[2015 Drug ThreatAssessment  Continued from Part 82 Fentanyl]

U.S. Justice Department Drug Enforcement Administration

DEA Releases 2015 Drug Threat Assessment Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine (U) Map 7. Percentage of NDTS Respondents Reporting High Methamphetamine Availability, 2008 – 2011,  Source: National Drug Threat Survey

The US Drug Enforcement Administration 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) is a comprehensive report of the threat posed to the United States by the trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs, the nonmedical use of CPDs, [Controlled Prescription Drugs] , money laundering, TCOs [Transnational Criminal Organization] , gangs , smuggling, seizures, investigations, arrests, drug purity or potency, and drug prices, in order to provide the most accurate data possible to policymakers, law enforcement authorities, and intelligence officials.  


Part 83 United States Drug Enforcement Administration  Releases 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary Methamphetamine. Mexico.  Smuggling.  Deaths Traffic crashes, seizures, or heart attacks.

Overview Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine seizures, survey data, price and purity data, and law enforcement reporting indicate methamphetamine continues to be readily available throughout the United States. Use data remains stable while treatment data increased slightly in 2012. Most of the methamphetamine available in the United States is clandestinely produced in Mexico and smuggled across the Southwest Border. Domestic production continues to occur at much lower levels than Mexico, and seizures of domestic methamphetamine laboratories have declined, most likely due to the high availability of high-purity, high-potency Mexican methamphetamine.

(U) Table 9: DEA Field Division Reporting of Methamphetamine Availability in the First Half of 2014 and Comparison to Previous Period

Availability Compared to Second Half 2013

Availability During First Half 2014

Field Division

Atlanta Field Division High Stable

Caribbean Field Division Moderate Stable

Chicago Field Division High More

Dallas Field Division High Stable

Denver Field Division High Stable

Detroit Field Division Moderate Stable

El Paso Field Division Moderate More

Houston Field Division High Stable

Los Angeles Field Division High Stable

Miami Field Division Moderate Stable

New England Field Division Low Stable

New Jersey Field Division Low Stable

New Orleans Field Division High Stable

New York Field Division Low Stable

Philadelphia Field Division Low Stable

Phoenix Field Division High More

San Diego Field Division High Stable

San Francisco Field Division High More

Seattle Field Division High Stable

St. Louis Field Division High Stable

Washington Field Division Low Stable

Availability Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine availability continues to increase in the United States. According to the 2015 NDTS, 33 percent of responding agencies reported that methamphetamine was the greatest drug threat in their areas. (See Map A9 in Appendix A.) Additionally, 42.2 percent of the respondents reported methamphetamine was highly available, meaning the drug is easily obtained at any time. NDTS respondents also reported methamphetamine as the drug that most contributes to both violent crime (38.2 %) and property crime (33.4 %). (See Maps A12 and A13 in Appendix A and Tables B6 and B7 in Appendix B.) DEA FDs, NDTS respondents, and laboratory reporting indicates high availability of methamphetamine throughout the United States. (See Map 7 and Table B8 and B9 in Appendix B.)

• In 2014, most DEA FDs reported methamphetamine availability was high and availability was stable compared to the previous reporting period. The Chicago, El Paso, Philadelphia, and San Diego FDs reported higher availability in 2014. (See Table 9.)

• Methamphetamine reports to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) increased 14.8 percent between 2012 (180,187 reports) and 2013 (206,784 reports). In addition, methamphetamine reports increased significantly—53.3 percent—since 2009 (134,891 reports).

• Methamphetamine seizures continue to increase along the Southwest Border. According to CBP, seizure statistics indicate that methamphetamine seizures along the Southwest Border increased 20 percent from calendar year (CY) 2013 to CY 2014. In addition, seizures increased in each corridor along the Southwest Border. (See Map 8.) The majority (61%) of methamphetamine seizures in 2014 occurred in California; 23 percent occurred in Texas.

