Mexico: Primary Source of United States Methamphetamine Crisis

Thousands of empty cold medication packages litter the highway outside of Tijuana, Mexico. The pseudoephedrine contained in the medicine is used to produce methamphetamine, and the area around Tijuana is home to many clandestine laboratories that produce the drug

In the Unnecessary Epidemic, Mexico is playing an increasing role in the scourage that is sweeping across the United States.

Flap previously featured this series of stories from Steve Suo and the Oregonian newspaper that was first published in October 2004.

June 5, 2005

MEXICO CITY — America’s methamphetamine crisis is now rooted in Mexico, where drug cartels are illicitly obtaining tons of pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient needed to make the potent stimulant:

Mexico’s imports of the cold medicine have jumped to 224 tons from 66 tons in the past five years, customs records show. That’s roughly double what the country needs to meet the legitimate demands of cold and allergy sufferers, an analysis by The Oregonian newspaper of Portland, Ore., found.

U.S. officials say meth production in Mexico is rising because Mexican traffickers can no longer easily obtain pseudoephedrine in the United States and Canada, which have cracked down on companies that sell cold pills. The number of Mexican-run “superlabs” found in California has plummeted in the past three years, the officials say, yet Mexican-made meth remains widely available on U.S. streets.

The spread of methamphetamne has so sensitized other states that numerous state laws have arisen to limit the sale of methapmphetamine precursor chemicals like pseudoephedrine.

Now, more international efforts must be undertaken in Mexico and in other countries to affect interdiction of these chemicals.

Although some U.S. officials predicted three years ago that traffickers would start acquiring massive amounts of pseudoephedrine in Mexico, the U.S. and Mexico failed to prevent it from happening.

U.S. officials say they have been talking to the Mexican government about the country’s surging imports of pseudoephedrine powder since 2003.

But those discussions have been largely confined to officials below the Cabinet level. Senior U.S. law enforcement officials have not raised the issue in their public testimony before Congress.

Mexican authorities have moved to restrict the number of cold pills consumers can buy in pharmacies and have shut down a number of distributors. But only this year is Mexico beginning to roll back the amount of pseudoephedrine companies can import.

Mexican officials have told the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that they have reduced their import quota 30 percent this year. That reduction, U.S. officials say, applies to 2004 import levels.

But those reduced import levels will still leave traffickers an ample surplus from which to obtain the pseudoephedrine they need.

Then, the President must give policy direction to the Attorney General and the Department of Justice to further reduce import levels. If legislation is needed, the Congress must act – and act quickly.

The newspaper’s analysis, drawn from demographic data and independent market research, offers the first publicly available estimate of how much cold medicine Mexico legitimately needs. The analysis suggests that Mexico’s legitimate demand is between 90 and 130 tons — roughly 100 tons less than the country imported last year.

The Oregonian’s assessment includes data from one of Mexico’s largest discount pharmacy chains and other industry sources. Some statistics, such as precisely how much pseudoephedrine is distributed by public health agencies, could not be directly obtained.

Mexican health officials have told international authorities that the country’s legitimate demand may be as low as 70 tons, or a third of what Mexico imported in 2004. That estimate was presented as tentative and the Mexican government is still refining it.

The International Narcotics Control Board in Vienna, which tracks the global drug trade, is examining Mexico’s pseudoephedrine imports and suspects the recent increases cannot be explained by the legitimate market. DEA officials say they have not tried to calculate Mexico’s legitimate demand. They do not know whether Mexico’s planned import reductions will be enough to eliminate illegal diversion.

The failure to halt diversion of pseudoephedrine products made in Mexico has profound consequences for cities and towns across the United States.

The devastating effects of methamphetamine are ravaging almost every community in the United States.

Numerous stories are printed daily about this drug bust, this crime, this legal loophole or this tragedy because of methamphetamine.

This scourage can be eliminated by interdiction of precursor chemicals.

It is time for the President and Congress to act.

Read the remainder of Steve Suo’s excellent artice here:

Steve Suo is a staff writer for The Oregonian of Portland, Ore. He can be contacted at Suo reported this story in Mexico City and Vienna. Freelance journalist Adrienne Bard contributed to this report in Mexico.)