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Arizona Drug Threat Assessment
December 2003


Methamphetamine is a primary drug threat to Arizona. High purity, low cost methamphetamine is readily available, and the drug is abused throughout the state. Crystal methamphetamine is becoming increasingly available throughout Arizona; some areas report higher levels of abuse of crystal methamphetamine than powdered methamphetamine. Methamphetamine produced in Mexico is the predominant type available in the state. Methamphetamine produced in Arizona and other states, particularly California and Nevada, also is available, but to a lesser extent. Methamphetamine is produced in the state by Caucasian criminal groups and independent producers. They typically produce the drug in ounce quantities using the iodine/red phosphorus method. Mexican DTOs, Mexican criminal groups, outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), and Mexican independent laboratory operators also produce methamphetamine in Arizona, but to a lesser extent. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups control the transportation and wholesale distribution of most methamphetamine. Caucasian criminal groups, Caucasian and Mexican local independent dealers, OMGs, and Hispanic gangs also distribute the drug at the wholesale level. Caucasian and Mexican criminal groups, Caucasian and Mexican local independent dealers, OMGs, Hispanic street gangs, and prison gangs dominate retail-level methamphetamine distribution in the state.



Methamphetamine abuse is increasing in Arizona. Law enforcement agencies throughout the state report that the level of methamphetamine abuse is rising in their jurisdictions and that Caucasians appear to be the primary abusers. In response to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2002, 29 of the 36 law enforcement respondents in Arizona who rated the levels of methamphetamine abuse in their jurisdictions reported high levels of abuse, 6 reported medium abuse levels, and 1 reported a low level of abuse. Twelve respondents did not rate the level of methamphetamine abuse in their jurisdictions. Moreover, law enforcement agencies in several areas reported that the abuse of crystal methamphetamine has become more prevalent in their jurisdictions than the abuse of powdered methamphetamine.

Crystal Methamphetamine

Crystal methamphetamine is a colorless, odorless, smokable form of d-methamphetamine that resembles glass fragments or ice shavings. It is produced through the crystallization of methamphetamine powder. Crystal methamphetamine often is referred to as ice, glass, or shards.

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NDIC National Drug Threat Survey

The National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2002 was administered by NDIC to a representative sample of state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States to assess the availability, abuse, and overall threat posed by all major drugs. NDIC received 2,906 survey responses from law enforcement agencies, an overall response rate of 80 percent. Survey respondents were asked to rank the greatest drug threats to their areas and to indicate the level of availability for each major drug type. They also were asked to provide information on specific groups involved in the transportation and distribution of illicit drugs. Responding agencies also provided narrative assessments of various aspects of the overall drug situation and the threat that specific drugs posed to their areas. Survey responses are used by NDIC to substantiate and augment drug threat information obtained from other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

According to TEDS, the number of amphetamine-related treatment admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities in Arizona increased from 812 in 1998 to 1,267 in 2001, then decreased to 765 in 2002. (Nationwide, 95 percent of amphetamine-related treatment admissions reported to TEDS are methamphetamine-related.) The number of amphetamine-related admissions was greater than for any other illicit drug in 2002. Moreover, treatment providers in the state report that stimulant abusers are switching from crack cocaine to crystal methamphetamine because it can be smoked like crack, is readily available, and is less expensive.

The number of amphetamine/methamphetamine-related emergency department (ED) mentions in the Phoenix metropolitan area has increased for the past 5 years. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), amphetamine/methamphetamine-related ED mentions increased from 808 in 1998 to 860 in 1999, 1,261 in 2000, 1,492 in 2001, and 1,937 in 2002. In 2002 the rate of methamphetamine-related ED mentions per 100,000 population in the Phoenix metropolitan area (17) was dramatically higher than the rate nationwide (7).

