Methamphetamine: Among Mexico’s most Dangerous Exports to the U.S.

U.S. supply-side strategy is failing as production of the
dangerous drugs soars and expansion of its trade widens

Recent reports issued by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in Washington D.C. have concluded that Mexico has become the United States’ primary source of the methamphetamines now flooding the country. In response, U.S. and Mexican authorities have initiated a major domestic operation to crack down on the production of the dangerous drug. The North American demand for methamphetamines has been growing at a precipitous pace since the early 90s. As a result, the focus of the Bush administration’s current war on the drug has been one of containment and reduction, with less attention being paid to drug prevention and treatment.

The United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime recently released its annual World Drug Report which stated that globally there are 24.9 million users of methamphetamines and that in the United States alone, there are 12 million who acknowledge habitually using the drug. The estimated global production of methamphetamines in 1990 was 70 metric tons; fourteen years later it peaked at 291 metric tons. The average price per pound of methamphetamines in the U.S. is 13 thousand dollars, according to the United States Department of Justice, for an estimated value of 7.56 billion dollars of methamphetamines produced and exported to a worldwide market.

Not on NAFTA’s Trade List

These numbers should set off an alarm in Washington since 90% of the methamphetamines produced in Mexico are exported to this country. It is likely that the Bush administration has decided to implement almost the same questionable strategy of containment and eradication that it has relied upon against cocaine, marijuana and heroin, even though the processing and delivery of methamphetamines involves a whole different network and style of operating.

The ballooning number of users of the drug demands the implementation of a new and entirely specific strategy centered on the reduction of the production of the drug, as well as attempting to thwart its importation. While, at the same time, it is relegating bare attention to the social problems affecting its users.

The United States government, along with Mexican authorities, has managed to wrack up some gains in the fight against drug trafficking, but it hasn’t slowed down Mexico from being this country’s primary supplier of methamphetamines. In the last couple of years, the DEA has focused on dismantling local methamphetamine labs and their distribution grids, which has resulted in the seizure of 5,804 laboratories across the United States. Nevertheless, the elimination of many small scale local distributors of the drug has helped to open the door to major Mexican drug trafficking organizations, allowing them to take over local markets. This has served to increase, as export statistics confirm, the flow of the substance to the United States. Federal methamphetamine seizures for the year 2005 were 10,519 lbs., 6,377 lbs. of which were confiscated at the U.S.-Mexico border. For the year 2006, of the 10,342 lbs that were seized, 6,150 lbs were seized on the border. This proves what already has been argued—most of the methamphetamines trafficked into the U.S. come from Mexico.

Mexican Successes

Last year, Mexican authorities scored a notable victory in raiding the residence of Zhenli Ye Gon, Chinese businessman and cartel figure, where they seized 207 million dollars in cash. The stash was linked to the importation of pseudoephedrine, one of the main ingredients in producing methamphetamines. Mexican officials also introduced new rules requiring consumers to have prescriptions for the purchase of any medicines containing this precursor. This has served to tighten regulations on the importation of this chemical which is essential in the processing of methamphetamines. Nevertheless, Mexican cartels continually find alternate routes and means to smuggle these precursor chemicals into the country. They even go as far as to often mislabel the drugs right at the point they are about to go through customs. In spite of limited successes on the part of drug authorities, a lasting solution has yet to be found which would stop the production and trafficking of methamphetamines, except for some reduction in the importation of the primary chemicals needed to process the drug. If the Mexican government is able to restrict the importation of the chemical components needed to produce methamphetamine, and eventually makes a major inroad into their production, the cartels can be counted on to set up their camps elsewhere. This trail might begin in Central America, particularly in Guatemala, and lead to South America, marking the widening of a never-ending chain of third world nations engaged in formulating the illegal substance. Eventually this will add up to a major expansion of the African and the European Union markets.

Parallels with Plan Colombia

Both Mexico and the U.S. continue to fight methamphetamine-related operations, focusing on its producers, distributors, and traffickers. But can this be effective if nothing is done to resolve the social environment which sponsors the methamphetamine culture? It seems that the destiny of the newly created U.S.-Mexico Plan Merida could end up being similar to the fate of the now bruised Plan Colombia.

The power and wealth of Colombia’s drug cartels and the corruption associated with them has had much to do with the deterioration of the effectiveness of Plan Colombia and could lead to the comparably failed mission of Plan Merida. The diffusion of the corruption throughout Mexico’s anti-drug law enforcement mechanisms cannot be exaggerated, and the comparable compromising of its judicial system has become disturbingly clear, making a success in the fight against drugs even more improbable. To indicate the magnitude of the task, when President Calderon came to office, he had to replace over 30,000 anti drug policemen tainted by corruption.

Heading into Mexico, if pending legislation eventually obtains congressional assent, will be $1.4 billion dollars from the U.S. Treasury. This is meant to fight the drug cartels, end violence along the border, and severely curtail trafficking, a strategy very similar to the $4.2 billion anti-narcotic plan optimistically instituted in Colombia in 2000 by the Clinton Administration. What the Bush administration does not seem to realize is that no matter how much money Washington allocates, the cartels will always have more funds to assign to corrupting officials, paying off the police and destroying public rectitude.

Only so much can be done to cut production and reduce the flow of illicit substances to addicts abroad, or, for that matter, provide effective measures to aid the addicts who consume the product. The number of victims annually treated for cases related to methamphetamines is staggering. According to the DEA, in the U.S. alone, for the year 2000, there were 67,568 patients treated; in 2005, the number more than doubled to 152,368 patients treated. In Mexico, the Center for Juvenile Integration (Centros de Integración Juvenil) reported that in 1996, two out of every hundred addicts of all forms of drugs were consumers of methamphetamines; in 2004, these numbers rose to thirteen per hundred. These statistics show that even though recent measures have been somewhat successful in cutting down the flow of the drug into the United States, there are still just as many users who need to be treated. In fact, as these statistics demonstrate, that number is increasing every year.

Methamphetamines are highly addictive drugs and it takes months of rehabilitation in order to fully recuperate from their use. If the problem with this drug is to be abated in the long run, more attention must be given to the primary factor in this cycle: the consumer. Drug addiction is a problem than can be controlled and even effectively treated with the proper public health regimens. Drug prevention programs must be targeted to curb or entirely eliminate the traffic of methamphetamines across the border. Also, there must be a balance in the allocation of resources between the containment in the production and use of the drug, and the treatment and prevention in order to shrink its use. Lamentably, like any other product, as long as there is a demand for the substance, the drugs will find a way to reach those who consume them.