(U) DEA’s Methamphetamine Profiling Program

The DEA Methamphetamine Profiling Program (MPP) provides an in-depth chemical analysis of selected methamphetamine samples to establish trends associated with the manufacture of methamphetamine seized primarily in the United States. The MPP further establishes the method used to manufacture methamphetamine, as well as tracks purity levels and other related trends. However, the MPP is unable to determine the source origin of methamphetamine samples because the drug is synthetically produced, unlike morphine and cocaine, which are extracted from organic sources. It should also be noted that the MPP data set is only reflective of the MPP sampling plan, and is not representative of all methamphetamine samples submitted to the DEA laboratory system.

Purity and Potency Methamphetamine

The DEA Methamphetamine Profiling Program (MPP) purity and potencyxx results for recent methamphetamine samples obtained from the US–Mexico Border remain high, indicating the continued availability of high quality methamphetamine.

Purity is defined as a measure of the amount of an illicit substance present in a sample compared to other substances in the sample such as adulterants, diluents, or solvents. Potency is defined as the measure of drug activity in terms of the dosage required to exert an effect on the body.

Use Methamphetamine

The threat from methamphetamine use is persistent. While national use survey data appear to be stable, national treatment data as well as localized public health officials, indicate methamphetamine use may be increasing. The number of methamphetamine-related treatment admissions was 6.5 percent higher in 2012 than following a seven-year decline.

• According to NSDUH, there has been a steady increase in the last four years in the number of past year users of methamphetamine, as well as the number of new users. In 2013, the number of past year users, which includes new initiates and current users, was 1,186,000, up from 1,155,000 in 2012. The number of past year methamphetamine initiates ages 12 or older was 144,000 in 2013. However, these numbers remain significantly lower than estimates from 2002 to 2006. The average age at first use was 18.9, which has remained relatively stable since 2002. (See Chart 21.)

• TEDS data indicate the number of methamphetamine-related treatment admissions increased to 124,227 in 2012. However, this increase follows a steady decrease that occurred between 2005 and 2011. (See Chart 22.)

(U) Map 8. CBP Methamphetamine Seizures by Southwest Border Corridor in 2014, with Percent Change from 2013

Map 8. Methamphetamine U.S. Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Baja, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Mexico border

Methamphetamine threat levels are much higher in the western United States. According to the 2015 NDTS, the OCDETF regions with the largest number of respondents ranking methamphetamine as the greatest drug threat were the Southwest (69.7%), West Central (66.5%), and Pacific (55.4%) regions.

• According to the Oregon State ME Office, the number of methamphetamine-related deaths in that state increased 32 percent from 2012 to 2013. More than 55 percent of all drug-related deaths in Oregon were associated with methamphetamine use. However, the ME Office noted the majority of the methamphetamine-related deaths were not overdoses, but related to other events, such as traffic crashes, seizures, or heart attacks. Additionally, TEDS data indicate Oregon had 210 per 100,000 methamphetamine treatment admissions, which is well above the national average of 47 per 100,000 people.  

• According to the San Diego County ME 2013 Annual Report (the most recent year available), methamphetamine is the number one cause of drug/medication-related deaths. There was a 34 percent increase in the number of unintentional deaths caused by methamphetamine between 2012 (142) and 2013 (190).

(U) Chart 21. Past Year Methamphetamine Initiates among Persons Aged 12 or Older and Mean Age at First Use of Methamphetamine among Past Year Initiates Aged 12 to 49: 2002 – 2013 Source: National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Chart 21 Methamphetamine

U) Chart 22. Methamphetamine Primary Admissions to Publicly Funded Treatment Facilities Source: Treatment Episode Data Set

Chart 22 Methamphetamine Admissions

(U) Chart 23. Number of Methamphetamine Laboratories Seized, by Capacity, 2010 – 2014 Note: These seizures are laboratory seizures only and do not include chemical and dumpsite seizures.

Source: EPIC National Seizure System as of March 31, 2015

Chart 23. Meth Laboratories

Methamphetamine use levels may be increasing as some cocaine users may be switching to methamphetamine when cocaine is unavailable. Cocaine availability has diminished in recent years and methamphetamine (also a stimulant) can serve as a cheaper and more potent alternative to cocaine. Some distributors sell both drugs.

The DEA Atlanta, Philadelphia, and St. Louis FDs report cocaine distributors are now selling methamphetamine to supplement their income from diminishing cocaine supplies.

