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MDMA is the most widely used illicit substance in the Other Dangerous Drugs (ODDs) category (see text box); availability and distribution of the drug are increasing. Canada-based Asian DTOs and, to a lesser extent, other criminal groups are producing the drug in large clandestine laboratories in Canada for distribution in the United States. In fact, the high and possibly increasing level of MDMA production in Canada is contributing to expanded distribution of the drug in the United States. Adding to the threat posed by the drug is the increasing adulteration of MDMA tablets with highly addictive synthetic drugs, particularly methamphetamine.

Other Dangerous Drugs

The availability and abuse of ODDs LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), and PCP (phencyclidine) have declined to levels much lower than those for the major drugs of abuse and MDMA. These drugs have been reported to be a very low threat and low priority for law enforcement for the last several years. Reduced consumption and limited national distribution networks place these drugs at levels that are of low to moderate concern for law enforcement, notwithstanding the possibility of sporadic, localized outbreaks. Therefore, they will not be discussed at length in this report.

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Strategic Findings

MDMA production in Canada, the primary source of MDMA in the United States, is high and possibly increasing, fueling a rise in MDMA smuggling through the U.S.-Canada border. MDMA production in Canada is very high and may be increasing. According to RCMP, 18 MDMA laboratory incidents22 were reported in Canada in 2007, a figure equal to the highest number ever recorded (see Figure 24). RCMP further reports that most of these laboratories were operated by Asian criminal groups that acquire bulk quantities of precursor chemicals from China (see text box). According to the RCMP, all of the MDMA laboratories seized in Canada in 2007 were superlabs.23 The high level of production reported in 2007 has continued in 2008. For example, during one incident in June 2008, Canadian law enforcement officials seized one of the largest MDMA laboratories ever discovered in Canada. The laboratory contained more than 200 kilograms of pressed tablets and more than 100 kilograms of MDMA powder, sufficient to produce more than one million MDMA tablets in total.24

MDMA Precursor Chemical Trafficking From China to Canada

According to RCMP, Asian organized crime groups smuggle and import precursor and essential chemicals from China to Canada for use in MDMA production. MDMA producers acquire the primary precursor chemical MDP2P (3,4-methylenedioxyphenyl-2-propanone) and other essential chemicals through relationships with illicit chemical brokers in China. MDP2P typically is smuggled from China to Canada in sea containers in quantities of 1 ton or more. In addition to the MDP2P, other precursors such as sodium borohydride, iodine crystals, and methylamine HCL are legally imported in bulk from China to Canada, since these chemicals are not controlled substances.

Figure 24. MDMA Laboratory Incidents in Canada, 2003-2007*

Chart showing MDMA laboratory incidents in Canada for the years 2003-2007.

Source: Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
* All 18 incidents in 2007 occurred at superlabs.

The flow of MDMA into the United States from Canada has increased as production of the drug in Canada has risen. According to NSS data, the amount of MDMA seized at or between Northern Border POEs increased 903 percent (170,957 to 1,715,153 dosage units) from 2003 to 2007. Most MDMA seizures occurred at or between POEs in Washington, adjacent to British Columbia, where most MDMA is produced in Canada. In fact, 56.3 percent of the MDMA seized in 2007 was seized at or between POEs in Washington.

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There are no data available to precisely determine the relative U.S. market share for Canadian MDMA, domestically produced MDMA, or MDMA produced in Europe. Nevertheless, law enforcement reporting indicates that MDMA produced in Canada is the primary source of MDMA in the United States. NSS data show that most of the MDMA seized at U.S. POEs is seized along the U.S.-Canada border. Moreover, of the 217 OCDETF cases related to MDMA trafficking in 2006 and 2007, 150 indicated a source or origin country for the MDMA. Of those 150 cases, 74 specifically identified Canadian MDMA producers or wholesale distributors as the source of the drug. Domestic MDMA seizure data may also illustrate the influence of Canadian MDMA production over availability of the drug in the United States. As production of MDMA has increased in Canada, so has the amount of MDMA seized in the United States. For example, NSS data show that during the period of increasing MDMA production in Canada from 2003 through 2007, MDMA seizures in the United States increased sharply overall (see Figure 25). Half-year data for 2008 indicate that this trend has continued as seizure totals from January through June 2008 outpaced average seizure totals for January through June 2003 through 2006 (7,760,233 dosage units). Law enforcement reporting does not indicate any other source of MDMA, either from Europe, Mexico, South America, or domestic production, that would account for this increase in domestic MDMA seizures.

