DEA Congressional Testimony
July 28, 1999

Statement by:

Donnie R. Marshall, Acting Administrator
Drug Enforcement Administration
United States Department of Justice

Before the:

Senate Judiciary Committee, United States Senate


July 28, 1999

Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.


Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee: I am pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the growing dangers that methamphetamine trafficking, use and abuse, and the spread of clandestine drug laboratories, pose to the citizens of our country. 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.

The recent escalation of methamphetamine production and trafficking coincided with the growing power of the trafficking organizations based in Mexico after the arrests of the major leaders of the Cali mafia in the summer of 1995. Methamphetamine trafficking and use have increased exponentially over the past five years, and my testimony today will provide the committee with information on how, where and why this has occurred, and how federal law enforcement is working with state and local partners across the nation to address the methamphetamine problem.

While methamphetamine is not an entirely new problem in the United States, about five years ago an upsurge in methamphetamine trafficking and abuse began taking hold in many regions of the nation, starting on the West Coast, and rapidly expanding into the Midwest and, to a lesser extent, the Southeastern United States. DEA statistics indicate that in 1993, DEA seized a total of 218 methamphetamine labs. This total increased to 263 labs in 1994; 327 labs in 1995; and 879 labs in 1996. In 1997, DEA participated in the seizure of 1,451 clandestine labs, 98% of which were methamphetamine labs. In FY-1998, DEA seized over 1,600 methamphetamine laboratories, and to date in FY 1999, we have seized over 1,200.

Clandestine drug labs have been a concern for law enforcement since the 1960's when outlaw motorcycle gangs began producing their own methamphetamine in these labs and dominated the distribution of the drug within the United States. Although clandestine drug laboratories can also be used to produce other types of illicit drugs (i.e. PCP, MDMA, LSD, etc.), methamphetamine has always been the primary drug manufactured in the vast majority of labs seized by law enforcement. In 1998, 71 (4.4%) of the 1,627 clandestine methamphetamine labs seized by DEA were classified by the agency as "super labs." A "super lab" is a clandestine laboratory operation which is capable of producing 10 pounds or more of methamphetamine in a single production cycle, which is indicative of operation by a structured organization. Of the 71 "super labs" seized by DEA nationwide in 1998, 57 of these laboratories were seized in the State of California alone. DEA estimates that methamphetamine "super labs" currently produce over 80 percent of the methamphetamine available today in the United States.

The violence associated with methamphetamine trafficking and use has also produced a collateral impact on the crime statistics of communities across the U.S., particularly in the western United States. Television viewers nationwide recently watched live footage of a paranoid methamphetamine addict who stole a tank from a National Guard armory and went on a car crushing rampage in the San Diego area. Another methamphetamine addict in New Mexico beheaded his son after experiencing hallucinations in which he believed his son was Satan. In 1997, in Contra Costa County, near San Francisco, police found that methamphetamine was involved in 447 cases of domestic violence.

Since 1994, the number of DEA related methamphetamine arrests has increased precipitously, rising from 1,893 arrests in 1993 to 7,587 arrests in 1998, an increase of over 300 percent. Today, roughly 21 percent of all DEA arrests are for methamphetamine related drug violations, a total only surpassed by cocaine related arrests, which encompass roughly 45 percent of overall agency arrest totals.

Methamphetamine Production and Trafficking - International Organized Crime Groups Based in Mexico

Today, there are two major forces fueling the methamphetamine trade within the United States: first, the well-organized, high volume, "super lab" methamphetamine manufacturing and trafficking groups based in Mexico; and second, a widely scattered series of local methamphetamine producers, predominantly based in rural areas around the country.

Traffickers based in Mexico have had a long history of involvement in poly-drug production and smuggling. For years, these powerful and violent groups produced and smuggled marijuana and heroin into the United States, dominating the heroin trade in the Southwest and Midwest regions of the nation. During the early 1990's, the Cali drug mafia reached an accommodation with trafficking groups based in Mexico who agreed to transport multi-ton quantities of cocaine into the United States. At first, transporters from Mexico were paid in cash, but eventually they negotiated to be paid in

cocaine, which they distributed themselves within the United States. This series of changes in the cocaine trade, along with the arrest of the powerful Cali leaders in 1995 and 1996, greatly strengthened the organizations from Mexico.

