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'Out of control': Meth is making a big comeback in the U.S.

Aarthi Swaminathan
Finance Writer

Meth producers in Mexico are cranking up the speed of production, and the drug is making a big comeback in the U.S.

“Across the country, it's probably still the largest problem we have in America,” Derek Maltz, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Special Operations Division, told Yahoo Finance. ”The Mexican cartels… they make it at levels that we've never seen before. So business is booming, the country's addicted, and it's really, really out of control.”

“We’re talking super labs,” another former DEA agent, Kevin Hartmann, told a local TV station in Texas. “Super labs that can produce multi hundred kilograms of methamphetamine.”

A police officer from the Narcotics Control Board stands on guard in front of bags of methamphetamine pills in Ayutthaya province, north of Bangkok. (Photo: Chaiwat Subprasom/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The DEA’s 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment confirmed that methamphetamine prices have indeed “continued to decline throughout the United states.”

And the race to reach the American consumer has led “Mexican [cartels] continue to explore new markets in an attempt to increase the methamphetamine customer base,” the DEA report added. “The price of methamphetamine may begin to rebound with a market expansion, as current established market prices remain low and steady.”

The recent spike in meth production — and use — has largely been overshadowed by another drug: opioids.

“While heroin, prescription opioids, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl have been receiving a tremendous amount of attention in recent years, what’s gone under the radar is what’s been happening with methamphetamine consumption,” RAND Drug Policy Research Center Director Beau Kilmer, who recently wrote a report on how Americans spend on illicit drugs, told Yahoo Finance.

A Sinaloa state police officer works during the dismantle of one of the three clandestine laboratories producers of synthetic drug, mainly methamphetamine in El Dorado, Sinaloa state, Mexico on June 4, 2019. (Photo: RASHIDE FRIAS/AFP/Getty Images)

‘We’re talking tons’

In 2005, Congress signed into law the “Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act.” The act would regulate over-the-counter sales of the ingredients used to make methamphetamine: ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine products.

Since Congress clamped down, while domestic production has been largely eliminated, overseas producers have stepped up — primarily in Mexico.

Almost every cartel deals in meth,” Stratfor VP of Tactical Analysis Scott Stewart told Yahoo Finance. “But the ones that have kind of mastered it are the largest producers of synthetic drugs — essentially the Sinaloa cartel and the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG).”

He added: “We’re talking tons, and that’s what I mean, [it’s] just shocking. They’re finding clandestine laboratories capable of producing tons of methamphetamine and making huge seizures, as opposed to today, at the current time, most of the domestic meth is made using what they call the shake and bake method, which it basically produces a very small two ounces.”

The arrest and imprisonment of Mexican drug dealer and kingpin “El Chapo” hasn’t stemmed the tide. In his place, with no major drug lords or intense media attention, these cartels have reorganized themselves, and they’ve taken advantage of the situation and even expanded to newer markets.

Drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted to a helicopter at Mexico City's airport on January 8, 2016 following his recapture during an intense military operation in Los Mochis, in Sinaloa State. (Photo: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)

Last year, Mexican marines had found an underground drug lab in the mountains outside Sinaloa’s state capital, Reuters reported. They had seized 50 tons of methamphetamine in the town of Alcoyonqui, on the outskirts of Culiacan, Mexico

Australian authorities recently found more than 750 kilograms (around 0.8 tons) of meth — or ice — that a Mexican drug cartel had tried to smuggle inside untreated cowhides, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Cartels make ‘a bigger profit’ on meth than on cocaine

And unlike cocaine, which is spreading more across the world (video above), meth was cheaper to make. Furthermore, meth doesn’t require as many imported ingredients.

“And that’s one of the reasons that the Mexicans have been trying to kind of encourage meth use as well, because it’s actually a bigger profit on methamphetamine than they do on cocaine,” explained Stewart, who added that the cartels “have to buy the cocaine from the from the Columbian producers.”

And while prices are dropping, the purity of the substance is rising — making it even more dangerous.

A member of the State Police in full protective gear keeps watch at a methamphetamine drug lab discovered in a joint operation in the area of El Dorado, in Sinaloa state, Mexico June 4, 2019. Picture taken June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Jesus Bustamante

It’s ‘very potent, and very pure’

The end result has been an increase in fatalities.

“You know, it’s been a frustrating thing, obviously, the government has to keep trying to fight this because we’re seeing the deaths [increase],” Stewart said. “If you look at the number of deaths from methamphetamine, I mean, they’re actually spiking — gone up dramatically since 2005.”

The DEA report found that in 2018, the “number of deaths in the category psychostimulants with abuse potential continues to increase significantly.”

Classifying methamphetamine deaths under “psychostimulants” since the large majority (85% to 90%) of drug poisoning deaths were reported under that category mentioned methamphetamine in the death certificate, the DEA noted that in 2016, there was a 32% increase in deaths, at 7,542.

Since 2005 — when Congress acted — there has been a 387% increase in deaths, it added.

“You have to do what you can to fight this because it’s an extremely powerful drug,” said Stewart. “And especially stuff right now … is very potent, and very pure.”

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

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