Crystal cartels alter face of U.S. meth epidemic
International gangs fill void after cops crack
down on makeshift home labs
By Kari Huus,
MSNBC, September 18, 2006
After years of
raiding “redneck labs” and arresting local
methamphetamine cooks, drug squads in Georgia
appeared to be gaining the upper hand on the
makeshift operations in 2004, when the number of
busts declined sharply from a peak of more than
800 the previous year.
the glow of success quickly faded as
international drug cartels distributing a purer
form of the drug known as "ice" rushed in to
fill the void.
“The labs start to
decline and you’re happy,” said Phil Price,
special agent in charge of regional drug
enforcement for the Georgia Bureau of
Investigation. “But the imported meth has really
hit us hard. ... It's cheaper now to buy it on
Price said the shift
has made the drug so abundant that distributors
now commonly "front" up to 2 pounds of ice to
street dealers on credit. It also has turned the
Atlanta area into a distribution hub for the
East Coast, he said.
think we’re going to go through what Miami went
through with cocaine,” he said.
What is happening in
Georgia is occurring in many other states, the
unexpected result of a strong law enforcement
push against home meth labs and new limits on
the purchase of cold remedies used to make the
drug. The state's dilemma also illustrates the
difficulties of America’s battle with
methamphetamine, which has addictive powers
comparable to crack cocaine, but is in many ways
harder to control.
Ingredients easy to obtain, tough to police
The so-called “precursor chemicals”
used to make meth — pseudoephedrine and
ephedrine —are inexpensive and widely available
in common cold and allergy medications. That
ubiquity makes it impossible for law enforcement
to concentrate on specific regions or countries
in an effort to choke off the supply.
drugs derived from organic materials, such as
cocaine or heroin, (methamphetamine) production
is not limited to a specific geographic region,”
Anne Patterson, assistant secretary of the State
Department's Bureau for International Narcotics
and Law Enforcement Affairs, testified before
the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in June.
Its effects also
ensure a steady demand.
injected or smoked, meth creates euphoria and
energy that can last for several days. But the
frenzied flights are followed by depression and
exhaustion that drive the need for the next fix.
Eventually, the relentless pursuit of meth
drives many users out of their middle- and
upper-class lives into a grim existence of
crime, poverty and deteriorating health on the
on medication purchases
Alarmed by the spread of the drug
across the United States from its initial
foothold on the West Coast, many communities
have passed ordinances to made it harder for
home cooks to buy large quantities of cold and
Congress entered the
fray by passing the Combat Methamphetamine
Epidemic Act in March as part of the renewal of
the anti-terror Patriot Act, placing
restrictions on retail pseudoephedrine purchases
across the nation.
government also has stepped up support on the
front lines, funding training for local law
enforcement agencies to help them find and
safely dismantle the highly toxic meth labs.
As a result, lab
seizures nationwide peaked in 2003 at more than
17,000 and have declined by nearly a third, to
around 12,000 in 2005, according to the U.S.
Drug Enforcement Administration.
But the battle gets
tougher as it shifts to the global theater.