Methamphetamine-related deaths in Arizona increased significantly from 1997 through 2001. According to DAWN mortality data, the number of deaths in which methamphetamine was a factor in the Phoenix metropolitan area more than tripled from 34 in 1997 to 122 in 2001. Phoenix ranked first in the number of methamphetamine-related deaths among the 33 metropolitan areas reporting to DAWN in 2001. In addition, methamphetamine and amphetamine were the only illicit drugs for which deaths increased in the Phoenix metropolitan area during 2001.

Mortality Data

DAWN mortality data for the Phoenix metropolitan area were provided by medical examiners in Maricopa County. Maricopa County accounts for 94 percent of the metropolitan area population. Medical examiners in Pinal County, which accounts for the remaining 6 percent of the population, did not participate in DAWN in 2001.

The number of individuals testing positive for methamphetamine in employment-related drug screenings in Arizona also has increased in recent years. According to the Arizona HIDTA, a private testing laboratory conducted 108,562 screenings in 1999, 155,559 in 2000, and 171,845 in 2001. Methamphetamine was present in 1,017 of the 8,338 positive results in 1999 (12.2%), 1,704 of the 12,258 positive results in 2000 (13.9%), and 1,859 of the 12,208 positive results in 2001 (15.2%).

Methamphetamine abuse is very common among adult male arrestees in Phoenix; methamphetamine abuse also occurs among adult male arrestees in Tucson, but to a lesser extent. According to the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program, in 2001, 25.3 percent of adult male arrestees who were screened for drug abuse tested positive for methamphetamine use in Phoenix, and 5.4 percent tested positive in Tucson. Phoenix had the fifth highest rate of methamphetamine abuse among the 31 cities reported by ADAM.

Methamphetamine commonly is abused among adolescents in Arizona. The drug is becoming increasingly popular among teenagers, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Phoenix Division. According to the 2002 State of Arizona Youth Survey, which is conducted by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission (ACJC), 5.9 percent of junior and senior high school students reported that they had used methamphetamine/amphetamines at least once in their lifetime. Moreover, 8.6 percent of twelfth grade students, 6.8 percent of tenth grade students, and 2.9 percent of eighth grade students in Arizona reported using methamphetamine/amphetamines at least once in their lifetime.

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Methamphetamine is widely available throughout Arizona. Of the 37 Arizona law enforcement respondents to the NDTS 2002 who rated the level of methamphetamine availability in their jurisdictions, 34 reported high availability, 2 reported medium availability, and 1 reported low availability. Methamphetamine produced in Mexico is the most dominant type; however, methamphetamine produced in Arizona and California is available at different levels throughout the state. Powdered methamphetamine is the most prevalent type available; however, crystal methamphetamine is becoming increasingly available and, in some areas, is the only type available.

Seizure data indicate the ready availability of methamphetamine in Arizona. According to FDSS data, the amount of methamphetamine seized in Arizona increased dramatically from 56 kilograms in 1998 to 293 kilograms in 2002. FDSS data indicate that Arizona ranked third in the nation for methamphetamine seizures in 2002. Further, EPIC reports that the amount of methamphetamine seized in Arizona within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border increased substantially from 60 kilograms in 1999 to 173 kilograms in 2000, to 367 kilograms in 2001, then decreased to 312 kilograms in 2002. (See Table 1.) (Disparities in seizure reporting are likely a result of differences in data collection and reporting methodologies.)

Table 1. Methamphetamine Seized Within 150 Miles of the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1999-2002
  1999 2000 2001 2002
Arizona 60 173 367 312
California 691 659 681 490
New Mexico   40   27   10   34
Texas 263 531 314 386

Source: El Paso Intelligence Center.

Federal-Wide Drug Seizure System

FDSS data comprise seizures made in the United States by DEA, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), CBP, and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). Only seizures that exceed certain threshold weights are included in these statistics: 250 grams of methamphetamine, 500 grams of cocaine, 100 grams of heroin, and 25 grams of marijuana.

