DEA Congressional Testimony
April 24, 2000


Statement by:

William H. Hansen
Assistant Special Agent in Charge
El Paso Field Division
Drug Enforcement Administration


Before the:

House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime

Date:

April 24, 2000

Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.


Congresswoman Wilson, Members of the Subcommittee: I am pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the growing dangers that methamphetamine trafficking, use and abuse, and the spread of clandestine drug laboratories, pose to the citizens of our country. It is fair to say that methamphetamine is one of the most significant law enforcement and social issues facing our nation today, and it has affected specific regions of the country in a dramatic fashion.

Methamphetamine trafficking and use have increased exponentially over the past six years, and my testimony today will provide the subcommittee with information on how, where and why this has occurred, and how federal law enforcement is working with state and local partners across the nation to address the methamphetamine problem.

While methamphetamine is not an entirely new problem in the United States, about six years ago an upsurge in methamphetamine trafficking and abuse began taking hold in many regions of the nation, starting on the West Coast, and rapidly expanding into the Midwest and Southwestern United States. DEA statistics indicate that in 1993, DEA seized a total of 218 methamphetamine labs nationwide. Current DEA statistics indicate that in 1999, DEA alone seized 2,021 clandestine laboratories and that the total number of laboratories seized by Federal, state and local law enforcement officers nationwide was over 7,000.

Since 1996, the Southwest United States has experienced a significant increase in the use and availability of methamphetamine. DEA El Paso continues to confront a dual methamphetamine problem: not only is methamphetamine transported into the El Paso Division by organized criminal drug trafficking groups operating from California and the Southwest border, but methamphetamine is produced in hundreds of local clandestine laboratories by loose-knit networks of individuals. These clandestine laboratories represent a substantial health and safety threat to communities. The flammable, explosive, toxic, and carcinogenic chemicals used in the manufacturing process pose an immediate and long-term threat to law enforcement, fire department, and emergency services personnel, as well as the general public. Fires and explosions are a constant threat in this type of environment. The threat to the environment is substantial, due to the illegal and unsafe disposal methods of clandestine methamphetamine lab operators. These environmental hazards are very expensive to clean up; the average cost of a clandestine lab clean up in New Mexico now runs approximately $5,000.

DEA nationwide methamphetamine arrests in 1999 totaled 8,783. Of those, 97 methamphetamine arrests were made in New Mexico. Nationwide methamphetamine seizures have increased significantly since 1995, according to information from DEA's database. In New Mexico, methamphetamine seizures have increased from approximately one kilogram in 1995 to approximately 50 kilograms in 1999. After a slight decline in 1998, preliminary data from 1999 indicates that methamphetamine seizures have surpassed prior levels. Methamphetamine seizures within the El Paso Field Division (EPFD) remain confined to the jurisdictions of DEA Albuquerque and DEA Las Cruces. For instance, on December 29, 1999, DEA Las Cruces reported the seizure of approximately 22 pounds of methamphetamine by the U.S. Border Patrol at a checkpoint north of Las Cruces. Also in December 1999, approximately 10 kilograms of methamphetamine were seized by law enforcement. In February 2000, the New Mexico State Police seized 14 kilograms of methamphetamine in Gallup, NM, making two arrests. DEA reports of methamphetamine seizures indicate a 37 percent increase for Calendar Year 1999 in New Mexico, which is considerably higher than the nationwide increase of 11.6 percent.

The EPFD reports a significant increase in domestically produced methamphetamine. DEA Albuquerque (ADO) seized 20 clandestine laboratories operating in New Mexico in calendar year 1997 and 29 laboratories in calendar year 1998. In 1999, the ADO seized a total of 57 laboratories. The production capability of most of the local clandestine labs is usually in the range of two to four ounces per process. The pseudoephedrine reduction method of methamphetamine synthesis continues to be the most popular, although the Birch, or "Nazi" method of methamphetamine production is starting to gain limited popularity in towns such as Roswell and Alamogordo, New Mexico. Because of the heightened attention paid to iodine and red phosphorous purchases, some methamphetamine laboratory operators have found that using chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia and lithium helps them to avoid law enforcement detection. Precursor chemicals for methamphetamine typically are purchased in the United States.

