ST. LOUIS (AP) — Seizures of homemade methamphetamine labs are down by nearly half in many Midwestern states, but use of the drug remains high as people increasingly turn to cheaper, imported Mexican meth.
Meth lab busts and seizures are down 40 percent or more in states that traditionally lead the country in that category, narcotics experts told The Associated Press.
Enforcement and stricter laws are partly responsible, but the meth now coming through Mexican cartel pipelines is so cheap and pure that it is supplanting meth made in homes. The cartels have even expanded their meth reach to rural areas and small towns.
“The great news is that meth from Mexico doesn’t explode, doesn’t burn down your house and your neighbor’s home, doesn’t contaminate your property, doesn’t kill children the way meth labs have done here in the U.S. for decades,” said Jason Grellner, the chief narcotics officer in Franklin County, Missouri.
Meth lab seizures peaked nationally in 2004, when nearly 24,000 labs were seized. The Drug Enforcement Administration reported 11,573 seizures last year, up 363 from 2012.
The Mexican cartels have long controlled the market for illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Meth was trickier. For years, many U.S. users have chosen to make their own, first in homemade labs that often caught fire or ruined houses. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s website lists thousands of homes contaminated by meth.
When federal and state lawmakers began implementing laws limiting the sale of key meth ingredient pseudoephedrine in the mid-2000s, it became difficult to obtain enough for large batches.
Meanwhile, Mexican cartels have increased their meth-making, using the organic compound phenylacetone — banned in the U.S. but obtainable in Mexico, according to the DEA — rather than pseudoephedrine.
The purity of Mexican meth increased from 39 percent in 2007 to essentially 100 percent today, said Jim Shroba, special agent in charge for the DEA’s St. Louis office. The price over that same period has fallen sharply, from $290 per pure gram to around $100 per pure gram.
Marijuana is by far the most seized drug in the United States, with DEA statistics showing 268,000 kilograms seized in 2013. That compares to 22,500 kilograms of cocaine, 3,990 kilograms of meth and 965 kilograms of heroin.
At first, the Mexican meth was aimed mainly at big cities and suburbs. Indiana’s meth suppression commander Niki Crawford said it is increasingly showing up in her state’s mid-sized cities.
“We all know that if we get a handle on meth labs, we will still have meth addicts who will work very hard to get their drug,” Crawford said. “This is where the Mexican cartel meth will fill the void.”
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