Availability

Meth is the most common drug identified from seizures in LAC, and it is increasing

Figure 1. Drugs identified from law enforcement items submitted to forensic labs, LAC
Source: NDEWS

- Since 2013, methamphetamine has been the most common identified drug from law enforcement seizures in Los Angeles County (LAC). 

- In 2017, of the 27,875 items seized by law enforcement in LAC, nearly half (46.8%) of them were identified as methamphetamine (NDEWS, 2018). 

- In 2018, methamphetamine accounted for 48.5% of all NFLIS reports of seized items (NEDWS, 2018). This increasing trend has continued for more than a decade (NDEWS, 2019) (Figure 1). 

Meth remains the greatest drug threat in the West

- In 2017, law enforcement agencies reported that methamphetamine continues to be the greatest drug threat (Figure 2). Methamphetamine is a high and stable threat, as it is the drug that most contributes to violent crimes (36.3%), and contributes the second most (after heroin, 38.5%) to property crimes (31.9%) (NDTA, 2017). 

- In 2018 and 2019, several states in the Midwest and East have seized methamphetamine in pill form, which may indicate that traffickers are targeting prescription stimulant users to gain access to a larger user market (NDTA, 2019). 

Figure 2. Greatest drug threat reported by law enforcement agencies, 2017

Source: NDTA

Trafficking

Most of the meth in the US is produced clandestinely in Mexico

- Most of the methamphetamine available in the United States is now produced in Mexico. Domestic production will likely continue to decline, as methamphetamine produced in Mexico continues to be the major low cost, high purity, high potency alternative (NDTA, 2018).

- Although Mexico also introduced legislation to restrict access to the chemical precursors (e.g., pseudoephedrine) of meth in Mexico shortly after the passage of CMEA, Mexican Transnational Crime Organizations (TCOs) continue to adapt by finding alternative supplies for precursor chemicals (e.g., companies in China) and alternative methods of manufacture using chemicals that are easier to obtain (e.g., Phenyl-2-propanone [P2P] from benzaldehyde and nitroethane). 

- Despite new restrictions for P2P precursor chemicals in 2015 in Mexico, 98% of seized methamphetamine samples were produced by the P2P method (NDTA, 2019).

Meth is mainly smuggled into the US across the Southwest Border (SWB) 

- Total methamphetamine seizures in the US increased 37% from 30,157 kg to 41,365 kg from 2017-2018 (NDTA, 2019).

- In 2018, nearly all (95%) methamphetamine seizures in the US occur at or near the Southwest Border (SWB) (NDTA, 2019). 

- Methamphetamine seizures along the SWB increased 364% from 8,460 kg in 2012 to 39,237 kg in 2018, and continue to increase (NDTA, 2019). 

- The majority (54%) of methamphetamine seized along the SWB occurred in the San Diego corridor (NDTA, 2018) (Figure 3).

Traffickers employ various techniques to conceal methamphetamine crystals, paste, and dissolved in liquid when smuggling with human couriers, parcel services, and commercial flights or buses (NDTA). Particularly common methods include transporting small multi-kilogram shipments of methamphetamine in privately owned vehicles concealed in fuel tanks, tires, or other natural voids in vehicles (NDTA, 2019).

Figure 3. Methamphetamine seizures in 2017 and percent change from 2016-2017 at the Southwest Border Corridor by Customs and Border Protection, US. 
Source: NDTA

Meth conversion labs convert trafficked meth to powder or crystal meth

- Methamphetamine produced in Mexico is often concealed by dissolving in solutions for trafficking. Meth conversion labs are not used for production, but are instead used to convert methamphetamine powder into crystal, or to recrystallize methamphetamine in solution to crystal methamphetamine for consumption.

- For each year since 2000, the majority of conversion laboratory seizures have occurred in California. In 2017, conversion laboratories seized in California accounted for 50% of all conversion laboratories seized nationwide (NDTA, 2018). 

- In 2018, there were 8 conversion laboratory incidents in California, accounting for nearly one-third of all conversion laboratory incidents. 

