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Pennsylvania Drug Threat Assessment
June 2001


Methamphetamine production, distribution, and abuse in Pennsylvania are limited, although there is some evidence of an increase in some areas of the commonwealth. Most of the increase in production has occurred in rural areas, suggesting that abuse there has risen as well. The Pennsylvania State Police and the U.S. Attorneys in the Middle and Western Districts of Pennsylvania report that methamphetamine production, distribution, and abuse are emerging problems. The production, availability, and abuse of higher-purity d-methamphetamine have been rising, and those of lower-purity dl-methamphetamine have been dropping in the state. Most methamphetamine is distributed in ounce to multiounce quantities; larger quantities are available primarily in the Philadelphia area. Local independent dealers and OMGs are the state's primary methamphetamine distributors.


Methamphetamine abuse is low in Pennsylvania. Admissions to state treatment facilities with methamphetamine as the primary drug of abuse accounted for less than 1 percent of all nonalcohol drug treatment admissions in 2000, although they did increase slightly from 136 in 1999 to 155 in 2000. NHSDA data for 1999 indicate that 3 percent of individuals in Pennsylvania aged 12 or older have used methamphetamine in their lifetimes. Past-year use was reported by only 0.1 percent of individuals surveyed. Methamphetamine-related ED mentions in Philadelphia reached a 7-year low in 1999, dropping from 110 mentions in 1993 to 47 mentions in 1999. The Philadelphia Police Department reported in 2000 that methamphetamine popularity in the city was declining. However, law enforcement in Jefferson County, Titusville, and Pottsville report that methamphetamine abuse increased in those areas in 2000.

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Methamphetamine throughout the state is available in small quantities, and larger quantities are available primarily in the Philadelphia area. DEA Philadelphia reports that methamphetamine remains readily available in southeastern Pennsylvania, particularly in Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties. An increase in the availability of suspected d-methamphetamine in Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton (all located in eastern Pennsylvania) was reported. Methamphetamine is readily available in ounce to pound quantities in parts of Schuylkill County, corresponding with high abuse in that area. In central Pennsylvania, wholesale quantities of methamphetamine are limited, but ounce quantities are usually available.

Methamphetamine-related investigations, arrests, and seizures increased in 2000 in Pennsylvania, according to law enforcement reporting. Approximately 6.6 percent of convicted federal criminal defendants in the state were sentenced for a methamphetamine-related primary offense in 1999, compared with 12.8 percent nationally. Methamphetamine-related sentences were highest in the U.S. Attorney Eastern District at 9.1 percent and lowest in the Western District at 1.6 percent. In the Middle District, 4.3 percent of sentences were methamphetamine-related.

The price of methamphetamine remained stable in 2000. Generally, methamphetamine costs from $8,000 to $23,000 per pound and has a purity of 25 to 60 percent. According to the Middle Atlantic-Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network (MAGLOCLEN), the price of a gram of methamphetamine averages $80.



Because methamphetamine abuse and distribution are low in Pennsylvania, methamphetamine-related violence is limited. However, violence might increase if methamphetamine activity rises. Methamphetamine users sometimes resort to violent means to obtain the drug, and methamphetamine abusers often experience feelings of paranoia, fright, delusion, and confusion, which can cause them to act violently without provocation.

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Historically, most methamphetamine production in Pennsylvania has occurred in Philadelphia using the P2P method, a process that yields low-purity dl-methamphetamine (see text box). Production now occurs in other parts of the state in both urban and rural areas, and some laboratory operators are using the red phosphorus, Nazi, or cold cook methods to produce higher purity d-methamphetamine. The introduction of high purity d-methamphetamine to the market is attracting college students, young professionals, minorities, and women in addition to Caucasian, blue-collar workers, who have been the traditional methamphetamine users.

Common Methamphetamine Production Methods

Cold Cook Method: Ephedrine, iodine, and red phosphorus are mixed in a plastic container, and methamphetamine oil precipitates into another plastic container through a connecting tube. The oil is heated, typically by sunlight or by burying the containers in hot sand, to produce small quantities of highly pure d-methamphetamine.

Nazi Method: Primary chemicals are sodium or lithium metal and ephedrine. This method usually yields up to ounce quantities of highly pure d-methamphetamine and is frequently used by independent Caucasian methamphetamine cookers.

Red phosphorus Method: Also known as the "Mexican" or "ephedrine reduction" method. Primary chemicals are ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, hydriodic acid, and red phosphorus. Frequently used by Mexican organizations, or cookers trained by Mexicans, this method produces large amounts of d-methamphetamine.

