Mark R. Trouville
Associate Special Agent in Charge
Los Angeles Field Division
Drug Enforcement Administration
House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime
April 20, 2000
Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.
Congressman Hutchinson, Members of the Subcommittee: I am pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the serious methamphetamine problem facing the citizens of Southern California and our nation. I would especially like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued support of federal, state and local drug law enforcement.
Methamphetamine has become the most notable drug problem facing Federal, state and local law enforcement in Southern California. It is fair to say that methamphetamine is one of the most significant law enforcement and social issues facing our nation today, and it has affected specific regions of the country in a dramatic fashion. Our country has seen methamphetamine trafficking and its use increase exponentially over the past six years. It is my hope that at the conclusion of my testimony today, you will have a clearer understanding of how Southern California plays a key role in the production, trafficking and availability of methamphetamine in our nation.
The History of Methamphetamine in Southern California
Methamphetamine is not a new problem for California, unlike other areas of the country. Methamphetamine trafficking and clandestine methamphetamine laboratories have been encountered by California's Federal, state and local law enforcement officials since the 1970's. Historically, the suppliers of methamphetamine throughout the United States have been outlaw motorcycle gangs and numerous other independent trafficking groups. Although these groups continue to produce and distribute methamphetamine, organized, polydrug trafficking organizations operating from Mexico and California now dominate wholesale methamphetamine trafficking in the United States. Over the past few years, these groups have revolutionized the production of this drug by operating large-scale laboratories in Mexico and the United States that are capable of producing unprecedented quantities of methamphetamine. These groups have saturated the western U.S. market with this product, increasingly moving the product to markets in the eastern United States.
The Methamphetamine "Source"
Presently, while Mexican organizations operate approximately 5% to 20% of the laboratories, they produce an estimated 95% of the methamphetamine produced in the Southern California area. The principal reasons for their rise to dominance is the Mexican drug traffickers' ability to exploit an existing, well established transportation and distribution network on both sides of the border, as well as their ability to illegally secure precursor chemicals.
Most of the methamphetamine sold throughout the country is produced in California super laboratories, making California a "source area" for this illicit drug. These "super labs" are capable of producing over 10 pounds of finished product per process. Almost all of the "super labs" operating in the country are located in California, and almost half of them are located in Southern California. These "super labs" supply at least 80 to 90% of the methamphetamine in this country. The methamphetamine production process in a "super lab" takes approximately one to two days to complete.
Current DEA statistics indicate that in 1999, DEA alone seized 2,021 clandestine laboratories and that the total number of laboratories seized by Federal, state and local law enforcement officers nationwide was over 7,000. The majority of the labs seized in California were located in Los Angeles County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, and Orange County. In 1999, 48% of the clean up costs paid by the State of California last year were as the result of labs seized in the four-county Los Angeles area.
Domestically Produced Methamphetamine
While the vast majority of methamphetamine available in the United States is produced and trafficked by the well-organized groups from Mexico, domestic production of methamphetamine is also a significant problem. The production level of these laboratories, often makeshift and described as mom and pop labs, is relatively low; however, the large number of these labs and the environmental and law enforcement concerns associated with their operation, poses major problems to state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as to DEA.
Methamphetamine is, in fact, a very simple drug to produce. A user can go to retail stores and easily purchase the vast majority of the ingredients necessary to manufacture the drug. Precursor chemicals such as pseudoephedrine can be extracted from common, over-the-counter cold medications. Unlike Fentanyl, LSD, or other types of dangerous drugs, it does not take a college-educated chemist to produce methamphetamine. In 1999, 20 Los Angeles area officers and/or firefighters were injured responding to methamphetamine lab explosions and fires.
The highly toxic and flammable chemicals involved make these rudimentary laboratories ticking time bombs that require specialized training to dismantle and clean up. DEA is pleased to have certified thousands of state and local law enforcement officers in raiding and dismantling them and provide funds for cleaning them up.
The threats posed by clandestine labs are not limited to fire, explosion, poison gas, and booby traps; the chemical contamination of the hazardous waste contained in these labs also poses a serious danger to our nation's environment. Each pound of methamphetamine generated in a clandestine lab can result in as much as five pounds of toxic waste, which clandestine lab operators routinely dump into our nation's streams, rivers, and sewage systems to cover up the evidence of their illegal operations. The average clean-up costs per clandestine lab in FY 2000 is estimated to be $3,500. The clean up of "super-labs" can cost over $100,000.
The violence associated with methamphetamine trafficking and use has also produced a collateral impact in our communities. Mental health agencies in the Southern California area warn that methamphetamine abuse can be directly linked to a myriad of social and economic problems, to include child abuse, domestic violence, poverty and homelessness. Spousal and child abuses, as well as homicides abound among methamphetamine users. Particularly children and infants are susceptible to permanent health damage resulting from inhalation of chemical fumes. In 1999, 548 children were present or residing at clandestine laboratories located in the Los Angeles area at the time of law enforcement intervention.
DEA Methamphetamine Strategy
The primary focus of the National Methamphetamine Strategy calls for a strong and highly aggressive enforcement effort that is aimed at chemical companies, chemical brokers, and large scale domestic Mexican trafficking organizations involved in the production, transportation and distribution of methamphetamine and its precursors.
The tracking of methamphetamine precursor chemicals is essential in the Drug Enforcement Administration's effort to identify and eliminate methamphetamine production. By tracking precursor chemical purchases of pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, red phosphorus and freon from rogue chemical companies, numerous methamphetamine production laboratories have been identified and seized. Because of federal, state, and local efforts aimed at chemical suppliers, there has been a noticeable shortage of available freon and caustic soda.
Nationwide, methamphetamine arrests by the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1999 totaled 8,783, a 37% increase over 1998. In the past six years alone, DEA Los Angeles has realized a staggering 370% increase in methamphetamine related arrests in the Southern California area.
In the last two years alone, we initiated more than 40 investigations aimed directly at significant methamphetamine and chemical traffickers. Information obtained from these investigations indicates that these drug trafficking groups are complex and steadily weaving their way throughout the United States.
Due to the significant role Southern California plays in the overall methamphetamine situation, DEA has also initiated a local methamphetamine strategy that addresses critical areas that could not be addressed by local law enforcement due to limited resources. While we have focused our efforts on targeting significant chemical suppliers and Mexican methamphetamine organizations, we have strengthened our assistance and support to our state and local counterparts. Recently, in five joint DEA-Redondo Beach Police Department investigations, two clandestine laboratories were identified and seized, three persons were arrested, and at least 10 pounds of methamphetamine were seized.
Methamphetamine, and other controlled substances, which are produced in clandestine laboratories, provides an increasing threat to drug law enforcement personnel as well as the citizens of our nation. The vast power and influence of international drug trafficking syndicates, particularly those based in Mexico, continues to grow. Their impact on communities around our nation is devastating. The DEA will continue to promote cooperative investigative efforts and work closely with state and local agencies within the parameters of national, regional and local methamphetamine strategies.
As the number of clandestine labs operated by both internationally-based criminal organizations and mom and pop, small, independent groups continues to escalate, the chances of narcotics officers, or other uniformed personnel, inadvertently encountering clandestine labs will increase. In the years to come, DEA will continue to work to improve its efforts in the methamphetamine arena to ensure a safe future for both our law enforcement personnel dedicated to addressing this dangerous problem as well as our citizens. I thank you for providing me with this opportunity to address the Subcommittee and I look forward to taking any questions you may have on this important issue.