Supply

Meth remains widely available in the US, particularly the West

- In 2017, 45% of participating law enforcement agencies reported that methamphetamine would be easily obtained at any time in the US, indicating high availability of methamphetamine. The regions with the highest availability of methamphetamine were the Pacific (79%), West Central (72%) and Southwest (69%) regions (Figure 4).

- The Los Angeles Field Division has consistently reported high availability of methamphetamine (NDTA, 2018). 

Figure 4. Percent of participating law enforcement agencies reporting high availability of methamphetamine by region
Source: NDTA

Meth prices have been dropping 

- From 2012 to 2017, average retail price per pure gram of methamphetamine for domestic purchases decreased 31% from $81 to $56 (Figure 5).

- The price of methamphetamine been steadily decreasing, even as the purity of the products have stayed high (Figure 5), possibly due to the oversupply of methamphetamine in the U.S. market (NDTA, 2018).

- While methamphetamine is trafficked into the US in various forms (e.g. liquid suspensions, pills, powder, shards) for concealment, almost all of it has consistently been very pure at an average of over 90% in the past few years (Figure 5).

- Any form of methamphetamine (powder, liquid, shard) that is 80% or higher in purity is known as crystal meth, whereas any form that is less than 80% pure is known as meth (DEA, 2019).

Domestic Production

Domestic meth production has decreased after 2005


- In 2005, the Combat Meth Epidemic Act (CMEA) was passed to regulate over-the-counter sales of methamphetamine precursor chemicals (e.g., ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, phenylpropanolamine), and to regulate retail practices (e.g., daily and monthly purchase limits, sales logbooks, customer ID verification, employee training, product placement, certify sellers) in the US.

- Prior to the CMEA, clandestine meth labs were abundantly set up in a variety of places in the US, including private residences, motel and hotel rooms, apartments, house trailers, mobile homes, campgrounds, and commercial establishments. Clandestine meth labs peaked in 2004, with 23,703 reported methamphetamine laboratory incidents (NDTA, 2018). 

- Domestic methamphetamine production has been decreasing since 2004, rose moderately in 2010, then decreased consistently to its now lowest point since 2000 (NDTA, 2018).  

Domestic meth lab seizure incidents have decreased since 2010


- From 2004 to 2018, methamphetamine clandestine laboratory incidents (i.e., seizures of clandestine labs, equipment or chemicals only, discoveries of dumpsites) had decreased significantly by 93% from 23,703 to 1,568 (Figure 6). 

- In 2017, there were 223 methamphetamine clandestine laboratory incidents reported in California (NDTA, 2018).

- In 2018, 85% of all methamphetamine laboratories seized in the US were small laboratories capable of producing two ounces or less of methamphetamine per production cycle, making it small scale and easy to conceal. Clandestine laboratories producing 20 pounds or more accounted for only 1% of all seized clandestine methamphetamine laboratories (NDTA, 2019).

- Despite the decreases in methamphetamine production in the US, methamphetamine remains the most frequently manufactured drug seized in clandestine laboratories in the US.

Cocaine

Trafficking

Most of the cocaine in the US is produced in Colombia

- In 2018, 90% of seized cocaine were of Colombian origin, 6% were of Peruvian origin, and 4% were of unknown origin. This has been consistent for the past few years (NDTA, 2019).

- Record levels of coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia has widened the cocaine market with increased domestic availability and reduced price. From 2012-2017, cocaine production in Colombia has more than quadrupled. However, cocaine production may be leveling off (NDTA, 2019).

Most the cocaine from Colombia/South America is trafficked to US/North America via the Eastern Pacific

- In 2017, most (84%) of the documented cocaine departing South America transited the Eastern Pacific, via non-commercial maritime vessels and go-fast vessels, to Mexico as the primary destination. The remaining 16% of cocaine departing South America moved through the Western (9%) and Eastern (7%) Caribbean (Figure 7). 

