Meth trade not gone, just evolving
THE NEWS TRIBUNE
Legislation alone never cures drug addiction. As fast as policy-makers write laws to choke supply, desperate users and the scum that keep them hooked find new ways to feed the need.
Witness methamphetamine. No sooner did U.S. states pass tough laws placing pseudoephedrine — a common cold-medicine ingredient used in meth production — out of reach of backyard cooks than drug cartels from Mexico and elsewhere stepped in to fill the void.
Meth use is still very much a crisis — more than 92 percent of local law-enforcement officials on the West Coast consider it their No. 1 drug threat. But how the drug ends up on the streets has changed in some significant ways.
Homemade meth is on the decline. Pierce County’s experience illustrates what’s happening across the country as meth cooks find ingredients harder to come by. The state Department of Ecology cleaned up 148 meth labs and dumpsites here last year, compared with 589 in 2001.
The drop is cause for both celebration and consternation. Meth’s toxic and explosive alchemy puts not only cooks at great risk, but also families and private property. Fewer meth labs means fewer children sickened by meth exposure and fewer homes, motel rooms, sheds and fields turned into hazardous waste sites.
But kicking meth isn’t as easy as shutting down some mom-and-pop labs. Cutting off the supply of meth ingredients here in the United States has given rise to “superlabs” in Mexico, where drug cartels use established trafficking routes to smuggle the drug into American cities.
The Mexican government has had some success at curtailing the drug trade by racheting down import quotas on pseudoephedrine, according to groundbreaking reporting by The Oregonian.
Federal data analyzed by the Portland newspaper last year showed that street meth’s purity had fallen while its price increased, suggesting dealers were having to increasingly cut meth with additives. Treatment professionals said some addicts, frustrated by chasing an unattainable high, were hitting bottom and entering recovery sooner.
But again the meth trade has adapted. Asian meth traffickers have easy access to meth ingredients thanks to lax oversight at drug factories in India and China. Using more sophisticated techniques, Asian “superlabs” can churn out 1,100 pounds of meth a week, compared to a home lab that makes an ounce at a time or a Mexican superlab that produces 10 to 100 pounds week.
Much of the meth goes to supply Asia’s burgeoning demand. But left unchecked, the drug could easily find its way to U.S. streets. In December, Mexican officials discovered a 19.5-ton cache of pseudoephedrine in a cargo container from China. There also is evidence that traffickers are tapping Indian and Chinese sources to mass-produce meth in Canada.
Plugging the foreign meth pipeline is a much more difficult and delicate proposition than cracking down on the guy making an ounce or two in his storage shed. Lawmakers in this state and others are winning one battle against meth and the harm it inflicts on communities; victory on the emerging international front is just as important if the nation is ever to beat the scourge of meth.
Labels: Meth Trade Evolving