The Increased power and sophistication of the Mexican traffickers led them to seek to successfully dominate all phases of the methamphetamine trade, from beginning to end. Because methamphetamine is a synthetic drug created from a mixture of chemicals, traffickers based in Mexico did not have to rely on traffickers in other nations to provide coca or finished cocaine for distribution. These groups initially had ready access to precursor chemicals on the international market. These chemicals have fewer controls in Mexico and overseas than in the United States, a fact which allowed the organizations to produce large quantities of high purity methamphetamine in clandestine laboratories, both in Mexico and southern California. Methamphetamine organizations based in Mexico have developed international connections with chemical suppliers in Europe, Asia, and the Far East, and with these connections, they have been able to obtain ton quantities of the necessary precursor chemicals (ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine) to manufacture methamphetamine and amphetamine. In recent years, with the growth of DEA led international efforts to control the flow of bulk ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine, Mexican traffickers have also turned to tableted forms of these precursors to manufacture their product and now frequently buy their products from rogue chemical suppliers in the United States.

The Amezcua-Contreras brothers, operating out of Guadalajara, Mexico, head a methamphetamine production and trafficking organization with global dimensions. Their drug trafficking organization is one of Mexico's largest smugglers of ephedrine and clandestine producers of methamphetamine. By exploiting the legitimate international chemical trade, this organization holds the key to producing methamphetamine on a grand scale. Information developed by U.S. and Government of Mexico (GOM) investigations indicate that the Amezcua organization obtains large quantities of the precursor ephedrine, utilizing contacts in Thailand and India, which they then supply to methamphetamine laboratories in Mexico and the U.S. The activities of this group have significantly impacted a number of U.S. cities and have contributed to the growing methamphetamine abuse problem in the U.S.

Until their arrests by the GOM in June 1998, the Amezcua organization was directed by Jesus Amezcua, and supported by his brothers, Adan and Luis. During 1998, all GOM charges against Luis and Jesus Amezcua were dismissed by Mexican courts due to insufficient evidence. Both Luis and Jesus Amezcua were then ordered released by the courts but were re-arrested by the GOM based on U.S. provisional arrest warrants. These U.S. provisional arrest warrants are currently the only charges holding Luis and Jesus Amezcua. In January and February 1999, the GOM ruled that Luis and Jesus Amezcua were extraditable to the U.S. Both defendants have filed a judicial appeal against extradition, and their fate is pending on the outcome of Mexican judicial rulings. On May 19, 1999, Adan Amezcua, who was originally arrested in November 1997 on weapons charges and then rearrested in March 1999 for money laundering violations, was released from prison. The money laundering charges against Adan were dismissed due to a lack of evidence. In spite of the continued incarceration of Jesus and Luis Amezcua in Mexico, the Amezcua-Contreras trafficking organization still maintains active cells in the United States. The center of the Amezcua's trafficking activities in the U.S. originates in California, either as a manufacturing point or as an initial storage site after methamphetamine is imported from Mexico.

In addition to readily available precursor chemicals which allow groups from Mexico, such as the Amezcuas, to produce thousands of pounds of methamphetamine in laboratories in Mexico and California, the methamphetamine organizations based in Mexico also have well-established, polydrug distribution networks in place throughout our country. Trafficking organizations from Mexico have infiltrated numerous communities around the nation, particularly areas where large numbers of Mexican workers are involved in the meat packing business or other agricultural industries. It is common now to find hundreds of traffickers from Mexico, some of them illegal aliens, established in communities like Boise, Des Moines, Omaha, Charlotte and Kansas City, distributing multi-pound quantities of methamphetamine.

The impact of methamphetamine trafficking on these communities has been devastating. In Iowa, health officials expressed deep concern about the thousands of infants who have been exposed to methamphetamine before their births. Furthermore, an expert associated with Marshall County Iowa's Juvenile Court Services estimated that in 1998, one third of the 1,600 students at Marshalltown High School had tried methamphetamine. Methamphetamine production also poses a grave problem to the communities in which the drug is located. Several years ago, during a major case, DEA discovered a working methamphetamine laboratory at an equestrian center where children were taking riding lessons. In another case, a laboratory capable of producing 180 pounds of methamphetamine was discovered within a thousand feet of a junior high school. This type of discovery is being made more and more frequently by DEA and other law enforcement agencies working methamphetamine cases.