Production Methamphetamine

Production in Mexico

Most of the methamphetamine seized in the United States is clandestinely produced in Mexico and smuggled across the Southwest Border. Methamphetamine clandestinely produced in Mexico continues to be highly pure and potent as Mexican TCOs have adapted to precursor restrictions on pseudoephedrine by switching to producing the drug using the reductive amination method. This method calls for the use of phenyl- 2-proponone (P2P) instead of pseudoephedrine. According to the DEA MPP, samples analyzed in recent years were almost exclusively produced by a reductive amination method, using P2P as the precursor chemical.

(U) Methamphetamine Conversion Laboratory Seized in Washington State

Photo 3. Crystal Meth.

(U) Photo 4. The final processing of crystal methamphetamine. Source: DEA

Photo 4.

In February 2014, federal and local law enforcement officers arrested 13 individuals and uncovered a methamphetamine conversion lab. Officers seized 50 pounds of crystal methamphetamine and two gallons of methamphetamine in liquid that was in the process of being converted to crystal methamphetamine. Over the course of the year-long investigation, law enforcement seized 66 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, 2.5 pounds of heroin, a total of $310,000, 25 vehicles (some with hidden compartments for drugs and cash), and seven firearms (three of them stolen).

Domestic Production methamphetamine

Domestic methamphetamine production has decreased significantly since 2010, most likely due to restrictions on precursor chemicals in the United States and the increased availability of Mexico-produced methamphetamine. In 2014, most of the seized domestic laboratories were “one pot” or “shake and bake” methamphetamine laboratories. Generally, these laboratories produce two ounces or less of methamphetamine per batch. The ingredients, which are common household items (e.g., pseudoephedrine/ephedrine tablets, lithium batteries, camp fuel, starting fluid, cold packs), are mixed in a container such as a plastic soda bottle, providing a portable way of producing small amounts of methamphetamine.

• The number of domestic methamphetamine laboratories decreased 44 percent from 2010 (10,520) to 2014 (5,935). Additionally, in 2014, 84 percent of all methamphetamine laboratories seized in the United States were small laboratories—capable of producing two ounces or less of methamphetamine. (See Chart 23.)

Methamphetamine in Solution

The concealment of methamphetamine in liquids has increased significantly throughout the United States and especially along the Southwest Border. Methamphetamine in solution refers to powdered methamphetamine that is dissolved in solution, such as water or alcohol (methanol, ethanol, isopropanol). Methamphetamine in solution provides TCOs with a unique concealment method and an equally dangerous threat to innocent civilians. When methamphetamine is dissolved in liquids, the odor and color of the parent liquid may serve to disguise the drug. Methamphetamine in solution is concealed in various consumer products including liquor bottles, detergent bottles, and other commercial product containers that appear to be factory sealed. Most frequently, methamphetamine in solution is concealed in non-alcoholic beverage bottles such as soft drinks, sports drinks, juices, and water bottles. In addition to disguising the methamphetamine in solution as an imported consumer product, it is also concealed in areas of a vehicle typically used to hold liquids such as radiator overflows, batteries, windshield washer fluid reservoirs, and fuel tanks.

California: In January 2014, a teen crossing the US–Mexico border at the San Ysidro POE claimed the two bottles he carried were apple juice. Upon further questioning, the teen volunteered to drink from the bottles and died hours later from acute methamphetamine intoxication.

Photo 5.

U) Photo 5. Pill press. Source: DEA

Conversion Laboratories methamphetamine

Conversion laboratories are not production laboratories, but rather laboratories that convert powder methamphetamine or methamphetamine which has been dissolved in a liquid into crystal methamphetamine. Conversion laboratories present a challenge to law enforcement because they can be small in size and do not require a significant amount of equipment or space. The equipment commonly used in these laboratories consists of plastic containers such as a thermos or coolers; the only chemical commonly used is acetone. (See Photos 3 and 4.)

Methamphetamine tablets

Methamphetamine tablets are often produced using a mixture of powder methamphetamine and caffeine. Methamphetamine in tablet form is often found in Asia and while it is uncommon in the United States there have been seizures in California, Kentucky, and Texas. For example, in December 2014, the DEA Houston FD and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office arrested four individuals and seized approximately 20,000 methamphetamine pills along with two industrial pill presses. (See Photos 5 and 6.)

Photo 6. Smuggled pills.

