February 6, 2004
"Fighting Methamphetamine in the Heartland: How Can the Federal Government Assist State and Local Efforts?"
The rapid rise and spread of methamphetamine use and trafficking in Indiana has created a unique and difficult challenge for federal and state law enforcement officials. Unlike more traditional drugs of abuse, methamphetamine presents some distinctive challenges. First, it is relatively easy to manufacture; anyone who can read and measure can make methamphetamine. Second, many production sites are located in rural areas of Indiana where there is limited day-to-day law enforcement presence. Third, methamphetamine is a particularly intense stimulant, highly addictive, and devastatingly dangerous. The combination of these factors has led DEA to pursue a multi-faceted response.
In this testimony, DEA will describe the nature of the methamphetamine threat to Indiana, offer specific examples of how we are targeting it, and describe why it is important for DEA and its partners to make every effort to combat this increasing menace.
IntroductionChairman Souder, distinguished members of the Subcommittee, and honored guests; it is indeed my distinct pleasure to appear before you. My name is Armand McClintock and I am the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Indianapolis District Office. On behalf of DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy and Special Agent in Charge Richard Sanders of the Chicago Field Division, I would like to thank this subcommittee for your continued support of DEA and its mission.
The Simplicity of MethamphetamineMethamphetamine is a synthetic stimulant that is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance. This widely abused drug also goes by the names "crank", "meth", "crystal" and "speed." Although commonly sold in powder form, it has been distributed in tablets or as crystals. Methamphetamine can be smoked, snorted, injected or taken orally.
The clandestine manufacture of methamphetamine has been a concern of law enforcement officials since the 1960's, when outlaw motorcycle gangs dominated distribution. Methamphetamine continues to be the primary drug manufactured in the vast majority of drug labs seized by law enforcement throughout the nation. Since 1997, ninety-seven percent of the clandestine lab seizures reported to DEA were either methamphetamine or amphetamine labs.
According to the latest statistics from the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC), the number of clandestine methamphetamine laboratories seized in Indiana has increased steadily from a low of 5 in 1998 to a high of 506 reported thus far for 2003. But even this figure could be a low estimate due to incomplete reporting to EPIC from other law enforcement agencies. Detailed statistics from the Indiana State Police now indicate that 1,260 clandestine laboratories were seized in 2003. Assuming this number remains constant, it would represent a 26 percent increase from the 998 laboratories reported seized in the state during 2002.
Indiana Distribution Sources, Prices and PurityThe methamphetamine trafficking situation in Indiana reflects the current trafficking situation throughout the Midwest. Federal investigations have found that Mexican trafficking organizations transport multi-pound quantities of methamphetamine to Indiana from clandestine superlabs (laboratories with a production capacity of at least 10 pounds of methamphetamine in a 24-hour period), located in the West and Mexico. However, small toxic labs (STLs) remain the principal threat to local communities.
STLs are local and independent operators who produce gram to multi-ounce quantities of methamphetamine for personal use and local distribution. Ninety percent of all clandestine methamphetamine laboratories seized in Indiana utilize the Birch, or "Nazi," production method that allows a novice manufacturer to rely on readily available, inexpensive products and an uncomplicated process to create methamphetamine. The prevalence of these labs spreads the drug to more users and has the most immediate and visible impact. Even so, control over the vast majority of what is actually distributed in Indiana by volume is dominated by the Mexican drug trafficking organizations.
Methamphetamine prices for Indiana are on average $90 - $100 per gram, $500 - $1,200 per ounce and $5,000 - $8,000 per pound. The average purity level for these methamphetamine laboratory exhibits is 24.8 percent.
The Escalation of Small Toxic Labs and Their Environmental ImpactThe small toxic labs I described generate significant quantities of hazardous waste during each production cycle. Small, rural communities within Indiana ultimately must pay the price of the fiscal, environmental, health, and safety hazards associated with criminal entrepreneurs.
STLs initially emerged as a problem in the Midwest in the early to mid-1990s. After initial introduction by Mexican traffickers, local users discovered that they could produce their own methamphetamine. Both the ease of manufacturing and the availability of chemicals contributed greatly to the dramatic growth and spread of these labs throughout the state of Indiana. While not readily available at the retail level, anhydrous ammonia is used extensively in rural areas throughout the state. State law enforcement reports indicate that the chemical has been easily stolen from nurse tanks stored on family farms and coops, train tanker cars that transport the chemical, or diverted from one of the anhydrous pipelines.
