A soldier stood outside a seized methamphetamine factory at a ranch on the outskirts of Guadalajara, Mexico.
Bruno Gonzalez, Associated Press
Mexican cartels flood U.S. cities with cheap meth
- Article by: JIM SALTER
- Associated Press
- October 11, 2012 - 8:05 PM
ST. LOUIS - Mexican drug cartels are filling the void in the nation's drug market created by the long effort to crack down on American-made methamphetamine, flooding U.S. cities with exceptionally cheap, extraordinarily potent meth from factory-like "superlabs."
Although Mexican meth is not new to the U.S. drug trade, it now accounts for as much as 80 percent of the meth sold here, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
And it is as much as 90 percent pure, a level that offers users a faster, more intense and longer-lasting high.
"These are sophisticated, high-tech operations in Mexico that are operating with extreme precision," said Jim Shroba, a DEA agent in St. Louis. "They're moving it out the door as fast as they can manufacture it."
The cartels are expanding into the U.S. meth market just as they did with heroin: developing an inexpensive, highly addictive form of the drug and sending it through the same pipeline already used to funnel marijuana and cocaine, authorities said.
Purity up, price down
Seizures of meth along the Southwest border have more than quadrupled during the last several years. DEA records show that the amount of seized meth jumped from slightly more than 4,000 pounds in 2007 to more than 16,000 pounds in 2011.
The purity of Mexican meth also shot up, from 39 percent in 2007 to 88 percent by 2011, according to DEA documents.
The price fell 69 percent, tumbling from $290 per pure gram to less than $90.
The rise of Mexican meth doesn't mean American labs have disappeared. The number of U.S. meth labs continues to rise even as federal, state and local laws place heavy restrictions on the purchase of cold and allergy pills containing pseudoephedrine, a major component in the most common meth recipe.
The crackdowns that began a decade ago have made it more difficult to prepare large batches, so many American meth users have turned to a simpler method that uses a 2-liter soda bottle filled with just enough ingredients to produce a small amount of the drug for personal use.
But south of the border, meth is being made on an industrial scale. Sophisticated factories put out tons of the drug using formulas developed by professional chemists.
A new target
While clandestine U.S. labs generally supply rural areas, Mexican meth is mostly targeted to urban and suburban users.
Increasingly large quantities are turning up in dozens of American cities, including Dallas, Phoenix, Denver, Chicago, St. Louis and Salt Lake City, according to the DEA.
The marketing format follows a well-established pattern. By simultaneously increasing the purity and cutting the price, the cartels get people hooked and create a new customer base.
"They're marketing geniuses," said Jack Riley, the agent in charge of the DEA office in Chicago.
When Illinois authorities recently confiscated 1,000 pounds of Mexican marijuana, they found 10 pounds of meth hidden among the pot -- essentially a free sample for the distributor to give out to drug users, Riley said.
Until recently, meth was seldom seen in major urban areas, except in biker gangs and parts of the gay community, Riley said.
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