(U) Photo 6. Packs of 1,000 quantity methamphetamine pills  Source: DEA

Transportation methamphetamine

Methamphetamine in the United States originates primarily from clandestine laboratories in Mexico and is smuggled across the Southwest Border. Traffickers most commonly transport methamphetamine in tractor trailers and passenger vehicles with hidden compartments. In addition, traffickers send methamphetamine through various mail services or by couriers traveling via bus or commercial airline.

Mexican TCOs are continually looking for new and creative ways to conceal illegal drugs and smuggle them across the border. In addition to seizures of methamphetamine in solution, methamphetamine is concealed as, or co-mingled with, legitimate merchandise.

Dallas Texas: In August 2014, the DEA Dallas FD seized approximately 275 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, wrapped inside heavy-duty latex balloons and concealed inside hollowed-out coconuts. (See Photo 7.)

(U) Photo 7. Broken coconut with methamphetamine-filled balloon inside. Source: Dallas Field Division HIDTA

Photo 7. Coconut with Meth.

Atlanta, Georgia: In October 2014, the DEA Atlanta HIDTA seized approximately 50 pounds of crystal methamphetamine disguised as, and co–mingled with, candy. (See Photos 8 and 9.)


Photo 8. Candy meth.

(U) Photo 8. Crystal methamphetamine concealed in candy. Source: DEA Atlanta HIDTA

Photo 9 more Candy Meth.

(U) Photo 9. Crystal methamphetamine concealed in candy. Source: DEA Atlanta HIDTA

Distribution methamphetamine

Mexican TCOs control wholesale methamphetamine distribution, while both Mexican and Caucasian criminal groups typically control retail distribution. However, African American criminal groups have been increasingly involved in the retail distribution of methamphetamine in some areas of the United States.

New Orleans, Louisiana: Methamphetamine has historically been distributed by Caucasian criminal groups in the New Orleans area. However, law enforcement reporting indicates that African American criminal groups are becoming increasingly involved in the use, transportation, and distribution of methamphetamine.

Atlanta, Georgia: Methamphetamine has almost exclusively been dominated by Mexican TCOs, while retail distribution has been handled by Caucasian criminal groups. However, there has been an increase of African American criminal groups involvement in the retail distribution of methamphetamine.

St Louis, Missouri: While Mexican TCOs typically transport methamphetamine into the St. Louis area, there have been reports indicating African American groups are now involved in the retail distribution of methamphetamine.

Photo 10. Meth candles.

(U) Photo 10. Methamphetamine disguised as candles. Source: Gulf Coast HIDTA


Outlook [methamphetamine]

Methamphetamine availability will continue to increase as Mexican TCOs have adapted to restrictions placed on precursor chemicals and are able to continue producing large amounts of high-purity, high-potency methamphetamine. Methamphetamine use and treatment admissions will likely increase in the near term, especially if cocaine supplies remain at low levels, inducing distributors and users to switch to methamphetamine. Mexican TCOs will continue to adapt their methods of concealment, and seizures of methamphetamine in solution will likely increase as this method has proven successful in the past. Mexican TCOs will continue to control wholesale distribution and, although Mexican TCOs are involved in retail distribution, other independent criminal groups will likely increase their involvement in the methamphetamine market.

(U) Mexican TCOs Use Drones to Transport Methamphetamine

(U) Photo 11. Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), or “drone” seized near San Ysidro POE   Source: DEA

Photo 11. Meth smuggling Drone.

In recent years, law enforcement reporting indicates an increase in the number of UAS, or “drones,” used by TCOs. UASs are small, quiet, can fly at high altitudes over a distance of several miles and, depending on their size, are generally capable of carrying 5 to 10 pounds of drugs. While UASs will not replace traditional methods of moving contraband, the low costs and simplicity of operation present a very attractive, cost efficient addition to current transportation methods.

San Ysidro, California: In January 2015, a “drone” crashed in a supermarket parking lot in Mexico, near the San Ysidro POE. (See Photo 11.) This drone likely crashed due to the excess weight it carried. The six-propeller remote-controlled aircraft was weighted down with six packages of methamphetamine weighing more than six pounds.


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[2015 Drug Threat Assessment continues next at Part 84 Cocaine]