Oklahoma Meth Labs Down, Trafficking From Mexico Up

Thursday, November 30th 2006, 4:50 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma led the way in curbing domestic methamphetamine labs, but law enforcement officials now face the challenge of corralling Mexican drug traffickers and their associates who have stepped in to fill the void.

As part of Methamphetamine Awareness Day, proclaimed by President Bush, officials in Oklahoma and other meth-plagued states sent out a message on Thursday to emphasize that the powerfully addictive drug remains a major problem.

Abatement of the exponential rise in makeshift meth labs in Oklahoma is the good news, said John C. Richter, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City.

"The bad news is that meth is far from gone in Oklahoma and the source of supply has been largely replaced by a purer form of methamphetamine by Mexican drug traffickers."

Known as crystal meth, most of the meth now on the streets comes in a rock form, which is chopped up and can be swallowed, smoked or injected with a needle, Richter said.

It is often produced in "super labs" in Mexico by chemists, some who have moved to Mexico to take part in the illegal enterprises.

"What makes it a more deadly form is it is purer and has more dire consequences than the less purer form that was produced in domestic labs by other processes," he said.

On one hand, the purer form is more expensive, tending to curtail the number of people who might buy it. On the other hand, Richter said, the higher price "gives chronic users an incentive to do more desperate things" to sustain their habit.

Legislation passed by Oklahoma severely restricted the use of cold medicines containing pseudophedrine and ephedrin that was used in smaller labs that sprang up across the state.

The proliferation of those labs tied up state narcotics agents for years, requiring them to spend most of their times raiding and destroying the facilities.

After the law restricting the sale of certain cold medicines took effect in 2004, lab seizures in Oklahoma dropped 80 percent, according to statistics from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Raids on small meth labs peaked at 1,254 in 2002.

More than 30 states followed Oklahoma's model legislation and a similar federal law was enacted earlier this year.

Attacking the problem of Mexican drug traffickers is a tough task, Richter said. "They are much more sophisticated organizations. They are harder to detect. It requires our best and brightest investigative work in order to detect and take down these organizations."

A hopeful sign is voluntary action by the Mexican government to curtail importation of ingredients used to make meth, hampering production by super labs south of the border.

Richter said law enforcement authorities are moving aggressively to catch Mexican traffickers.

"Seizures of meth along the southwest border of the United States have more than doubled since 2000," he said.