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Link to Home Page. National Drug Intelligence Center
California Drug Threat Assessment Update
May 2002


Methamphetamine is the most significant drug threat to California. The rise in the number of methamphetamine super laboratories has increased significantly in the past 2 years, straining the capacity of law enforcement agencies to adequately conduct investigations and clean up the hazardous chemicals associated with methamphetamine production. The level of methamphetamine abuse in the state is high, and treatment admissions for methamphetamine abuse continue to increase. According to the California Alcohol and Drug Data System, in 2001 there were 47,703 methamphetamine treatment admissions compared with 37,292 admissions in 2000. The number of methamphetamine-related deaths is also high. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) mortality data, during 2000 there were 155 methamphetamine-related deaths in Los Angeles, 112 in San Diego, and 45 in San Francisco.

Chart 1. Drug-Related Treatment Admissions, California, 2000-2001

Chart showing numbers of drug treatment admissions in California for the years 2000 and 2001, broken down by drug type.


Source: California Alcohol and Drug Data System.
Chart 2. Drug-Related Deaths, Selected California Cities, 2000

Chart showing number of drug-related deaths in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco in the year 2000, broken down by drug type.

Source: Drug Abuse Warning Network.

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Methamphetamine produced in Mexico and California is readily available in urban, suburban, and rural areas of the state. Purity levels of low-grade methamphetamine range between 18 percent and 40 percent, while purity levels of high-grade methamphetamine (crystal methamphetamine) range between 93 percent and 98 percent. Crystal methamphetamine (powdered methamphetamine that has been washed with acetone), also known as ice or glass, is available throughout the state. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in the first quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2002, high-grade methamphetamine sold for $13,500 to $18,000 per pound. Low-grade methamphetamine sold for $3,000 to $7,000 per pound. Southeast Asian methamphetamine tablets (Ya Ba) have been seized in cities throughout California--most notably San Diego and San Francisco.

Methamphetamine production is a significant problem throughout California. In 2001 an estimated 1,290 methamphetamine laboratories were seized in the state, according to reporting received by the Los Angeles County Regional Criminal Information Clearinghouse through April 5, 2002. Of these, 202 were superlabs--laboratories capable of producing more than 10 pounds of methamphetamine in 24 hours. Riverside and San Bernardino Counties and the California Central Valley are at the center of large-scale methamphetamine production in California and are commonly referred to as the "methamphetamine capital of the United States."

Table 1. Methamphetamine Laboratory Seizures, California, 1999-2001

  1999 2000 2001*
Superlabs 183 158 202
Laboratories 2,075 1,674 1,290
Superlabs, Percent of Total 8.82 9.44 15.66

Source: Los Angeles County Regional Criminal Information.
*2001 laboratory seizure figures reported through April 5, 2002.
Note: Superlabs account for 80 percent of in-state production.

Methamphetamine production has a profound environmental impact on the state. Chemicals from large-scale laboratory dump sites have killed livestock, contaminated streams, and destroyed large trees and vegetation. In 2001 the California Department of Toxic Substances Control conducted over 2,000 methamphetamine laboratory and dump site cleanups, costing California taxpayers nearly $5.5 million ($2,450 per laboratory on average). This does not include the remediation of buildings, surroundings, and environment, which is typically more expensive and time-consuming.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and criminal groups dominate methamphetamine production and distribution in the state. These organizations and groups use established smuggling and distribution networks to supply methamphetamine to markets throughout California. Local independent dealers, street gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs also distribute the drug.


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