ARCHIVED Skip to text.To Contents     To Previous Page     To Next Page     To Publications Page     To Home Page



Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine import restrictions in Mexico contributed to a decrease in methamphetamine production in Mexico and reduced flow of the drug from Mexico to the United States in 2007 and 2008. Methamphetamine shortages were reported in some drug markets in the Pacific, Southwest, and West Central Regions during much of 2007. In some drug markets, methamphetamine shortages continued through early 2008. In 2008, however, small-scale domestic methamphetamine production increased in many areas, and some Mexican DTOs shifted their production operations from Mexico to the United States, particularly to California. The rise in domestic methamphetamine production was fueled by an increase in domestic pseudoephedrine trafficking by individuals and criminal groups circumventing national retail pseudoephedrine sales restrictions. These individuals and criminal groups often make pseudoephedrine product purchases at or below the allowable purchase limit from multiple retail outlets.

Strategic Findings

Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine import restrictions in Mexico contributed to decreased Mexican methamphetamine production in 2007. In 2005 the government of Mexico (GOM) began implementing progressively increasing restrictions on the import of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine and other chemicals used for methamphetamine production (see Figure 6). In 2007 the GOM announced a prohibition on ephedrine and pseudoephedrine imports into Mexico for 2008 and a ban on the use of both chemicals in Mexico by 2009. Pseudoephedrine and ephedrine import restrictions resulted in a significant decrease in methamphetamine production in Mexico in 2007 as evidenced by a reduced flow of the drug from Mexico into the United States. NSS data show a decrease in the amount of methamphetamine seized along the Southwest Border between 2005 (2,904 kg) and 2006 (2,809 kg); the decrease continued in 2007, when 1,745 kilograms of the drug were seized, a 37.9 percent decrease from 2006 to 2007. However, preliminary 2008 NSS data show an increase in methamphetamine seizures along the Southwest Border. Through October 2008 the amount of methamphetamine seized at and between Southwest Border POEs reached 2,006 kilograms, surpassing the 2007 total (1,745 kgs) (see Figure 7).

To Top      To Contents

Figure 6. Commercial Pseudoephedrine Imports Into Mexico, in Metric Tons, 2004-2008*

Chart showing commercial pseudoephedrine imports into Mexico, in metric tons, for the years 2004-2008, broken down by year.

* Government of Mexico target for commercial pseudoephedrine imports for 2008.
Source: United Nations.

Figure 7. Methamphetamine Seized Along the Southwest Border, in Kilograms, 2004-2008*

Chart showing annual seizure totals for methamphetamine seized along the Southwest Border, in kilograms, for the years 2004-2008.

Source: National Seizure System.
* Data run November 13, 2008.

The altering of chemical diversion and methamphetamine production operations by some Mexican DTOs is further evidence of strained precursor chemical availability and methamphetamine production capability. Since 2006, Mexican DTOs have been importing chemical derivatives into Mexico to produce precursor chemicals for methamphetamine production and to evade inspection by law enforcement at airports and seaports in Mexico. The import of chemical derivatives and analogues for the purpose of methamphetamine production is illegal in Mexico; however, traffickers frequently smuggle such chemicals into Mexico because inspectors are often unfamiliar with the chemicals and let them pass through POEs. For instance, during 2007 the GOM reported several seizures of large quantities of n-acetyl pseudoephedrine, a chemical used to produce pseudoephedrine. According to GOM reporting, the chemical was intended for use at Mexican methamphetamine production sites. Limited access to ephedrine and pseudoephedrine also has compelled methamphetamine producers in Mexico to increasingly use alternate methods of production to maintain supplies of the drug. According to DEA reporting, Mexican DTOs conduct large-scale, nonephedrine-based methamphetamine production operations, particularly the phenyl-2-propanone (P2P) method. The GOM reported several seizures of phenylacetic acid, a chemical used to produce the methamphetamine precursor chemical P2P. DEA reporting reveals that since 2006, the prevalence of clandestine laboratories in Mexico using nonephedrine-based methods of production has increased. For example, during one week in December 2007, Mexican law enforcement authorities seized two P2P superlaboratories in Jalisco, Mexico. DEA estimates that the laboratories were capable of producing 5,500 pounds and 1,200 pounds of methamphetamine a month, respectively. Increasing use of the P2P method of methamphetamine production in Mexico is a strong indicator of difficulty on the part of some Mexican methamphetamine producers to acquire ephedrine or pseudoephedrine that would yield a higher-quality drug.