Figure 25. MDMA Seizure Totals in the United States, 2003-2008,* in Dosage Units

Chart showing MDMA seizure totals in the United States for the years 2003-2008.

Source: National Seizure System.
* Data run September 15, 2008.

Domestic MDMA production is very limited and is not a significant source of the drug nationally. According to NSS data, the number of MDMA laboratories seized in the United States decreased from 19 laboratories in 2006 to eight laboratories in 2007 and one laboratory by the end of July 2008. Furthermore, domestic MDMA laboratories are typically much smaller than those seized in Canada. For example, of the 28 MDMA laboratories seized in the United States from 2006 through June 2008, 25 were producing 1 pound or less per production cycle, whereas only two were reported as superlabs.

MDMA distribution and abuse are expanding in some areas of the country, particularly among African American and Hispanic individuals. Law enforcement reporting and investigative data indicate that Asian DTOs are the principal wholesale suppliers of MDMA in the United States, and drug demand data show that Caucasians are the predominant users of the drug. However, new groups are distributing the drug, particularly at the retail level, to a more diverse user group in some areas. For example, law enforcement officials in several HIDTAs (Appalachia, Atlanta, Chicago, Lake County, Michigan, Midwest, Milwaukee, and Ohio) report increased retail MDMA distribution by African American and Hispanic gangs, individuals, or criminal groups. Many of these same HIDTAs as well as others (Atlanta, Chicago, Lake County, Michigan, Milwaukee, Northwest, Ohio, Oregon, Rocky Mountain, and Washington/Baltimore) have also reported increased MDMA availability and abuse. For example, the Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring (OSAM) Network located within the Ohio HIDTA area reports that MDMA availability is increasing in its area and that use is increasing among African Americans in Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo.

The distribution of MDMA tablets that are adulterated with other dangerous substances may be increasing in the United States. Law enforcement and intelligence reporting reveals that MDMA tablets are often adulterated with substances including methamphetamine, MDA (3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine), LSD, BZP (N-benzylpiperazine), TFMPP (1-(3-trifluoromethylphenyl)piperazine), ketamine, and caffeine. Adulterated MDMA tablets have been seized in many states throughout the country, including California, Colorado, Georgia, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. According to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Canada-based DTOs are increasingly producing adulterated MDMA tablets, and in some cases these tablets do not contain any MDMA, but rather are a combination of other substances, particularly methamphetamine because it is easier and less expensive to produce than MDMA. In some instances, tablets that are distributed as MDMA contain very little or no MDMA. For example, in October 2007 in Colville, Washington, 135 kilograms of what appeared to be MDMA was seized; approximately half was a combination of MDMA and methamphetamine, while the other half contained no MDMA at all but, rather, BZP with methamphetamine.

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Intelligence Gap

Annual estimates for MDMA production in Canada and the United States are not available. There are no annual estimates regarding MDMA production in Canada and the United States. In lieu of annual production estimates, trends regarding MDMA production are determined through analysis of drug production indicators such as law enforcement reporting based on recent case information and officer observations, laboratory seizure data, and POE seizure data. When analyzed together, these indicators are most likely sufficient to indicate increasing or decreasing production overall; however, without reliable annual production estimates, some uncertainty regarding production trends remains.


Treatment admissions for MDMA addiction may increase in the near term. Treatment admissions for MDMA addiction may rise as the distribution of MDMA tablets adulterated with methamphetamine, a highly addictive substance, increases. Drug demand data show that MDMA use has been relatively stable since 2004 (see Table B6 and Table B7 in Appendix B). However, the addictive nature of the drug may be increasing with the rising number of MDMA/methamphetamine combination tablets that are produced in Canada and distributed in the United States.

End Notes

22. MDMA laboratory incidents include seizures of laboratories, dumpsites, chemicals, and equipment.
23. MDMA superlabs are laboratories in which at least 10 pounds of MDMA can be produced per production cycle.
24. Using a standard MDMA dosage unit of 140 milligrams per tablet, one kilogram of MDMA equates to approximately 7,143 tablets. However, it should be noted that MDMA tablets vary in size and weight depending on the manufacturing process, the type of pill press being used, and the amount of adulterants incorporated into the tablet.

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