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 by United States citizens is also a significant problem. The production level of these laboratories, often makeshift and described as Amom 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.

Our nation's growing methamphetamine lab epidemic can also be attributed to the evolution of technology and the increased use of the Internet. In the past, methamphetamine chemists closely guarded their drug recipes; but with modern computer technology and the increasing willingness of chemists to share their recipes, this information is now available to anyone with computer access. Methamphetamine is one of the only widely abused controlled substances which an addict, without chemical expertise, can make on his own. A cocaine or heroin addict cannot make his own cocaine or heroin, but a methamphetamine addict only has to turn on his computer to find a recipe for the chemicals and developmental processes required to make the drug.

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. Items such as rock salt, battery acid, red phosphorous road flares, pool acid, and iodine crystals can be utilized to substitute for some of the necessary chemicals. A clandestine lab operator can utilize relatively common items such as mason jars, coffee filters, hot plates, pressure cookers, pillowcases, plastic tubing, gas cans, etc., to substitute for sophisticated laboratory equipment. Unlike Fentanyl, LSD, or other types of dangerous drugs, it does not take a college educated chemist to produce methamphetamine. In fact, less than 10 percent of those suspects arrested for the manufacture of methamphetamine are trained chemists, which may be one reason we see so many fires, explosions, and injuries in clandestine lab incidents.

Despite the fact that the majority of these laboratories produce relatively small amounts of methamphetamine, the proliferation of this type of laboratory has imposed terrible burdens on law enforcement agencies and departments in states like Missouri. In 1992, only two clandestine lab seizures in Missouri were reported to DEA; by 1997, Missouri was ranked the number one state in per capita methamphetamine lab seizures. In 1998, 679 clandestine lab seizures were reported in Missouri, tying the state for second, with Utah (Nevada was first) in per capita clandestine laboratory seizures. In addition, the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Oregon, Kansas and Arizona each seized in excess of 200 methamphetamine laboratories in 1998. Smaller "mom and pop" lab operations are even a significant problem in California, despite the state's high concentration of "super labs."

In some respects, the methamphetamine problem is synonymous with the clandestine laboratory problem (as previously mentioned, over 98% of clandestine labs seized are now methamphetamine labs) and this issue has been the focus of much media attention in recent months. Although the methamphetamine problem and the clandestine lab problem are both part of the same drug abuse mosaic, in reality, they are somewhat different issues which may require a different law enforcement response in order to successfully combat the spiraling increases in both arenas.

The threats posed by clandestine labs are not limited to fire, explosion, poison gas, drug abuse, 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 nations streams, rivers, and sewage systems to cover up the evidence of their illegal operations. Because of the possibility of explosions and direct contact with toxic fumes and hazardous chemicals, law enforcement officers who raid clandestine drug labs are now required to take special hazardous materials (HAZMAT) handling training. Today, the police officer who improperly disposes toxic waste materials could be exposing himself to civil liability under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

The chemical reactions that occur during the manufacture of methamphetamine also produce chemical vapors that can permeate into the walls, carpets, plaster, and wood of the houses and buildings in which they are located. The cleanup of these clandestine laboratories across the nation costs DEA and other government agencies millions of dollars annually. The average clandestine laboratory costs approximately $3,000 to cleanup. Large laboratories can result in costs exceeding $100,000. Such large sums of money could easily bankrupt a small sheriff's department, which is why it is essential for these smaller law enforcement entities to involve state and federal authorities in the larger clandestine lab investigations during the early stages of case development.

The size of lab does not matter when it comes to the danger level involved in a clandestine laboratory raid. The smaller labs are usually more dangerous than the larger operations because the cooks are generally less experienced chemists who often have little regard for the safety issues that arise when dealing with explosive and poisonous chemicals. However, the size of a clandestine laboratory can be a significant factor in the costs associated with the hazardous waste cleanup. Larger production laboratories usually have larger quantities of toxic chemicals, and therefore, more significant hazardous waste disposal charges.

DEA's Strategy to Fight Methamphetamine

DEA's methamphetamine strategy encompasses several elements, including targeting and building cases against the major methamphetamine traffickers based in Mexico, and against their surrogates operating in the United States today; assisting state and local law enforcement agencies in making cases against methamphetamine manufacturers and traffickers working in the United States; partnering with state and local law enforcement to assist with training and laboratory clean-up; and controlling the precursor chemicals necessary for methamphetamine production in Mexico and the United States.