While methamphetamine seizures in New Mexico increased significantly since 1995, DEA Albuquerque reports that the availability of methamphetamine in the state has remained relatively constant over the past two years. Methamphetamine sells for $600 to $1,000 per ounce and $18,000 per kilogram.

Historically, the suppliers of methamphetamine throughout the United States have been outlaw motorcycle gangs and numerous other independent trafficking groups. Although these groups continue to produce and distribute methamphetamine, organized crime polydrug trafficking groups operating from Mexico and California dominate wholesale methamphetamine trafficking in the United States. Over the past few years, these groups have revolutionized the production of this drug by operating large-scale laboratories in Mexico and the United States that are capable of producing unprecedented quantities of methamphetamine. The groups have saturated the western U.S. with this product and are increasingly moving their product to markets in the eastern United States.

Recent information suggests that Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, most notably the Hells Angels and the Bandidos, are producing their own methamphetamine rather than relying upon California-and Mexico-based organizations. This is primarily due to the decreased purity of the methamphetamine supplied by the California-and Mexico-based organizations.

The violence associated with methamphetamine trafficking and use has also produced a collateral impact on the crime statistics of communities across the U.S. Methamphetamine-related violence usually results from the user under the influence of the drug; users who committed violent acts to obtain money or more of the drug; and distributors who used violence in the course of conducting their illicit business. Television viewers nationwide recall watching live footage of a paranoid methamphetamine addict who stole a tank from a National Guard armory and went on a car crushing rampage in the San Diego area. Another methamphetamine addict here in New Mexico beheaded his son after experiencing hallucinations in which he believed his son was Satan. Every community with a methamphetamine abuse problem has experienced violence in some form or another. However, most commonly, this violence routinely presents itself in the form of domestic violence.

Domestically Produced Methamphetamine

While the vast majority of methamphetamine available in the United States is produced and trafficked by the well-organized groups from Mexico, domestic production of methamphetamine is also a significant problem. The production level of these laboratories, often makeshift and described as mom and pop labs, is relatively low. However, the large number of these labs and the environmental and law enforcement concerns associated with their operation, poses major problems to state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as to DEA.

Methamphetamine is, in fact, a very simple drug to produce. A user can go to retail stores and easily purchase the vast majority of the ingredients necessary to manufacture the drug. Precursor chemicals such as pseudoephedrine can be extracted from common, over-the-counter cold medications. A clandestine lab operator can utilize common items as substitutes for sophisticated laboratory equipment. Unlike Fentanyl, LSD, or other types of synthetic drugs, it does not take a college-educated chemist to produce methamphetamine.

Despite the fact that the majority of these laboratories produce relatively small amounts of methamphetamine, the proliferation of this type of laboratory has imposed terrible burdens on law enforcement agencies and departments. In some respects, the methamphetamine problem is synonymous with the clandestine laboratory problem and this issue has been the focus of much media attention in recent months. Although the methamphetamine problem and the clandestine lab problem are both part of the same drug abuse mosaic, in reality, they are somewhat different issues, which may require a different law enforcement response in order to successfully combat the spiraling increases in both arenas.

The threats posed by clandestine labs are not limited to fire, explosion, poison gas, and booby traps; the chemical contamination of the hazardous waste contained in these labs also poses a serious danger to our nation's environment. Each pound of methamphetamine generated in a clandestine lab can result in as much as five pounds of toxic waste, which clandestine lab operators routinely dump into our nations streams, rivers, and sewage systems to cover up the evidence of their illegal operations. Because of the possibility of explosions and direct contact with toxic fumes and hazardous chemicals, law enforcement officers who raid clandestine drug labs are now required to take special hazardous materials (HAZMAT) handling training.

