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Mexico halts meth chemical at Pacific port

19.5 tons - The seizure shows controls aren't solid and could be leverage for China

The Oregonian, December 14, 2006

Mexican officials inspecting a cargo container shipped from China have uncovered a 19.5-ton cache of pseudoephedrine, enough to make a dose of methamphetamine for every adult American.

Hundreds of barrels containing the essential meth ingredient were seized Dec. 5 at the Lazaro Cardenas seaport in Michoacan after a citizen tip, according to Mexico's attorney general. It was the largest seizure of pseudoephedrine or ephedrine in Mexican history and one of the biggest on record worldwide.

The 19.5 metric tons amount to 8 percent of the 233 metric tons of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine that China manufactured in 2005, according to Chinese government statistics compiled by Guangzhou CCM Chemical Co. Ltd.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., said the massive leakage of pseudoephedrine from Chinese commerce underscores that "we need to go to the source" and ensure the chemical is as tightly controlled in China as it is in North America.

"It cries out for law enforcement attention being paid to the entire supply chain," said Larsen, co-chairman of the congressional Methamphetamine Caucus.

Such an enormous seizure suggests that Mexican traffickers, struggling under tight restrictions on legal imports of pseudoephedrine in Mexico, have found illicit sources in the handful of countries that manufacture the chemical.

In 2005, The Oregonian reported that Mexico's pharmaceutical industry was legally importing about twice as much as the country needed for cold medicine. The demand was inflated by traffickers who bought up millions of pseudoephedrine tablets.

Mexico improves

Since then, Mexican authorities have slashed imports of pseudoephedrine by 70 percent to 70 tons, making it harder for traffickers to acquire pseudoephedrine from legitimate drug companies within Mexico.

New restrictions announced recently in Mexico also have capped the size of any pseudoephedrine shipment at 1,100 pounds, meaning the Michoacan load was 39 times the allowable amount.