The percentage of federal drug sentences that were methamphetamine-related in Arizona was lower than the national percentage in FY2001. According to USSC data, 7.2 percent of federal drug sentences in Arizona in FY2001 were methamphetamine-related compared with 14.2 percent nationally. The number of methamphetamine-related federal sentences decreased from 59 in FY1997 to 45 in FY1999, then increased to 63 in FY2001.

In FY2002 methamphetamine prices throughout Arizona varied depending on the area and level of distribution. The DEA Phoenix Division reported that in the fourth quarter of FY2002 wholesale quantities of Mexico-produced methamphetamine sold for $5,000 to $6,000 per pound in Phoenix and $4,000 to $7,000 per pound in Yuma. (Wholesale prices were unavailable for northern Arizona). Methamphetamine sold for $425 per ounce in Phoenix, $300 to $600 per ounce in Yuma, and $500 to $600 per ounce in northern Arizona. Crystal methamphetamine sold for approximately $9,000 per pound and $600 per ounce in Phoenix and $900 per ounce in Yuma. (No other prices for crystal methamphetamine are available.)

Methamphetamine purity levels have increased in recent years. Arizona law enforcement agencies report that the purity level of powdered methamphetamine has increased from 20 to 30 percent in 2000 to 25 to 50 percent in 2002. In addition, the purity level of crystal methamphetamine ranges from 95 to 99 percent.

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Violence often is associated with the production, distribution, and abuse of methamphetamine in Arizona. Methamphetamine-related violence poses a significant threat to the state. According to the Office of the Arizona Attorney General, methamphetamine is the illicit drug most commonly associated with violent crime in Arizona. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office reports that methamphetamine production and distribution are the greatest contributors to increasing rates of violent crime in its jurisdiction. Moreover, of the 36 Arizona law enforcement respondents to the NDTS 2002 who reported methamphetamine-related violence in their jurisdictions, 24 reported an increase in the threat posed by methamphetamine to the safety and security of citizens.

Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that affects the central nervous system and can induce anxiety, insomnia, paranoia, hallucinations, mood swings, delusions, and violent behavior, particularly during the "tweaking" stage of abuse. Law enforcement officials throughout the state attribute an increase in violent crimes such as homicide, domestic violence, child abuse, robbery, burglary, and assault to rising methamphetamine abuse.


As the euphoric effects of methamphetamine diminish, abusers enter the tweaking stage, in which they are prone to violence, delusions, paranoia, and feelings of emptiness and dysphoria. During the tweaking stage, the user often has not slept in days and consequently is extremely irritable. The "tweaker" also craves more methamphetamine, which results in frustration and contributes to anxiety and restlessness. At this stage methamphetamine users may become violent without provocation. Case histories indicate that tweakers have reacted violently to the mere sight of a police uniform.



Most of the methamphetamine available in Arizona is produced in Mexico by Mexican DTOs and criminal groups. However, methamphetamine production occurs in Arizona, although it has been decreasing throughout the state. According to the EPIC National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System (NCLSS), methamphetamine laboratory seizures decreased significantly in recent years. Federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities in Arizona seized 375 methamphetamine laboratories in 2000, 287 in 2001, and 211 in 2002. According to HIDTA Methamphetamine Conspiracy Group officials, the decrease in laboratory seizures may be attributed to the tighter border controls implemented in 2001. This action has decreased the amount of pseudoephedrine smuggled into Arizona and resulted in methamphetamine production shifting to Mexico, where pseudoephedrine and other essential chemicals are more easily attainable. In addition, law enforcement officials in Arizona report that methamphetamine abusers in the state prefer high quality crystal methamphetamine produced in Mexico, rather than locally produced powdered methamphetamine. Many abusers who had produced methamphetamine are now purchasing the drug from these DTOs instead of producing it themselves.

