Expert Commentary

Combating methamphetamine trafficking: 2011 Federal report

Report by Office of National Drug Control Policy on trends in “meth” use and law-enforcement efforts.

The surge in U.S. methamphetamine use began in 2001 and peaked in 2005, when federal legislation was passed to target the drug. For a time, law enforcement appeared to get the upper hand and the problem began, relatively speaking, to subside. One vexing issue remains that the drug’s core chemical ingredients, such as pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, are commonly found in legal drugs available in stores.

A 2011 report by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, “Use of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Funds to Combat Methamphetamine Trafficking” (PDF), presents a picture of the current state of enforcement efforts and usage trends. The report notes at the outset that “the downward trend appears to have ended, and there is a renewed need for enhanced effort against methamphetamine labs.”

Key points in the report are:

  • According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the number of methamphetamine labs seized increased from 2009 to 2010, going from 4,469 to 4,977. Total incidents, however, decreased from about 8,000 in 2009 to just above 5,000 in 2010.
  • Roughly 9,000 kilograms of the drug totaling $272 million in street market value were seized by law enforcement in 2010.
  • Other trends compiled by the DEA indicate remain troubling: “From July 2007 through June 2010, the price per pure gram of methamphetamine decreased 61.8%, from $268.27 to $102.64, while the purity increased 115%, from 39% to 83%.”
  • Many of the larger drug manufacturing labs have been effectively targeted, but this has created a new wave of smaller, more mobile labs. These “nevertheless present toxic and dangerous threats to individuals and the environment. Given their increasing number and widespread dispersal, these new small toxic labs (STLs) are an increasing threat.”
  • There is evidence that the power and effectiveness of the 2005 federal legislation are being subverted: “Case investigations and intelligence indicate that individuals, as well as organized groups, continue to effectively circumvent the law to obtain pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products in amounts that exceed legal limits.”
  • One new tactic by drug dealers that is creating difficulty for law enforcement is “smurfing”: “This process involves going from store to store, purchasing the maximum allowable limit of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products at each store and then pooling these purchases for the production of methamphetamine.”
  • Another new tactic is a “crude methamphetamine production technique known as the ‘one-pot method.’ This technique enables the producer to capitalize on smaller quantities of precursors and has been linked to the increase in smurfing. This trend has continued from 2009, when smurfing became more prevalent.”
  • A new enforcement program targeting borders and ports has proven successful: “As of September 30, 2010, this initiative has led to the seizure of approximately 83,121 kilograms of ephedra, and 15,576 kilograms of pseudoephedrine and other methamphetamine precursor chemicals.”

Tags: crime, drugs, law

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