Methamphetamine laboratories create environmental hazards with enormous cleanup costs. The chemicals used to produce methamphetamine are extremely flammable and toxic. Every pound of methamphetamine produced yields up to five pounds of waste chemicals, which in turn contaminate the land, streams, and public sewer systems. The small labs are often more dangerous than the larger operations. The "cooks" are generally less experienced and have little regard for the consequences arising from the use of toxic, explosive, and poisonous chemicals. In 2001, EPIC reported 19 fires and explosions related to methamphetamine production in Indiana. While that number had risen to 35 in 2002, the number of explosions and fires related to methamphetamine laboratories fell to 21 in 2003.
A Child's Home Becomes a Parent's LabThe methamphetamine trade is particularly insidious because of its direct, alarming, and negative impact on our youth. Federal and state law enforcement officials remain vigilant in our efforts to keep youth in Indiana and across the country from the devastating effects of this drug.
A recently published comprehensive report from the National Jewish Medical and Research Center found that the toxic clouds of chemicals created by meth "cooks" within their "home labs" are posing a significant health and safety threat to the children and adults living in and around labs. This first-of-its kind study scientifically documented how toxic methamphetamine chemicals adhere to almost all the surfaces in a home or even hotel rooms used as a meth lab, from walls to carpets, to table tops and children's clothing. Given this environment, children might as well be taking the drug directly. DEA Administrator Karen Tandy commented at a January 2004 press conference that the study "exposes the enormous, but hidden, risks of methamphetamine." She emphasized that these high levels of toxins "expose innocent and unwary citizens to poisons that can be silent killers."
The sad fact is that Indiana children are continually exposed to the ravages of this illegal substance. Toxic labs are often discovered where children live and play. In 2003, information reported to EPIC showed 176 children affected, 65 children exposed to toxic chemicals, 5 children injured, 1 child killed, 59 children present at labs, 39 children placed into protective custody and 74 children residing at homes where clandestine labs were present. More than any other controlled substance, methamphetamine endangers children through exposure to drug use/abuse, neglect, physical and sexual abuse, toxic chemicals, hazardous waste, fire, and explosion. In response to this tragic phenomenon, DEA has enhanced its Victim Witness Program to identify and report these incidents to the proper state agencies. Each of DEA's Field Divisions has a Victim/Witness Coordinator to ensure that endangered children are identified and the child's immediate safety is addressed at the scene through coordination with child welfare and health care service providers.
Seizures and Investigations - An Ongoing Battle
As I mentioned, DEA devotes half of its Indiana investigative resources to methamphetamine related cases. These investigations have uncovered activities of concern across the state. Locally, the Merrillville, Indiana Resident Office (MRO), reported that methamphetamine trafficking (and some production) is controlled by Hispanic groups around South Bend. Law enforcement has identified four groups that are sending approximately 500 pounds of methamphetamine to South Bend every month. This influx results in Elkhart becoming a transshipment point where the drug is subsequently shipped to other Midwest states. In September 2003, authorities in South Bend seized 34 pounds of methamphetamine that had been associated with this traffic. Within the next week, an additional 26 pounds of methamphetamine and 16 kilograms of cocaine were also seized. These seizures underscore the severe methamphetamine problem faced by law enforcement and public health officials in and around South Bend.
DEA seizure statistics confirm the increased availability of methamphetamine across Indiana. Recorded methamphetamine seizures by the MRO increased from zero in 1999 to more than 27 kilograms in 2003. DEA intelligence has identified a Mexican trafficking source responsible for smuggling 30 pounds of methamphetamine at a time into the Evansville area. This represents a substantial increase in the volume of methamphetamine entering Indiana from Mexican controlled organizations.
On December 6, 2003, approximately 90 local law enforcement officers, led by the DEA Indianapolis District Office, concluded Operation Sweet Home Alabama, a six month investigation which yielded the arrest of 18 defendants and the execution of 14 federal search warrants. The Priority Target involved a Mexican National who oversaw the largest methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana ring ever exposed in Indiana. The investigation resulted in the seizure of $70,000 in U.S. currency, 40 pounds of methamphetamine, 20 kilograms of cocaine, three vehicles, and 20 firearms. On January 27, 2004, a federal judge sentenced the head of the organization, Ramon Montero, to twenty years in prison. Upon his release from prison, he will likely be deported back to Mexico.
ConclusionThe seriousness of the problems resulting from the methamphetamine threat cannot be overstated. Perhaps more than any other drug, methamphetamine puts all of us-users and nonusers alike-at risk. The innocence of children, the fortitude of law enforcement, and the pristine state of our ecosystem are not immune to meth's dangers.
DEA is combating the methamphetamine epidemic on several fronts. Our agency is targeting Mexican trafficking organizations while working closely with state and local law enforcement to eliminate the spread of small toxic labs and alleviate their consequences.