Crystal Methamphetamine Conversion

The conversion of powdered methamphetamine to crystal methamphetamine involves dissolving d-methamphetamine powder in a solvent such as denatured alcohol. Evaporation of the solvent yields crystals that resemble glass shards or ice shavings. This "washing" technique removes impurities, resulting in methamphetamine with longer-lasting physical effects and purity levels above 80 percent.

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Methamphetamine laboratories in Arizona are generally small and yield ounce quantities of the drug. Most methamphetamine laboratories are operated by Caucasian criminal groups and independent producers. Mexican DTOs and criminal groups, OMGs--primarily Hells Angels--and independent Mexican laboratory operators also produce methamphetamine in the state, but to a lesser extent. These groups use ephedrine/pseudoephedrine reduction methods to produce the drug. (See Methamphetamine Production Methods text box.) Most producers of methamphetamine in Arizona use the iodine/red phosphorus method. The Birch reduction method of production also is used, but to a much lesser extent. Further, the DEA Phoenix Division reports that crystal methamphetamine typically is produced by Caucasian independent producers in small-scale laboratories that yield an ounce or less of the drug.


Methamphetamine Production Methods

Ephedrine/Pseudoephedrine Reduction:

Hydriodic acid/red phosphorus. The principal chemicals are ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, hydriodic acid, and red phosphorus. This method can yield multipound quantities of high quality d-methamphetamine and often is associated with Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Iodine/red phosphorus. The principal chemicals are ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, iodine, and red phosphorus. The required hydriodic acid in this variation of the hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method is produced by the reaction of iodine in water with red phosphorus. This method yields high quality d-methamphetamine. Another iodine/red phosphorus method, limited to small production batches, is called the cold cook method because the chemicals, instead of being heated, are placed in a hot environment such as the sun.

Iodine/hypophosphorous acid. The principal chemicals are ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, iodine, and hypophosphorous acid. The required hydriodic acid in this variation of the hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method is produced by the reaction of iodine in water with hypophosphorous acid. Known as the hypo method, this method yields lower quality d-methamphetamine. Hypophosphorous acid is more prone than red phosphorus to cause a fire and can produce deadly phosphine gas.

Birch. The principal chemicals are ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, anhydrous ammonia, and sodium or lithium metal. Also known as the Nazi method, this method typically yields ounce quantities of high quality d-methamphetamine and often is used by independent dealers and producers.


P2P. The principal chemicals are phenyl-2-propanone, aluminum, methylamine, and mercuric acid. This method yields lower quality dl-methamphetamine and has been associated with outlaw motorcycle gangs.

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Hells Angels and Methamphetamine Production

Hells Angels Motorcycle Club members produce methamphetamine in Arizona independently and reportedly in concert with Mexican DTOs. Incarcerated Hells Angels members developed strong criminal ties to Mexican traffickers in prison. These associations facilitated the expansion of their methamphetamine production and distribution networks.

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration.

Methamphetamine producers typically establish operations in remote areas or set up laboratories in locations such as residences, mobile homes, and motel rooms. However, small-scale producers are increasingly using mobile methamphetamine "box labs." Box labs are small in size and easily dismantled, enabling methamphetamine producers to frequently move operations in attempts to avoid detection.

Precursor and essential chemicals used in methamphetamine production contribute to the threat posed by methamphetamine. Methamphetamine producers obtain ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and other essential chemicals from Mexican DTOs, although this appears to be occurring somewhat less frequently than in the past. These DTOs typically smuggle the chemicals through the San Luis and Nogales POEs in commercial and private vehicles. Laboratory operators in Arizona also acquire precursor and essential chemicals from criminal groups and independent dealers operating in California. In addition, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine commonly are extracted from cold pills and other over-the-counter medications by laboratory operators; other essential chemicals such as iodine, lithium, and ether are legally available at commercial businesses.