To Top      To Contents

Reduced Mexican methamphetamine production resulted in decreased methamphetamine availability in many U.S. methamphetamine markets in 2007. Analysis of drug availability data as well as law enforcement reporting reveals decreased availability of methamphetamine in many U.S. drug markets beginning in early 2007 and continuing into 2008 (see Table 2). Rising methamphetamine prices and decreasing purity were evidence of decreasing methamphetamine availability during 2007. According to STRIDE, the price per pure gram for methamphetamine increased 90 percent ($149.78 to $284.12) from January 2007 through December 2007 (see Figure 8). STRIDE data also show that average methamphetamine purity decreased by 28 percent (56.92% to 40.98%) during the same period. Also, Quest Diagnostics data show that positive methamphetamine tests in workplace drug tests declined steadily through 2007 (see Figure 9), and like STRIDE data, Quest Diagnostics data indicate instability in methamphetamine supply and availability throughout that period. Quest Diagnostics data show a 38.8 percent decrease in the rate of positive methamphetamine workplace drug tests from the first quarter of 2007 (0.18%) to the fourth quarter of 2007 (0.11%). Methamphetamine seizure data also indicate a reduction in the flow of methamphetamine and decreased availability in 2007. NSS data show that the amount of methamphetamine seized in the United States decreased sharply in 2007, particularly during third quarter 2007. The total amount of methamphetamine seized in 2007 (4,689.55 kg) was 34 percent lower than in 2006 (7,106.68 kg).

Table 2. Cities Where Decreased Methamphetamine Availability Was Reported, June 2007-June 2008

Anchorage, Alaska Indianapolis, Indiana
Los Angeles, California Kansas City, Missouri
Oakland, California St. Louis, Missouri
San Diego, California Omaha, Nebraska
San Francisco, California Las Vegas, Nevada
Denver, Colorado Portland, Oregon
Grand Junction, Colorado Rapid City, South Dakota
Tampa, Florida Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Atlanta, Georgia Lubbock, Texas
Boise, Idaho Seattle, Washington

Source: Federal, state, and local law enforcement reporting.

Figure 8. Methamphetamine Price and Purity, April 2005-June 2008

Graph showing all methamphetamine purchase prices per quarter (normalized) based on domestic STRIDE data from April 2005 through June 2008.

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration.

Figure 9. Percent of Positive Methamphetamine Test Results

Graph showing the national percentage of drug tests that tested positive for methamphetamine from the first quarter of 2005 to the first quarter of 2008, broken down by quarter.

Source: Quest Diagnostics.

Law enforcement reporting is consistent with analysis of methamphetamine availability data. According to law enforcement reporting, methamphetamine supplies in several drug markets were stretched after June 2007. The reported decreases in methamphetamine availability occurred at the wholesale level, midlevel, and retail level, particularly in 20 cities in the Pacific, West Central, and Southwest Regions, and in the Great Lakes and Southeast Regions. (See Table 2.) Law enforcement reporting indicates that distributors had difficulty obtaining the quantities they were able to acquire prior to mid-2007. For instance, law enforcement reporting in early 2008 from agencies in the Pacific Region indicates that some wholesale suppliers who previously could readily access 20 pounds of methamphetamine before mid-2007 were able to access only 10 pounds. Similarly, some wholesale distributors who were supplying 10 pounds prior to mid-2007 were able to supply only 1 to 2 pounds.

To Top      To Contents

Methamphetamine availability stabilized and possibly increased during the first half of 2008, most likely because of increasing domestic production of the drug. Methamphetamine availability data show that by mid-2008 methamphetamine availability began to stabilize. STRIDE data show that the price per pure gram for methamphetamine decreased 16 percent ($284.12 to $237.99) from fourth quarter 2007 to second quarter 2008 after four consecutive quarters of price increases (see Figure 8). STRIDE data also show a 12 percent increase (from 40.98% to 45.90%) in average methamphetamine purity during the same period. Moreover, NSS data also show strengthening methamphetamine availability as methamphetamine seizure amounts for the first half of 2008 (3,832.22 kg) significantly outpaced seizure amounts reported for the first half of 2007 (2,632.03 kg) (see Figure 10). Quest Diagnostics data reveal no significant change in the rate of positive methamphetamine workplace drug tests during first quarter 2008, suggesting that positive methamphetamine workplace drug tests stabilized after four consecutive declining quarters.

Figure 10. Methamphetamine Seized in the United States, in Kilograms, 2005-2008*

Chart showing annual seizure totals for methamphetamine seized in the United States, in kilograms, for the years 2005-2008.

Source: National Seizure System.
* Data run November 13, 2008.

