The manufacture of methamphetamine in the U.S. — and Bartow County — isn’t happening in kitchens, garages, basements or seedy motel rooms. Instead, it is increasingly coming from our neighbors to the south.
“Between 2 and 5 percent of the drugs that are here originate here,” Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force Commander Capt. Mark Mayton said.
According to a report from The Associated Press last week, the smuggling of meth across the U.S.-Mexico border has increased in recent years, highlighted by San Diego’s San Ysidro port of entry, which accounted for more than 40 percent of methamphetamine seizures in 2012.
The AP reported inspectors seized 13,195 pounds of meth along the border last year.
The report is a reflection of what Mayton said occurs locally. “All of them come from our southern borders, so it directly affects what happens here.”
Although credit has been given to the domestic crackdown on labs and the chemicals used to manufacture the drug, Mayton said the problem of running meth from Mexico is not a new one.
“During my career, it has always been predominantly from our southern borders. [The crackdown] hasn’t forced it to come from somewhere else. It has forced them to find other means to get it here,” said the 22-year veteran of law enforcement.
To get the product here, manufacturers bring it through checkpoints, walk it across the border and ship it in.
“[They bring drugs] directly through checkpoints,” Mayton said. “They walk it across in isolated regions where there is no checkpoint. They have border sensors all up and down the border, but they can alleviate those things and get around them. They are walking it across, sending it in trains, sending it in cars, in trucks.”
Once across the border, he added, the drugs are staged in the Southwestern United States and distributed in bulk shipments across the country.
Joe Garcia, assistant special agent in charge of ICE investigations in San Diego, told The Associated Press that children are caught several times a week with methamphetamine strapped to their bodies. They are typically paid $50 to $200 for each trip, carrying 3 pounds on average.
Drivers, who collect up to $2,000 per trip, conceal methamphetamine in bumpers, batteries, radiators and almost any other crevice imaginable. Packaging is smothered with mustard, baby powder and laundry detergent to fool drug-sniffing dogs.
Crystals are increasingly dissolved in water, especially during the last year, making the drug more difficult to detect in giant X-ray scanners that inspectors order some motorists to drive through. The water is later boiled and often mixed with acetone, a combustible fluid used in paints that yields clear shards of methamphetamine favored by users. The drug often remains in liquid form until reaching its final distribution hub.
Although “miniscule amounts” of meth are made here, the increase in production outside the border may be a simple matter of economics.
“Why do you think it’s more costly? ... It’s actually cheaper to make it there,” Mayton explained. “They get bulk precursors there. The oversight there is not what it is here. The regulations that are put on imports, and even the regulations that are put on retail inventory is not that way there. All that stuff is readily available there for them to make meth. Their law enforcement presence, they have so much corruption in their law enforcement as it is.
“It’s actually easier for them to make it there, bring it here. The people they are sending it with are expendable. These are not important people bringing it into our country; these are people that, if they get caught, that’s the cost of doing business.”
On a cost-to-cost analysis, meth presents a better return on investment than marijuana.
“I want to say there is a better profit margin in meth because they are able to bring smaller amounts and make more profits,” Mayton said. “... They have to send so much more of the weed to make that kind of money, which they are making great money off the weed, but they can send smaller amounts of the meth and make the same amount of money for a larger amount of weed.”
And cost is a factor in fighting the war on drugs.
“We have seen a reduction in the number of labs since the legislation [monitoring the sale of] Sudafed. We were doing anywhere from 35 to 55 labs a year, and now we are doing maybe five a year. And we are OK with that. I would rather chase the other side of that coin as the labs,” Mayton said. “It’s so taxing on us locally. Used to, before sequestration and all these budget constraints, the federal government would assist us in paying for the disposal of those hazardous materials. Now, that falls right back on us, and our money is tight just like everyone else’s.”
The solution, however, is not an easy one.
“The true solution is to shut down our borders ... With the immigration issues that are coming up, we’ve got to secure that southern border,” Mayton said. “They’re still going to get it in here, but we will see a significant reduction in the amount of drugs that are coming across if we shut the border down.
“Now, is that unrealistic and Utopian in nature? Probably so. But I think we could do a better job than we are doing securing our borders.”