Pseudoephedrine Trafficking Network Dismantled

In January 2002 law enforcement officials dismantled a pseudoephedrine trafficking network involving more than 100 individuals nationwide, including 2 Phoenix men. The Chicago-based organization smuggled pseudoephedrine from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, through Detroit and on to California. The proceeds from the operation were laundered through two Jordanian brothers' Chicago car dealerships; some of the money was traced to Jordan and other Middle Eastern countries. As a result of this investigation, law enforcement officials seized more than 21 million pseudoephedrine tablets in California in October and December of 2001.

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration.

Methamphetamine production poses serious safety and environmental concerns to Arizona. The production process creates toxic and hazardous waste that endangers law enforcement personnel, emergency response teams, adults and children who reside in or near the homes of methamphetamine producers, and the environment. Moreover, many precursor chemicals are volatile and can be extremely dangerous if not handled properly; in several incidents law enforcement officials have discovered laboratories because of explosions that resulted from improper chemical handling.

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Mexican DTOs and criminal groups smuggle methamphetamine into Arizona primarily from Mexico. The drug also is transported into the state from California and Nevada, but to a lesser extent. OMGs, Caucasian criminal groups, and Caucasian and Mexican independent dealers also transport methamphetamine throughout the state. The Nogales and San Luis POEs are primary entry points for methamphetamine smuggled into Arizona from Mexico. The percentage of Arizona POE methamphetamine seizures occurring at these two POEs increased from 66 percent in 2000 to 100 percent in 2002.

Methamphetamine typically is smuggled from Mexico into Arizona in private and commercial vehicles. The drug also is smuggled into the state by pedestrians, couriers aboard buses and aircraft, and package delivery services. Traffickers employ a variety of concealment methods to smuggle methamphetamine into Arizona, particularly when using vehicles. Concealment locations in vehicles include seats, gas tanks, quarter panels, dashboards, air cleaners, and headlights.

Most of the methamphetamine smuggled into Arizona from Mexico is transported through the state to areas throughout the country. Traffickers commonly use state routes and less-traveled roads to transport methamphetamine from the border region to Interstates 10 and 40 in Arizona. Once on I-10 and I-40, traffickers transport methamphetamine to primary market areas throughout the country. Operation Pipeline data for 2001 indicate that Arizona law enforcement officials seized 48 pounds of methamphetamine in 14 highway interdictions; 5 occurred on I-40. The largest seizure occurred west of Flagstaff on I-40, where law enforcement officials seized 20.7 pounds of methamphetamine that had been hidden in the gas tank of a private vehicle.



Mexican DTOs and criminal groups dominate wholesale methamphetamine distribution in Arizona. Caucasian criminal groups, Caucasian and Mexican independent dealers, OMGs, and Hispanic street gangs also distribute methamphetamine at the wholesale level throughout the state. Law enforcement officials have identified Phoenix and Tucson as major methamphetamine distribution areas in Arizona.

Caucasian and Mexican criminal groups, Caucasian and Mexican local independent dealers, OMGs, Hispanic street gangs, and prison gangs dominate retail-level methamphetamine distribution in the state. Retail dealers frequently purchase methamphetamine from Mexican DTOs and criminal groups that typically are located in the urban areas of Arizona. Most retail-level methamphetamine distribution occurs through street sales and in private residences. However, OMGs typically distribute methamphetamine through selected retail distributors, members of smaller associated motorcycle gangs, and female associates who work in OMG-owned businesses such as bars and strip clubs.

Retail methamphetamine distributors vary by location throughout the state. In the Phoenix area, Caucasian and Mexican independent dealers dominate retail methamphetamine distribution. In Maricopa County OMGs such as Hells Angels and Huns and independent dealers distribute methamphetamine at the retail level. The Gilbert Police Department reports that Hells Angels and the Mexican Mafia prison gang distribute methamphetamine at the retail level in its jurisdiction. Law enforcement officials in Flagstaff and Yavapai County report that Hells Angels members are involved in retail methamphetamine distribution in their areas. Tucson Police Department officials report that Caucasian independent dealers and OMGs, including Hells Angels and Devils Diciples, distribute methamphetamine in their city.

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