P2P Method: Primary chemicals are phenyl-2-propanone and aluminum. Synthesis process is complicated and is normally used by outlaw motorcycle gangs to produce low-purity dl-methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine laboratory activity is limited in Pennsylvania as a whole, although law enforcement reports recent increases in some areas. EPIC data indicate one methamphetamine laboratory seizure by federal authorities in Pennsylvania in 1998, eight in 1999, and one in the first quarter of 2001. Of the eight laboratories seized in 2000, five used the P2P method, two used the Nazi method, and one used the ephedrine reduction method to produce methamphetamine. The Pennsylvania State Police reported seizing five d-methamphetamine laboratories during the first 5 months of 2001. DEA Pittsburgh reports an increase in the number of methamphetamine laboratories in their jurisdiction, having seized six in western Pennsylvania from August 2000 to May 2001. The Pennsylvania Bureau of Narcotics in Erie reports a large increase in the number of seizures of methamphetamine laboratories, most of them using the red phosphorus method.

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In Philadelphia, traditional organized crime elements, OMGs, and other independent groups are the chief manufacturers of methamphetamine. These groups produce ounce to multipound quantities. DEA Philadelphia reports that the P2P method of manufacturing is the preferred method in Philadelphia, despite the increased popularity of the Nazi and red phosphorus methods. Philadelphia remains a major source for dl-methamphetamine produced in the state. The majority of methamphetamine manufactured in Philadelphia is sold in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey.

The Philadelphia Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that the distribution of methamphetamine's precursor chemicals is a lucrative business for organized crime groups. The Philadelphia Police Department reports that Mexican and Russian criminal groups and Italian organized crime groups are involved in chemical procurement in the city. Independent dealers are involved as well. For instance, on April 4, 2000, a Delaware County man pled guilty to selling $72 million worth of P2P on the black market, enough to produce 10 to 13 pounds of methamphetamine. The individual sold the P2P for $10,000 to $35,000 per gallon. This arrest, which made P2P more difficult to obtain, may have contributed to the decline of P2P methamphetamine production in Philadelphia, thereby opening the market to other forms of methamphetamine.

Local independent dealers, primarily Caucasians, are responsible for most of the methamphetamine production in western Pennsylvania. Their laboratories typically produce small quantities of high-purity d-methamphetamine for personal use and limited distribution to friends and associates. These low-production laboratories are frequently referred to as "tweaker," "Mom and Pop," or "Beavis and Butthead" laboratories. The following are some examples of methamphetamine activity in western Pennsylvania:

  • In 2000, DEA Philadelphia reported the seizure of a methamphetamine laboratory operating in a mobile trailer in western Pennsylvania that was capable of producing 10 to 12 ounces of methamphetamine per week. The laboratory operator had combined pseudoephedrine extracted from diet capsules with red phosphorus and iodine to produce methamphetamine. He had purchased the diet capsules by the case in Ohio and had ordered the red phosphorus from Louisville, Kentucky.
  • On September 15, 2000 an individual arrested in Seattle told authorities he had a methamphetamine laboratory in his apartment in Hampton, a suburb of Pittsburgh. The individual reportedly had purchased precursor chemicals in Oregon and was attempting to transport them back to Pittsburgh by way of Seattle when a bottle of hydrobromic acid broke in his duffel bag and started to smolder and emit fumes.
  • In February 2001, a Centerville, Crawford County man was charged with manufacturing methamphetamine in a shed near his home. Intelligence indicates that the individual was possibly using the cold cook production method.
  • In March 2001, authorities seized an active methamphetamine laboratory in Crawford County that was operated by residents of the county. The laboratory used the red phosphorus method of production and had the capacity to produce at least 2 pounds of methamphetamine at a time. The laboratory operators had purchased precursor chemicals from an Erie chemical company.

Methamphetamine production is a serious safety and environmental concern. The production process creates toxic waste that endangers law enforcement personnel, emergency response teams, and the environment. Methamphetamine laboratories typically produce 5 to 6 pounds of toxic waste for every pound of methamphetamine. Illegal manufacturers typically dump waste in the local area, contaminating ground water and killing vegetation. Cleanup and remediation of laboratory sites, mandated by federal law, can be very expensive. A single laboratory site cleanup can cost $5,000 to $60,000.

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In addition to being locally manufactured, methamphetamine available in Pennsylvania is transported from sources in California, Florida, and Mexico. Local independent dealers and OMGs are the primary transporters of methamphetamine to Pennsylvania. They transport the drug along major highways in private or rented vehicles, or they send methamphetamine to the state via express mail. On June 5, 2000, law enforcement dismantled a criminal group that transported methamphetamine from California to Bloomsburg (Columbia County) on Interstate 80, which runs from California to Pennsylvania. A member of the group claimed that he was transporting more than 42 pounds of methamphetamine concealed in a truckload of walnuts and pistachios. The methamphetamine was purchased in California for $10,000 per pound and was to be sold in Pennsylvania for $25,000 per pound. Also, in February 2000, the Blair County Drug Task Force seized methamphetamine in an express mail package arriving from Bakersfield, California.



Most methamphetamine is distributed in ounce to multiounce quantities; larger quantities are available primarily in the Philadelphia area. Local independent dealers and OMGs are the state's primary methamphetamine distributors. In April 2000, two residents of Nanty Glo in western Pennsylvania were arrested for distributing methamphetamine. Authorities seized 1 pound of the drug. The estimated revenue from the distribution of the seized methamphetamine was $50,000.


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