The highly toxic and flammable chemicals involved make these rudimentary laboratories ticking time bombs that require specialized training to dismantle and clean up. DEA is pleased to have certified thousands of state and local law enforcement officers in raiding and dismantling them and provide funds for cleaning them up.

The size of the clandestine lab does not matter when it comes to the danger level involved in a clandestine laboratory raid. The smaller laboratory is usually more dangerous than the larger operations because the cooks are generally less experienced chemists who often have little regard for the safety issues that arise when dealing with explosive and poisonous chemicals. However, the size of a clandestine laboratory can be a significant factor in the costs associated with the hazardous waste cleanup. Larger production laboratories usually have larger quantities of toxic chemicals, and therefore, more significant hazardous waste disposal charges. DEA records indicate that the average costs of cleanup for clandestine labs seized throughout New Mexico have ranged from $3,000 - $9,000 depending on the size of the lab.

DEA's Strategy to Fight Methamphetamine

The National Methamphetamine Strategy encompasses several elements, including: Targeting and building cases against the major methamphetamine traffickers based in Mexico and against their surrogates operating in the United States today; assisting state and local law enforcement agencies in making cases against methamphetamine manufacturers and traffickers working in the United States; partnering with state and local law enforcement to assist with training and laboratory clean-up; and controlling the precursor chemicals necessary for methamphetamine production in Mexico and the United States.

DEA Clandestine Laboratory Safety/Certification Training

In 1987, DEA created a special training unit for clandestine laboratory safety/certification training which is located at Quantico, Virginia. This unit originated in response to concerns from DEA management that the agency's Special Agents and task force officers were being exposed to hazardous, toxic, and carcinogenic chemicals while executing raids on clandestine drug laboratories. Some DEA field offices, primarily in the state of California, were reporting that Special Agents and officers appeared to be suffering serious health problems as a result of both short and long-term exposure to the chemical and toxic fumes encountered when processing these drug laboratories. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, 29 C.F.R. 1910.12, now mandates that all federal, state, and local law enforcement officers must receive at least 24 hours of hazardous chemical handling training (specific Occupational Safety, Health and Administration (OSHA) standards for courses and equipment), prior to entering a clandestine drug laboratory.

The dangers associated with the clandestine manufacture of methamphetamine are clear. In 1999, the National Clandestine Laboratory Database reports indicate that 64 fires and 40 explosions were reported at clan labs and that approximately 6 people are killed every year from explosions and/or fires in clandestine labs. Many more receive serious burns or develop serious health problems from clandestine laboratory explosions and fires. There have been reports of apartment complexes and a $3.5 million hotel which burned down as the result of drug lab "cooks" that turned into chemical time bombs. Recent years have seen an increase in the number of injuries to untrained police officers who investigate and/or dismantle clandestine laboratories without utilizing the proper safety equipment.

Reports of property damage and injuries to children from drug lab disasters have also increased throughout the nation. According to DEA statistics, approximately 90% of the clan labs located in private residences had children either on site or present at the time of the seizure.

In response to this serious problem and to satisfy the training requirement established by OSHA, DEA has initiated an aggressive training schedule to increase the number of clandestine laboratory safety schools provided to state and local police officers throughout the nation. The DEA Clandestine Laboratory Safety Program conducts its safety/certification schools at the DEA Clandestine Laboratory Training Facility in Quantico, Virginia. An auxiliary regional training facility has also been established for the Midwest U.S., near Kansas City. This specialized unit frequently conducts in-service training and seminars for law enforcement groups such as the Clandestine Laboratory Investigators Association (CLIA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). In addition, the DEA Clandestine Laboratory Training Unit provides police awareness training seminars to law enforcement organizations across the U.S., as well as the annual re-certification training which is mandated by OSHA regulations.

