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Methamphetamine from Mexico supplants American labs

| Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, 8:27 p.m.

ST. LOUIS — The nation's heartland is ridding itself of the scourge of homemade methamphetamine, with lab seizures down by nearly half in many high-meth states. Any celebration is muted: Meth use remains high, but people are increasingly turning to cheaper, imported Mexican meth rather than making their own.

Meth lab busts and seizures are down 40 percent or more in states that traditionally lead the country in the undesirable category, narcotics experts told The Associated Press.

Enforcement actions and stricter laws are partly responsible, but the meth coming through Mexican cartel pipelines is so cheap and pure that it is supplanting meth made in homes or soda bottles inside cars. The cartels have even expanded their meth reach to rural areas and small towns.

“The great news is that meth from Mexico doesn't explode, doesn't burn down your house and your neighbor's home, doesn't contaminate your property, doesn't kill children the way meth labs have done here in the U.S. for decades,” said Jason Grellner, chief narcotics officer in Franklin County, Mo.

Meth lab seizures peaked nationally in 2004, when nearly 24,000 labs were seized. The Drug Enforcement Administration reported 11,573 seizures last year (the most recent data available), up 363 from 2012.

Grellner's county has often topped 100 meth lab seizures in a year, but has had about a dozen this year. Statistics provided by the Missouri State Highway Patrol show 558 meth lab seizures occurred statewide for the first six months of 2014, putting Missouri on pace for 1,116. That would be a 34 percent drop from 1,496 meth lab seizures in 2013.

In Tennessee, lab seizures are down 40 percent this year, said Tommy Farmer, director of the Tennessee Meth and Pharmaceutical Task Force.

Oklahoma had 160 meth lab seizures through September and is on pace for 213 — about half last year's seizure total, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics spokesman Mark Woodward said.

One only needs to go to the morgue to know that, despite fewer lab busts, the meth problem isn't going away.

In Oklahoma, which tracks meth-related deaths, 167 died of meth overdoses last year — up from 140 in 2012 and 108 in 2011, Woodward said. Figures for 2014 weren't available.

The Mexican cartels have long controlled the market for illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Meth was trickier. For years, many American users have chosen to make their own.

When lawmakers began implementing laws limiting the sale of key meth ingredient pseudoephedrine in the mid-2000s, it became difficult to obtain enough for large batches.

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