Since FY 1998, due to the generous contributions of the President and Congress, DEA has targeted over 297 positions (160 Special Agents) and $35.6 million on methamphetamine enforcement efforts across the United States. While the majority of this funding has been used for personnel resources, remaining funds have been used for the purchase of clandestine laboratory vehicles, the continued development of DEA's Clandestine Laboratory Database and the cleanup of clandestine methamphetamine laboratories. Today, DEA provides contracted clandestine laboratory cleanup services for DEA Special Agents as well as state and local law enforcement personnel across the country. Funding for this purpose is provided to the agency by the President and the Congress through the Assets Forfeiture Fund, DEA direct appropriation and the COPS program. In 1997, DEA provided for the clean-up of 1,383 clandestine drug laboratories nationwide, at a cost of $6.8 million. In 1998, this total rose to 1,919 clandestine laboratories at a cost of $5.8 million. To date, in 1999, DEA has provided for the clean-up of 1,812 clandestine laboratories at a cost of $5.0 million.

DEA Clandestine Laboratory Safety/Certification Training

In 1987, DEA created a special training unit for clandestine laboratory safety/certification training which is located at the U.S. Marine Corp Base at Camp Upshur, Quantico, Virginia. This unit originated in response to concerns from DEA management that the agency's Special Agents and task force officers were being exposed to hazardous, toxic, and carcinogenic chemicals while executing raids on clandestine drug laboratories. Some DEA field offices, primarily in the state of California, were reporting that Special Agents and officers appeared to be suffering serious health problems as a result of both short and long-term exposure to the chemical and toxic fumes encountered when processing these drug laboratories. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, 29 C.F.R. 1910.12, now mandates that all federal, state, and local law enforcement officers must receive at least 24 hours of hazardous chemical handling training (specific Occupational Safety, Health and Administration (OSHA) standards for courses and equipment), prior to entering a clandestine drug laboratory.

Reports from DEA and state police records indicate that at least five or six meth producers are now being killed every year from explosions and/or fires in clandestine labs. Many more receive serious burns or develop serious health problems from clandestine laboratory explosions and fires. There have been reports of apartment complexes and a $3,500,000 hotel which burned down as the result of drug lab "cooks" that turned into chemical time bombs. Recent years have seen an increase in the number of injuries to untrained police officers who investigate and/or dismantle clandestine laboratories without utilizing the proper safety equipment.

Reports of property damage and injuries to children from drug lab disasters have also increased throughout the nation. During 1997, the Kansas City area fire department authorities were reporting fires, on an almost monthly basis, that originated from clandestine methamphetamine laboratory operations or the use of precursor chemicals. In Independence, Missouri, the Chief of Police reported that during the last two years, at least six individuals have been killed in fires that resulted from clandestine methamphetamine laboratories. Police reports from California and Oklahoma indicate an increase in deaths from invisible poisonous phosphine gas.

In response to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations which mandates that all law enforcement officers must have completed a clandestine lab safety school prior to entering a methamphetamine lab, DEA has initiated an aggressive training schedule to increase the number of clandestine laboratory safety schools provided to state and local police throughout the nation. The DEA Clandestine Laboratory Safety Program conducts its safety/certification schools at the DEA Clandestine Laboratory Training Facility in Quantico Virginia. An auxiliary regional training facility has also been established for the Midwest U.S., near Kansas City. This specialized unit frequently conducts in-service training and seminars for law enforcement groups such as the Clandestine Laboratory Investigators Association (CLIA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). In addition, the DEA Clandestine Laboratory

Training Unit provides police awareness training seminars to law enforcement organizations across the U.S., as well as the annual re-certification training which is mandated by 29 C.F.R. 1910.12.

Students who graduate from the DEA Clandestine Lab School in Quantico, Virginia, are issued over $2,000 in specialized clandestine lab safety gear. Some of the items issued include: Level III nomex fire-resistant ballistic vests; nomex fire-resistant jackets, pants, and gloves; chemical resistant boots; air purified respirators; combat retention holsters; special flashlights; chemical resistant clothing for conducting hazard assessments and processing drug labs; and goggles to prevent eye injuries in the event a suspect throws acid or other dangerous chemicals at law enforcement personnel. Since 1997, DEA has conducted a total of 62 clandestine laboratory certification schools for 2,384 Special Agents and state and local law enforcement personnel across the country.

