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Methamphetamine Drug Threat Assessment
March 2005


Methamphetamine is transported by numerous criminal groups using a wide range of conveyances. Mexican criminal groups, local independent dealers, street gangs, OMGs, and Asian criminal groups smuggle methamphetamine into and transport it within the United States. Most methamphetamine is transported via private vehicles although some, particularly tableted methamphetamine, is transported via commercial vehicles, mail services, couriers aboard commercial flights, and maritime conveyances.


Routes From Foreign Source Areas

Most methamphetamine transported from foreign sources is smuggled into the United States overland via private vehicles and commercial vehicles. According to EPIC seizure data, the amount of methamphetamine seized at or between land POEs from 2001 through 2003 was 4,081 kilograms, compared with approximately 85 kilograms seized from commercial flights and 5 kilograms seized from maritime conveyances.

Mexico. Mexican criminal groups based in Mexico smuggle bulk quantities of methamphetamine via couriers traveling in private and commercial vehicles, usually equipped with hidden compartments, or by foot through and between land POEs along the Southwest Border. These criminal groups also smuggle small shipments (2 kg to 4 kg) via couriers aboard commercial flights and via mail services. Methamphetamine shipments often are transported to stash sites and staging areas, primarily in California and Arizona, before the drug is distributed locally, regionally, or nationally.

Methamphetamine transported from production areas in Mexico to the Southwest Border typically has been smuggled through and between POEs in California; however, recent data indicate that more methamphetamine may now be smuggled through or between POEs in Arizona than other Southwest Border states. According to EPIC seizure data, the combined amount of methamphetamine seizures from 2001 through 2003 at or between POEs in California (1,725 kg) was much higher than the amount seized at or between POEs in Texas (1,145 kg), Arizona (1,120 kg), or New Mexico (60 kg). However, in 2003 the amount seized in Arizona (640 kg) surpassed seizures in the other Southwest Border states including California (593 kg), Texas (484 kg), and New Mexico (16 kg) possibly because of specific law enforcement operations conducted in Arizona (see Figure 11).

Figure 11. Methamphetamine seizures at or between ports of entry, in kilograms, 2003.

Chart showing methamphetamine seizures in kilograms at or between ports of entry in 2003, broken down by state.

Source: El Paso Intelligence Center.

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There are seven principal POEs through which methamphetamine is smuggled from Mexico into the United States: Calexico, Otay Mesa, and San Ysidro in California; Nogales in Arizona; and Hidalgo, Laredo, and Pharr in Texas. EPIC seizure data show that from 2001 through 2003 more methamphetamine was seized at the San Ysidro POE (845 kg) than any other, although seizures during the same period at Nogales (645 kg), Calexico (382 kg), Otay Mesa (195 kg), Laredo (136 kg), Hidalgo (133 kg), and Pharr (129 kg) were significant.

Once inside the United States, methamphetamine is transported from principal POEs to drug markets throughout the country, particularly to the Primary Market Areas of Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, and San Francisco.

Southeast Asia. Law enforcement reporting indicates that Asian drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), including ethnic Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Thai, and Vietnamese, transport ice methamphetamine to the Pacific Region from source countries in Asia via mail services and passengers on commercial flights to California and Hawaii. Tableted methamphetamine also is transported to the United States from Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand and Laos, via mail services and couriers on commercial flights. EPIC data show that Honolulu, Los Angeles, and San Francisco International Airports are the primary POEs for methamphetamine tablets smuggled into the United States. Seizure data further show that methamphetamine tablet seizures for 2001 through 2003 combined were slightly higher in San Francisco (33,490 tablets) than in Honolulu (33,470 tablets); seizures in both cities were much higher than in Los Angeles (18,416 tablets). The Louisville POE in Kentucky reported the most methamphetamine tablets seized (111,650) in 2003; however, these tablets were seized in a single incident.

Canada. Methamphetamine smuggling from Canada through and between POEs along the Northern Border occurs at a very low level, and seizure data do not indicate any principal POEs along this border. EPIC data show that from 2001 through 2003, less than 4 kilograms of methamphetamine were seized at or between POEs along the Northern Border.


Routes From Domestic Source Areas

California is the only state with methamphetamine production sufficient to supply wholesale quantities to regional and national markets. Methamphetamine produced in California typically is transported via private vehicle to Primary Market Areas and other significant methamphetamine markets including those in the central and eastern United States.

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