Rising methamphetamine availability in the first half of 2008 coincided with indications of rising domestic methamphetamine production. The number of reported methamphetamine laboratory seizures in the United States decreased each year from 2004 through 2007; however, preliminary 2008 data and reporting indicate that domestic methamphetamine production is increasing in some areas, and laboratory seizures for 2008 are outpacing seizures in 2007. According to preliminary NSS data for 2008, the number of reported methamphetamine laboratories seized during the first half of 2008 totaled 1,605, compared with 1,475 laboratories seized during the first half of 2007 (see Figure 11). NSS data show that by July 2008, methamphetamine laboratory seizures had already exceeded or were significantly outpacing seizures reported in 2007 for several states, including Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. For example, NSS data show that more methamphetamine laboratories were seized in Alabama from January through July 2008 (125 laboratories) than were seized in all of 2007 (81 laboratories). Similarly, in Michigan, 127 methamphetamine laboratories were seized from January through July 2008, compared with 101 laboratories seized in all of 2007.

Figure 11. Methamphetamine Laboratory Seizures in the United States, 2000-2008*

Chart showing annual seizure totals for methamphetamine laboratories seized in the United States, in kilograms, for the years 2000-2008.

Source: National Seizure System.
* Data run November 13, 2008.

Laboratory seizure data show that the increased number of domestic laboratories seized during the first half of 2008 is primarily attributable to a rise in small-capacity laboratories; however, large-scale methamphetamine production in central California is also increasing. NSS data show that only 19 of the 1,605 methamphetamine laboratories seized through June 2008 were superlabs capable of producing 10 or more pounds of methamphetamine in a single production cycle. By comparison, 98 percent (1,569 of 1,605) of seized laboratories were capable of producing less than 1 pound of methamphetamine in a production cycle. Nevertheless, reporting from central and southern California law enforcement and intelligence officials indicates that some Mexican DTOs have relocated their methamphetamine production operations to California. The number of superlabs seized in the state during the first half of 2008 (19 laboratories) exceeded the total number of superlabs seized in all of 2007 (10 laboratories).

To Top      To Contents

Individuals and criminal groups are increasingly circumventing state and federal pseudoephedrine sales restrictions by making numerous, small-quantity pseudoephedrine product purchases from multiple retail outlets. The increase in methamphetamine production has been accomplished largely by individuals and criminal groups that circumvent pseudoephedrine sales restrictions by making numerous small-quantity purchases of products containing pseudoephedrine. This method of acquiring pseudoephedrine is often referred to as smurfing (see text box). Law enforcement officials from the Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Pacific, Southeast, and Southwest Regions report that individuals and criminal groups in their areas often organize pseudoephedrine smurfing operations and then sell the precursor chemical to methamphetamine producers or trade it for the drug. Central Valley California (CVC) High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) reporting indicates that many operators of methamphetamine laboratories seized in the CVC HIDTA area are producing methamphetamine with pseudoephedrine acquired primarily through smurfing operations in central and southern California, particularly San Diego County. For instance, an October 2007 investigation in Fresno County revealed that a couple conducted daily precursor chemical smurfing operations, soliciting homeless individuals to get into their car and ride from store to store to purchase pseudoephedrine products. In exchange, the couple paid each person approximately $30 and sometimes gave the individuals alcohol. Evidence seized from the couple's vehicle included packages of pseudoephedrine, pharmacy listings torn from an area telephone directory, and several cell phones. Similarly, Fresno Methamphetamine Task Force (FMTF) reporting indicates that officers frequently find evidence of pseudoephedrine smurfing, including bags of pseudoephedrine blister packs and thousands of empty blister packs,6 at laboratory dumpsites in their area. During one pseudoephedrine smurfing investigation in Fresno during April 2008, officers recovered a pseudoephedrine products price list, store receipts, pseudoephedrine product packaging, and paper shredders. Officers also discovered bulk quantities of blister packs that had been removed from their paper packaging and placed into plastic shopping bags in 24-gram increments for resale to pseudoephedrine brokers. The recovered price list indicated that each 3.6-gram box of pseudoephedrine product was to be sold for no less than $32 to a pseudoephedrine broker or methamphetamine producer.

Ephedrine and Pseudoephedrine Smurfing

Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine smurfing is a method used by some methamphetamine traffickers to acquire large quantities of precursor chemicals. Methamphetamine producers purchase the chemicals in quantities at or below legal thresholds from multiple retail locations. Methamphetamine producers often enlist the assistance of several friends or associates in smurfing operations to increase the speed of the operation and the quantity of chemicals acquired.