Students who graduate from the DEA Clandestine Lab School in Quantico, Virginia, are issued over $2,000 in specialized clandestine lab safety equipment. Some of the items issued include: Level III nomex fire-resistant ballistic vests; nomex fire-resistant jackets, pants, and gloves; chemical resistant boots; air purifying respirators; chemical testing equipment, explosion-proof flashlights; chemical resistant clothing for conducting hazard assessments and processing drug labs; and goggles to prevent eye injuries in the event a suspect throws acid or other dangerous chemicals at law enforcement personnel. Since 1997, DEA has conducted a total of 103 clandestine laboratory certification schools for 3,803 Special Agents and state and local law enforcement personnel across the country. The officers trained in the past three years account for more than 80% of all officers currently clan lab certified in the country.

In Fiscal Year1999, DEA received a total of $11.0 million through the Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) program for state and local methamphetamine related training and hazardous waste cleanup services. This total included $6.0 million to provide for clandestine laboratory certification training and $5.0 million for contracted hazardous waste disposal services for state and local law enforcement personnel and organizations across the United States.

Unlike in past years, funding provided by the Congress through the COPS methamphetamine program in FY 2000 will be distributed directly to select state and local law enforcement organizations throughout the country instead of to DEA for necessary training and cleanup services. It should be noted that many states that received COPS funding directly are not using these funds for cleanup and are instead relying on additional federal support. Through the use of residual COPS carryover funding from 1998 and 1999, as well as some direct resources, DEA will continue to provide training and cleanup services for those remaining state and local law enforcement organizations, including New Mexico law enforcement offices and personnel, who were not covered in the FY 2000 appropriation. However, due to the lack of additional COPS funding being directed to DEA in FY 2000, our resources, particularly in the area of clandestine laboratory cleanup, are extremely limited; as you are aware, the COPS funds dedicated solely to state and local clan lab cleanups were depleted in early March of this year. DEA is currently working with the DOJ, OMB and the U.S. Congress to secure additional FY 2000 resources for the agency's state and local clandestine laboratory training and cleanup programs.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Today, we are optimistic that our chemical control efforts, combined with aggressive anti-methamphetamine law enforcement efforts in the local police arena, have been the catalyst for the decrease in methamphetamine purity. However, success in combating the smaller lab-based methamphetamine problem may be much more difficult to achieve. In recent months, several DEA offices in the Midwest and California have reported that the purity of Mexican methamphetamine has significantly dropped in the majority of controlled purchases and seizures. Many law enforcement agencies in the Midwest and California are now reporting that the previous high purity (80%+ range) of Mexican methamphetamine has now dropped to less than 30%. Information provided by DEA reporting systems shows that nationally, the average purity for methamphetamine has dropped from 60.5 percent in 1995 to 27.2 percent in 1999.

Conclusion

Methamphetamine, and other controlled substances, which are produced in clandestine laboratories, provides an increasing threat to drug law enforcement personnel as well as the citizens of our nation. The vast power and influence of international drug trafficking syndicates, particularly those based in Mexico, continues to grow. Their impact on communities around our nation is devastating.

Domestically based drug traffickers who engage in methamphetamine production and trafficking are also a major threat to our nation's stability. Since methamphetamine is relatively easy to produce, and with the proliferation of information on methamphetamine production available on the Internet, unscrupulous individuals will continue to take part in this illegal and dangerous enterprise. Traffickers need less than$1,000 worth of chemicals to make methamphetamine worth more than $10,000 in a trailer, hotel room, or house anywhere in the United States.

Reports of property damage and injuries to children from drug lab disasters have also increased throughout the nation. Costs associated with clandestine methamphetamine production extend to neighbors, business and property owners, and the community in general.

As the number of clandestine labs operated by both internationally-based criminal organizations and small, independent "mom and pop" operations continues to escalate, the chances of narcotics officers or other personnel, inadvertently encountering clandestine labs will become more and more prevalent. In the years to come, DEA will continue to work to improve its efforts in the methamphetamine arena to ensure a safe future for both our law enforcement personnel dedicated to addressing this dangerous problem as well as our citizens. I thank you for providing me with this opportunity to address the Subcommittee and I look forward to taking any questions you may have on this important issue.

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