Today, we are cautiously optimistic that our chemical control efforts, combined with aggressive anti-methamphetamine law enforcement efforts in the local police arena, have been the catalyst for the decrease in methamphetamine purity. However, success in combating the smaller lab-based methamphetamine problem may be much more difficult to achieve. As previously indicated, the dawn of the Internet has released a plethora of methamphetamine formulas for the public to choose from, and everything that is needed to manufacture methamphetamine can be purchased at your local department store, where federal and state law enforcement officials have to rely on voluntary compliance measures instituted by industry.

In recent months, several DEA offices in the Midwest and California have reported that the purity of Mexican methamphetamine has significantly dropped in the majority of controlled purchases and seizures. Many law enforcement agencies in the Midwest and California are now reporting that the previous high purity (80%+ range) of Mexican methamphetamine has now dropped to less than 30%. Information provided by DEA's System to Retrieve Information from Drug Evidence (STRIDE) shows that nationally, the average purity for methamphetamine has dropped from 60.5 percent in 1995 to 27.2 percent in 1999.

Impact of the Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996

Without strong and innovative laws to help federal, state and local law enforcement meet the challenges posed by methamphetamine production and trafficking, law enforcement's mission would be all the more difficult. One of the most important pieces of legislation developed in our nation's ongoing fight against methamphetamine trafficking and abuse is the Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996 (MCA), which was developed under the leadership of Chairman Hatch and other members of the Judiciary Committee, most prominently Senators Feinstein and Biden. This act specifically targets the diversion of ephedrine combination drug products and drug products containing pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine. As I noted earlier, beginning in 1996, seizures of methamphetamine laboratories began to rise dramatically and early on, almost all of these laboratories were using pseudoephedrine drug products as their source of precursor material. The MCA subjected these products to full regulatory control at the manufacturer and distributor level, allowing us to track the production and sale of these products nationally. It also provided specific exemptions at the retail level so that legitimate consumers of these products were not affected.

In addition, the MCA provided the impetus for a number of major pharmaceutical retailers to adopt voluntary measures, such as restrictions on the volume of sales of these products, to individual customers. The Drug Enforcement Administration and Wal-Mart have formed a partnership to control large-scale purchases of three key over-the-counter (OTC) products, pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine, used in the clandestine manufacture of methamphetamine and amphetamine. After meeting with DEA representatives at a national meeting of Wal-Mart pharmacy managers in Kansas City, Missouri, on January 16, 1997, Wal-Mart management moved to restrict sales of these allergy/cold/diet preparations which have been diverted from legitimate use and seized in clandestine labs throughout California, Western, Southwestern, and Midwestern States.

Another major feature of the MCA was the requirement that mail order distributors report their sales to individual users, to DEA on a monthly basis. These firms had been a major source of pseudoephedrine products for methamphetamine laboratory operators. This reporting requirement, coupled with the fact that these firms were now required to become registered with the DEA, has had a major impact on the activities of these firms.

Overall, the new controls implemented through the MCA, augmented by voluntary measures instituted by industry, have made it increasingly difficult for large laboratory operators to obtain substantial quantities of precursor materials domestically. In fact, while the number of laboratories seized has continued to increase, this increase is attributed to the growth in the number of small laboratories producing ounce quantities of methamphetamine. Laboratories of this size are still able to obtain sufficient cough and cold drug products containing the necessary methamphetamine precursors at the retail distribution level to satisfy their needs, despite the voluntary efforts of industry.


Methamphetamine, and other controlled substances which are produced in clandestine laboratories provide 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.

Domestically-based drug traffickers who engage in methamphetamine production and trafficking are also a major threat to our nation's stability. Since methamphetamine is relatively easy to produce, and with the proliferation of information on methamphetamine production available on the Internet, unscrupulous individuals will continue to take part in this illegal and dangerous enterprise. Traffickers only need $1,000 worth of chemicals to make $10,000 in methamphetamine in a trailer, a hotel room or house in any location within the United States.

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 become more and more prevalent. 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 Committee and I look forward to taking any questions you may have on this important subject.


Travel back to the 1999 Congressional Testimony

Home USDOJ.GOV Privacy Policy Contact Us Site Map


USDOJ.GOV Privacy Policy Contact Us Site Map