Mexican DTOs are increasingly circumventing chemical sale and import restrictions in Mexico by diverting ephedrine and pseudoephedrine from licit sources in South America. DEA reporting indicates that Mexican DTOs are increasingly using South America as a source and transshipment zone for ephedrine and pseudoephedrine shipments destined for methamphetamine laboratories in Mexico as well as to laboratories tied to Mexican DTOs that are located in South American countries. For instance, the amount of ephedrine imported into Argentina increased from 5 metric tons in 2006 to 26 metric tons in 2007, indicative of an increase in such activity in that country. Likewise, DEA reporting further indicates that Argentine authorities seized an operational methamphetamine laboratory that had ties to a Mexican DTO and that methamphetamine previously produced in the lab had been transshipped to Mexico for distribution. Seizure data from 2007 and 2008 indicate that ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are smuggled from South American source areas in containerized cargo, aboard commercial flights by couriers, and by mail delivery services.

National drug-prevalence data indicate a slight decrease in methamphetamine use; however, treatment admissions for methamphetamine abuse are stable. NSDUH data show a statistically significant decrease in the rates of past year methamphetamine use from 2006 (0.8%) to 2007 (0.5%) for individuals aged 12 and older (see Table B6 in Appendix B.) Additionally, Quest Diagnostics data show that the rate of positive methamphetamine results in workplace drug tests declined 38.8 percent from first quarter 2007 (0.18%) to fourth quarter 2007 (0.11%) (see Figure 8). Despite decreases in methamphetamine use, Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) data show that the percentage of methamphetamine-related treatment admissions to drug-related admissions in publicly funded treatment facilities was relatively stable between 2005 (8.2%) and 2006 (8.3%). TEDS data show that the number of methamphetamine-related treatment admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities was relatively high and stable between 2005 (152,698) and 2006 (149,415) (see Table B8 in Appendix B).

To Top      To Contents

Intelligence Gap

There are no estimates of the amount of methamphetamine smuggled from Canada into the United States. Law enforcement and intelligence reporting indicates that since 2006, Canada-based Asian DTOs, traditional organized crime groups, and OMGs have significantly increased the amount of methamphetamine they produce and smuggle into the United States for distribution. Law enforcement reporting from officials in the New England states indicates the presence in their area of methamphetamine tablet distribution cells supplied by sources in Canada. However, drug seizure data for methamphetamine do not show an increase at or between U.S.-Canada POEs. Some increase in seizures should have occurred if a significant and increasing flow of methamphetamine from Canada is taking place. It is possible that an increase in methamphetamine flow from Canada has occurred, but the drug is entering the United States entirely undetected at the border.

To Top      To Contents


Domestic methamphetamine production likely will increase moderately in the near term. Decreased flow of methamphetamine from Mexico, the relocation of some Mexican methamphetamine producers from Mexico to California, the resurgence of small-scale methamphetamine production, and the emergence of large-scale pseudoephedrine smurfing operations throughout the country create conditions conducive to a moderate increase in domestic methamphetamine production, particularly in western states but also in some eastern states. For example, law enforcement reporting indicates that much of the bulk pseudoephedrine compiled through large-scale pseudoephedrine smurfing operations in the Southwest Region is destined for Atlanta, Georgia. A stable supply of bulk pseudoephedrine shipments to Atlanta could result in a significant increase in laboratories in the Southeast Region.

Increasing pseudoephedrine and ephedrine diversion and methamphetamine production on the part of Mexican DTOs in South American countries will likely continue in the near term, facilitating both an increase in methamphetamine production in Mexico and the subsequent flow of Mexico-produced methamphetamine into the United States. Conditions at many South American countries and their ports are favorable for ephedrine and pseudoephedrine diversion and smuggling. Such conditions include the high volume of commercial traffic through these countries, the free trade zone, and lack of precursor chemical regulations. Moreover, conditions at many South American ports are susceptible to smuggling activity due to lack of staffing and automated inspection systems, and by the limitations placed on customs inspectors by Free Trade Zone mandates. As long as such activities are viable, Mexican DTOs will exploit South American sources for methamphetamine precursors and for production of the drug where possible.

End Note

6. Blister packs are the most common form of packaging pseudoephedrine products distributed in the United States and consist of a clear plastic overlay that houses each pill or dosage unit (2 pills) individually. The clear plastic housing is affixed to a backing that is typically constructed of foil or a combination of foil and paper from which the pills must be removed before use.

To Top     To Contents     To Previous Page     To Next Page

To Publications Page     To Home Page

End of page.