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Drug Availability in the United States

Methamphetamine Availability

From mid-2008 through 2009, methamphetamine availability increased in the United States. Drug availability indicator data show that methamphetamine prices, which peaked in 2007, declined significantly during 2008 and 2009, while methamphetamine purity increased (see Figure 10). Methamphetamine seizures also increased in 2008 after dropping in 2007, and 2009 data indicate that seizures continue to rise (see Figure 11).

Figure 10. Methamphetamine Price and Purity Data

Graph showing all methamphetamine purchase prices and purity, per quarter, based on domestic STRIDE data from January 2006 to September 2009.

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration, Intelligence Division - Indications and Warning Section

Figure 11. Methamphetamine Seizure Amounts in the United States, in Kilograms, 2005-2009*

Chart showing annual totals for methamphetamine seized in the United States, in kilograms, from 2005 to 2009.

Source: National Seizure System.
*Data as of December 1, 2009.

Analysis of available data indicates that methamphetamine availability in the United States is directly related to methamphetamine production trends in Mexico, which is the primary source of methamphetamine consumed in the United States. That is, as methamphetamine production declined in Mexico in 2007 and early 2008 as a result of precursor chemical restrictions (see text box), methamphetamine availability declined in the United States. By late 2008, however, Mexican DTOs had adapted their operating procedures in several ways including the smuggling of restricted chemicals via new routes, importing nonrestricted chemical derivatives instead of precursor chemicals, and using alternative production methods. For example, Mexican DTOs smuggle ephedrine and pseudoephedrine from source areas in China and India using indirect smuggling routes that include transit through Central Africa, Europe, and South America. In addition, packages containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are commonly mislabeled as other items during transit to avoid law enforcement inspection at air and seaports in Mexico. Methamphetamine producers in Mexico also have begun importing chemical derivatives such as n-acetyl ephedrine and methylamine that are not regulated in Mexico, but can be used to produce methamphetamine precursor chemicals and ultimately methamphetamine. Limited access to ephedrine and pseudoephedrine has also prompted methamphetamine producers in Mexico to increasingly use nonephedrine-based methamphetamine production methods. According to DEA reporting, Mexican DTOs conduct large-scale nonephedrine-based production operations in Mexico, particularly using the phenyl-2-propanone (P2P) method. In fact, the GOM has reported several seizures of phenylacetic acid, a chemical used to produce the methamphetamine precursor chemical P2P. Circumventing the chemical control laws in Mexico has enabled an upsurge in methamphetamine production in Mexico and increased the flow of methamphetamine into the United States as evidenced by methamphetamine seizures at or between POEs along the U.S.-Mexico border (see Figure 12).

Methamphetamine Chemical Restrictions in Mexico

Pseudoephedrine and ephedrine import restrictions in Mexico resulted in decreased Mexican methamphetamine production in 2007 and 2008. In 2005, the GOM began implementing progressively increasing restrictions on the importation of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine. In 2007, the GOM announced a prohibition on pseudoephedrine and ephedrine imports into Mexico for 2008 and a ban on the use of both chemicals in Mexico by 2009.

Figure 12. Southwest Border Methamphetamine Seizure Amounts, in Kilograms, 2005-2009*

Chart showing annual totals for methamphetamine seized along the Southwest Border, in kilograms, from 2005 to 2009.

Source: National Seizure System.
*Data as of December 1, 2009.

When methamphetamine production in Mexico was disrupted in 2007 and 2008, production in the United States increased as users and distributors compensated for the reduced foreign supply. However, even as production in Mexico increased in 2009, production in the United States showed no decline. In fact, U.S. methamphetamine laboratory seizures in 2009 exceeded seizures in 2008 (see Figure 13).

Figure 13. Methamphetamine Laboratory Seizures, 2005-2009

Chart showing annual totals for methamphetamine laboratories seized in the United States from 2005 to 2009.

Source: National Seizure System.

The increase in domestic production was realized primarily in small-scale methamphetamine laboratories throughout the country, especially in the Southeast Region; however, methamphetamine superlabs14 in California also increased in scale and number during the same period. The increase in domestic methamphetamine production in 2008 and 2009 was fueled primarily by individuals and criminal groups that organized pseudoephedrine smurfing15 operations to acquire large amounts of the chemical.

Restrictions on the Retail Sales of Pseudoephedrine

In September 2006, the federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act (CMEA) of 2005 became effective nationwide, setting restrictions on the retail sale of pseudoephedrine products. As of December 2009, 45 states had passed measures establishing or enhancing restrictions on over-the-counter sales or purchases of pseudoephedrine products in addition to those set forth by the CMEA. Of those states, 20 made pseudoephedrine a scheduleda drug, 43 have imposed point-of-sale restrictions, and 26 have enacted pseudoephedrine tracking laws (see Table B5 in Appendix B).

a. The legal implications of a given schedule may vary from state to state; states that classify the same substance in the same schedule do not necessarily regulate that substance the same way. Some states that schedule pseudoephedrine also exempt certain forms, such as those in liquid form or those a designated state authority has determined cannot be used to make methamphetamine. As a result, in some cases, states that do not schedule pseudoephedrine may still regulate it as strictly as or more so than states that do.


14. Superlabs are laboratories capable of producing 10 or more pounds of methamphetamine in a single production cycle.
15. Smurfing is a method used by some methamphetamine and precursor chemical traffickers to acquire large quantities of pseudoephedrine. Individuals purchase pseudoephedrine in quantities at or below legal thresholds from multiple retail locations. Traffickers often enlist the assistance of several associates in smurfing operations to increase the speed with which chemicals are acquired.

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