Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mexican Methamphetamine

Americans are so desensitized to the drug trade that one photo of piles of drums containing precursor chemicals for methamphetamine, seized by Mexican and US officials, looks more less like all the rest. Thus, I won't bother to post a photo of a pile of chemical drums.

Mexican drug cartels are flooding U.S. cities with cheap, extraordinarily pure methamphetamine made in factory-like "super labs” located throughout Mexico. Although Mexican meth is not new to the U.S. drug trade, it now accounts for as much as 80 percent of the meth domestically, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. And it is as much as 90 percent pure, a level that offers users a faster, more intense and longer-lasting high.

Viewers familiar with the popular television series, BREAKING BAD, have a genuinely accurate view of the meth lab scene, combined with Hollywood drama. The only difference is that the really good stuff is made in Mexico these days. Various cartels expanded into the U.S. meth market very effectively, using the drug pipelines that they previously used for cocaine, heroin and marijuana. 
Mexican meth has a clearer, glassier appearance than more crudely produced formulas and often resembles ice fragments, usually with a clear or bluish-white color. It often has a smell people compare to ammonia, cat urine or even burning plastic.

Seizures of meth along the Southwest border have more than quadrupled.

In terms of raw tonnage, the amount of seized meth jumped from slightly more than 4,000 pounds in 2007 to more than 16,000 pounds in 2011. The Sinaloa Federation, which keeps close tabs on these profit-and-loss numbers feels that somewhere around 8% of the methamphetamine product that they sent north was seized by law enforcement in their pipelines. Once it hits the street distributors, they don't track it. Though I don't have completely reliable numbers from the Sinaloa Federation (only, not considering other cartels), the best numbers I have is that they shipped 1,500 metric tons of methamphetamine products (crystal, ice, etc.) to the United States and Canada to date in 2012.
During that same period, the purity of Mexican meth shot up too, from 39 percent in 2007 to 88 percent by 2011. During that same time, the price fell 69 percent, tumbling from $290 per pure gram to less than $90. (Source: 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.

Mexico has tightened laws and regulations on pseudoephedrine and occasionally the cartels have a problem obtaining commercial quantities from India and China. Today they arrive at the ports of Manzanillo and Lazlo Cardenas on the West Coast and they cross the Mexican border from Guatemala.

Some producers shifted their recipe from pseudo ephedrine to P2P, using the organic compound phenylacetone because it's easier to obtain and has some legitimate commercial applications. In 2011, 85 percent of lab samples taken from U.S. meth seizures came from the P2P process - up from 50 percent a little more than a year earlier.
Last year, Mexican authorities made two major busts in the quiet central state of Queretaro, seizing nearly 500 tons of precursor chemicals and 3.4 tons of pure meth with a street value of more than $100 million. In Sinaloa, investigators found a sophisticated underground lab equipped with an elevator and ventilation systems as well as cooking and sleeping facilities. The facility was reachable only by a nearly 100-foot tunnel with its opening concealed under a tractor shed. (Source: Univision)
In February, soldiers in western Mexico made a historic seizure: 15 tons of pure methamphetamine, a haul that could have supplied 13 million doses worth more than $4 billion.

The cocaine pipeline from Colombia to the United States has already been closed for this season and will reopen after the Holiday smuggling break, due to begin mid-January 2013. That is not true of the meth pipeline because it's produced domestically in Mexico and the profit margin is therefore much higher.

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