According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), methamphetamine availability is at an all-time high. It can be found everywhere from New York to California, but availability is highest in the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, and the Southeast. Which prompts the question: How is meth distributed in the U.S? Today, we are going to answer that question.
Meth has traditionally been portrayed as a drug that was manufactured in trailers in the Midwest and distributed by biker gangs all across the United States. That may have been the main production and distribution model from the 1960s through the 1990s, but it is no longer the case. While some meth is still manufactured by amateur cooks and distributed by various motorcycle gangs, particularly in the Midwest, these are increasingly being supplanted by high-tech labs and distribution of the drug by Mexican drug cartels.
Currently, there are seven Mexican drug cartels importing methamphetamine into the United States. One of the most successful ones is the Sinaloa cartel. They have a sophisticated distribution model that allows them to deliver meth to every part of the U.S. They do this by using truckers to bring the product across the U.S/Mexican border, concealed in shipments of fruits and vegetables, snack foods or other consumer products. These shipments are then dropped off at cartel owned warehouses in various cities to be distributed to all parts of the United States.
In the past, home-cooked methamphetamine has been decreasing due to increased federal and state laws that have banned many of the precursor chemicals that have traditionally been used to make meth. As a result, domestic production has been decreasing since 2006. In 2010, around 10,000 labs were known to exist in the United States. By 2015, this number had fallen to just under 5,000. It is estimated by the DEA that around 85 percent of all the methamphetamine labs in existence in 2015 were only capable of producing small amounts of meth—around one or two ounces at a time. As a result, a vacuum was created that was quickly filled by the Mexican cartels. Today, it is estimated that approximately 80 to 90 percent of all methamphetamine is produced in Mexico and imported through various hubs in the U.S.
Over the past few years, how the cartels brought meth into the United States began to evolve dramatically. While most meth is still being brought over the border in trucking shipments, how it was concealed had begun to become more sophisticated. Mexican cartels have begun to use a technique called “Methamphetamine in solution.” This is when the methamphetamine is dissolved in a liquid to make it easier to transport across the border and avoid discovery by law enforcement. That allows it to be packed in anything from soda cans to jugs of antifreeze and then easily transported to a conversion lab to transform it back into a crystallized form. In 2015, almost 80 percent of all conversion labs discovered by the DEA were based in California.
While conversion labs have been found in both Atlanta, Georgia and Dallas, Texas, law enforcement personnel don’t believe this method will come to replace traditional methods of transporting methamphetamine, however, due to its complexity and cost. Today, most methamphetamine shipments are brought into the United States through the Southwest Border Corridor—mainly through California, New Mexico and Texas and then taken to distribution centers in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Phoenix and St. Louis. From these distribution points, it can then be distributed throughout the rest of the country.