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Mexican Cartels Now Dominate US Meth Market

Crackdowns on US-based production mean the cartels can take an ever-larger piece of the meth action.

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A soldier overseeing a 15-ton meth haul
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By McCarton Ackerman

10/11/12

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As the US government continues to crack down on American-made methamphetamines, Mexican drug cartels are predictably ramping up their production of the drug to fill the void. Although Mexican-made meth has long contributed to the US market, it now accounts for up to 80% of the meth sold here, according to the DEA. The cartels' tactics mirror those they used with heroin—creating a cheap and highly addictive form of the drug and then funneling it through their marijuana and cocaine supply-lines. The average purity of Mexican meth has risen from 39% in 2007 to 88% in 2011, while the price has actually dropped 70% in the same period—from $290 to $90 per pure gram. "These are sophisticated, high-tech operations in Mexico that are operating with extreme precision," says Jim Shroba, a DEA agent in St. Louis. "They're moving it out the door as fast as they can manufacture it." Cartels are known to give out meth "freebies" while making sales of other drugs: when Illinois authorities recently confiscated 1,000 pounds of Mexican pot, they found 10 pounds of meth hidden in the stash for that purpose. Meth makes around $5 billion in annual export revenue for the cartels—still far behind the estimated $20 billion in heroin and $30 billion in cocaine they make each year. But the fact meth is a synthetic drug, rather than plant-based, increases its potential to skyrocket. "It can be completely produced in Mexico," says Illinois State University criminologist and meth expert Ralph Weisheit. "It's very compact, and that makes it easy to smuggle."

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