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U.S. Crystal Meth Production is Down as Users turn To Mexican Cartels

Crystal meth production in the United States has been declining since 2014 due to drug users turning to Mexican cartels' cheaper and purer imports. There have been significantly fewer meth lab busts and seizures in states like Missouri, which have typically been the most prolific producers of crystal meth in the country, according to experts in the field.

Part of the reason production in the U.S. has been decreasing is also due to the stricter laws and more aggressive law enforcement. However, the meth that is being imported from Mexico is both cheaper and purer than that which had previously been made in people's homes, or in soda bottles in their cars. Such cartels have even expanded to rural areas and smaller towns.

Mexico's imports are also, unfortunately, "safer" than American meth labs have been in the past. According to Jason Grellner, Franklin County's chief narcotics officer, Mexican meth "doesn't explode...burn down your house and your neighbor's home…contaminate your property…kill children the way meth labs have done here in the U.S. for decades." Grellner's county was down to about a dozen meth labs seizures in 2014 – a notable decrease from the 100 seizures his county would typically experience in a year.

2004 was a stellar year for meth lab seizures, with the seizure of almost 24,000 labs. 2013 wasn't too bad either, with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reporting over 11,500 seizures, which was up about 360 seizures from the year before. States like Tennessee and Oklahoma have seen significant drops over the years as well, with a 40 percent drop in 2014 for the former, and only about half of the normal annual seizures in the same year for the latter.

However, don't let these numbers fool you. Just because there may be a decrease in the number of rudimentary meth labs that are still standing, that doesn’t mean that less people are using meth. Meth overdoses have been on the rise in recent years, with 167 overdoses in Oklahoma in 2013, which was up from 140 the year before, and up from 108 in 2011. Meth usage has only continued to rise in this state, and it's not the only one to see such an increase, especially in light of the ongoing epidemic we're experiencing in the rise of illicit drug use in this country.

Mexican cartels have been in control of the U.S.'s drug market for decades, specializing in cocaine and heroin in particular. Meth, however, has been trickier to make from scratch. However, Mexico has harnessed an ingredient – phenylacetone – that is currently banned in the U.S. but available in Mexico. This ingredient is being substituted for the typical pseudoephedrine, the sales of which have been limited by federal and state lawmakers since the mid-2000s.

The choice to use phenylacetone is from an old recipe referred to as "P2P" that first appeared in the 1960s. Mexican meth has now been refined to such a point that its purity has increased from the 39 percent that it was back in 2007 to essentially the 100 percent that it has become today.