- Colombian TCOs dominate the distribution of cocaine to the US, mainly supplying Mexican TCOs, and to the Dominican TCOs to a less extent. 

Figure 7. Cocaine movement North from South America, 2017.

Source: NDTA

The Southwest Border remains the principal entry point for most of the cocaine entering the US

- In 2018, the total amount of cocaine seized in the US was 26,598 kg, down from 333,9891 kg in 2017.


- The majority of cocaine seizures occur at the Southwest Border (SWB), accounted for 40% of nationwide cocaine seizures (Figure 8).

- Most of the cocaine that entered the SWB flowed through California (50% in 2018), with most of it entering through the San Diego corridor (NDTA, 2019) (Figure 9).

- Cocaine seizures at the SWB increased 69% from 2014-2017, then decreased 19.4% from 13,255 kg in 2017 to 10,684 kg in 2018 (Figure 8). 

- The decrease in cocaine  seizures likely indicates  that there is a surplus of cocaine in the US, reducing the need for import (NDTA, 2019)

- The primary method of cocaine trafficking across the SWB was through privately owned vehicles, including hiding cocaine in legitimate cargo on commercial trucks (e.g. avocados, lemons, coated with black tar) or within secret compartments in passenger vehicles. Other methods include commercial air by couriers, cargo, mail, and internal conspiracy (NDTA, 2019).  

Figure 9. Cocaine seizures at the Southwest Border in 2017, and percent change from 2016-2017.
Source: NDTA

Supply

There is moderate to high availability of cocaine in the US

- In 2018, all DEA Field Divisions across the US indicate that cocaine availability was at least moderate in their area, meaning that cocaine is readily accessible (Figure 10).

- The Los Angeles Field Division indicated that cocaine availability was high, meaning that cocaine is easily obtained at any time, and this has remained stable (NDTA, 2019). Mexican TCOs routinely receive bulk quantities of cocaine to distribute to various African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Pacific Island, and Hawaiian drug trafficking organizations for retail (NDTA, 2018). 

- With increases in overall coca cultivation and availability, along with decreases in price, cocaine is a resurgent threat in the US (NDTA, 2019). 

- Cocaine in pill form has been seized in 2018 and 2019. Although cocaine users typically prefer to inject or insufflate (snort) cocaine, and crack cocaine users prefer to inhale (smoke), traffickers may be trying to introduce cocaine in pill form to expand their market influence or cut costs for prescription stimulant users (NDTA, 2019). 

Figure 10. Percent of participating law enforcement agencies reporting high availability of cocaine by region
Source: NDTA

The average purity of cocaine in the US is increasing, and prices are dropping

- Average retail price per pure gram of cocaine decreased, while average gram purity increased from 2012-2017 (Figure 11). 

The continuing high levels of cultivation and production will likely translate into further increased domestic availability and reduced domestic prices (NDTA, 2019). 

Cocaine mixed with fentanyl is increasing


- Cocaine seizures Law enforcement agencies and lab tests of seized cocaine indicate “speedball” mixtures of cocaine and fentanyl are on the rise. From 2013-2017, there was a nearly 15,000% increase from 18 to 2,695 fentanyl reports that also contained cocaine (NDTA, 2019). 

- However, since most cocaine reports and fentanyl reports contain only cocaine or fentanyl, cocaine-fentanyl mixtures are likely not mixed as the wholesale level, and the majority are likely unintentional. Cocaine and fentanyl are most likely mixed something after each product enters the US (NDTA, 2019).

- Cocaine is sometimes deliberately mixed with the depressants heroin or fentanyl to create "speedball" mixtures, which can help ease the sharp comedown after the high from the stimulant cocaine subsides. However, many cocaine users are unaware of the presence of these depressants (NDTA, 2018). 

References

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA). 2017-2019.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Methamphetamine Seizures Continue to Climb in the Midwest. July 10, 2019.  https://www.dea.gov/stories/2019/07/10/methamphetamine-seizures-continue-climb-midwest

National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS). Sentinel Community Site Profile: Los Angeles County. 2015-2019.