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Crystal Empire on the rise




The number of domestic lab incidents is increasing at a significant rate in the United States, with the largest increases in the South and Midwest. In March 2009, there were 966 meth lab incidents nationwide, compared to 756 incidents in March 2008 and 596 incidents in March 2007.


In the South, meth lab incidents for Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida show an increase of 254% from 63 in March 2007 to 223 in March 2009. Methamphetamine labs cost State and local governments significant tax dollars and other resources that could be better spent elsewhere. A study conducted by the independent Rand Corporation in 2009, based on data from 2005, estimated the economic cost to society of methamphetamine use at between $16.2 billion and $48.3 billion. The study found that most of the expenses due to meth use are a result of the “intangible burden that addiction places on dependent users and their premature mortality and from crime and criminal justice costs.” 


Meth Lab Incidents Nationwide in 2009

fig1_meth-incidents.pngMeth use and meth labs also cause injuries or death to children and public service officials. Environmentally toxic dump sites created by meth labs deflate property values and overwhelm medical services, often as a result of uninsured individuals seeking medical help. There are many ingredients used to make methamphetamine, most of which are easily available. One essential ingredient, used by both large and small-scale labs, is pseudoephedrine, found in many cold medications.


In 2005, Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act (CMEA), which required that pseudoephedrine (PSE), ephedrine, and  phenylpropanolamine5 be placed “behind the counter” and that transaction logs account for sales of these substances from retail outlets. Ephedrine and PSE are precursor chemicals used in the production of methamphetamine. 




Number of Labs Increasing


Law enforcement officials display drugs and guns seized during a bust in San Bernardino on Feb. 20 and Feb. 21, 2020.

Despite passage of the CMEA, the number of domestic clandestine meth labs has recently been increasing. Traffickers have adapted to the CMEA and found ways to circumvent the retail sales provisions of the law. Because the CMEA had no provision requiring log books to be electronically connected, traffickers began sending multiple individuals to several retail outlets throughout the day to make single purchases up to the daily limit.

This process, known to law enforcement as “smurfing,” allows criminal groups to obtain large quantities of PSE for methamphetamine manufacturing. Smurfers can purchase multiple packs of PSE for between $7 and $10, then sell the products to lab operators for up to $50 per package.

As with many drugs, there are regional variations in the prevalence of methamphetamine manufacture, distribution, and abuse. Data from the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program show that the percentage of arrestees testing positive for meth is highest in the western region of the country. And San Andreas has experienced an increase in “super” labs in recent years, from 10 in 2020 to 15 in 2021 and 17 in 2022.             



Meth Lab Cleanup Program Contains Costs for Tenn.On Feb. 22, 2021, state and local law enforcement agencies got a scary message from the feds: The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) could no longer pay to clean up methamphetamine labs, which had risen to near-record levels in recent years. By that time, most jurisdictions had already written their budgets, which didn’t include picking up the federal government’s tab for cleaning up meth labs. The feds’ money, however -- roughly $10 million under the Community Oriented Policing Services program -- had ran out just halfway through the fiscal year. “To say that it opened up Pandora’s box is an understatement,” says Tommy Farmer, director of the San Andreas Meth and Pharmaceutical Task Force, which had the nation’s highest number of meth lab seizures in 2021. “All of a sudden, the state and local agencies were faced with this bill. We didn’t know what to do.” 






Skyrocketing Use

These organizations have also diversified their precursor chemical use, shifting among suppliers and chemicals to keep authorities off balance. The criminal groups produce most of the methamphetamine using what is known as phenyl-2-propanone, or P2P. There are two main methods to produce P2P, and the criminal groups have oscillated between them, investigators say. It’s also unclear where these groups are getting the chemicals to make P2P. The most recent seizure data from 2018 from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) cited China as the source of some of the largest recent seizures of precursors, and Mexico as the place where the largest seizures took place. The DEA's 2020 Drug Threat Assessment also cited China and India as sources for precursors, but counterdrug officials contacted by InSight Crime said the chemicals were coming from many other places as well, including Germany.



The explosion of methamphetamine also appears to be another marketing triumph for the criminal groups, which seem to be learning from other experiments with drugs such as fentanyl. The potent synthetic opioid is regularly camouflaged in fake OxyContin, Xanax or Percocet pills. The pills are a softer entry point for users, who prefer the prescription drugs and are unaware they are even taking fentanyl. 

The deception plays a role in skyrocketing use of the drug, as well as startling number of overdoses it causes. But methamphetamine is catching up. In 2019, the last year for which there is data, the Center for Disease Control (CDC)  chronicled  16,167 methamphetamine overdose deaths -- up from the 3,627 overdoses related to the drug in 2013. 


Adderall is used in the United States to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but is widely abused. Often referred to as “the study buddy,” as many as five million people take Adderall annually without a prescription, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. 


The potential for growth, in other words, is huge. Indeed, the criminal groups marketing methamphetamine appear to be tapping into numerous markets, including the opioid market, and using the same well-established distribution networks to deliver their goods, counterdrug agents say.







Edited by FinalPA
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