much work to be done because methamphetamine production and trafficking, and its precursor chemicals, are increasingly a global threat. It is not just a problem confined to our backyard.

Today, only 20% of the meth consumed in America is made here; the rest is manufactured and distributed by Mexican organizations operating large super labs in Mexico. And while Mexico may account for nearly 80% of all methamphetamine consumed in the United States, we can also look north of the border to Canada, and see that the number of meth labs seized have increased from 12 in 2000 to 41 in 2004 - a 242% increase - and these labs are larger and more sophisticated than in the past.

And, in a more disturbing trend, we are beginning to see Asian organized crime groups in Canada selling tens of thousands of pills that look like, and are marketed as, “Ecstasy” -- but instead contain significant amounts of methamphetamine. These meth pills are now turning up in the U.S. If this Ecstasy “bait and switch” marketing trend continues, we will see a new host of unwitting meth addicts at potentially younger ages.

Last November, 1 of the 3 meth labs with the largest potential production capacity in the world was seized in Indonesia.

Today, more countries than ever are part of the meth chemical movement chain. Because of law enforcement successes in identifying and stopping precursor chemical shipments in Hong Kong and Mexico, we now see chemicals from India and China being re-routed through new places, such as Egypt and South Africa, before going to Mexico.

And herein lies the next challenge - attacking the problem globally.

With 86 offices in 62 countries, DEA is working with our counterparts around the globe to curb the flow of chemicals to illicit labs – and we are making progress.

For the first time in history, the US Attorney General and the Mexico Attorney General announced in May 2006 a balanced plan to tackle the 80 % of meth supply affecting us today through improved enforcement, increased law enforcement training, improved information sharing, and increased public awareness.

So far, Mexico has determined estimates of legitimate need and accordingly setting limits on the volume of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine in the country. Mexico’s efforts already accomplished a 40 percent reduction in the importation of pseudoephedrine products between 2004 and 2005, and they have pledged to reduce these imports by an additional 40 percent by the end of 2006.

With the recent approval of the Combat Meth Act, DEA is also preparing to estimate the U.S. requirements for pseudoephedrine and ephedrine as well. Hopefully by next year, we will have news of many more countries adopting similar measures.

Together, DEA and our Mexican partners are setting up specialized meth enforcement teams in both countries. We plan to jointly target the most dangerous and most wanted meth traffickers based on shared intelligence. Already, DEA has established new dedicated meth task forces along the Southwest Border.

DEA is also working with our international partners to monitor trade in precursor chemicals and prevent them from getting into the hands of criminal manufacturers. Currently, 126 countries participate in DEA’s Project Prism, which uses pre-export notifications to monitor shipments of ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and other such chemicals. In just 3 years, more than 5 metric tons of 60 milligram tablets of pseudoephdrine have been seized in the U.S., Mexico, and Panama. Had they not been seized, this pseudoephedrine could have easily produced more than 3 metric tons of meth.

Even with these successes we know the meth trafficking problem is ever-evolving. Those of us in law enforcement are accustomed to the challenges of shifting to overcome new trafficking trends. When we eventually see positive results in Mexico, we may see large-scale, Asia-based production and distribution organizations increasingly targeting North America. This means that our success in Mexico should, and will only, make us more vigilant on the international front.

The meth problem is much bigger than just the U.S. and Mexico, and requires a global effort to combat it at every turn. DEA is committed to meeting this challenge. Collectively, we can and are making a difference. What we do does have a profound impact on our communities. What we do does matter, and with your continued hard work and support, what we all do will make a difference in all of our communities.

Thank you.