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WASHINGTON - Methamphetamine usage, which appeared to be decreasing after a national crackdown five years ago, now appears to be on the upswing again as a result of increased activity among Mexican drug cartels and small-time domestic producers.
Recent reports show the incidence of methamphetamine use nationwide was essentially cut in half between 2006 and 2010, despite increased involvement from Mexican drug cartels.
A survey conducted for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed usage nationally dropping from 731,000 people age 12 and older to 353,000 - this during a period when illicit drugs were on the upswing.
But there are reports that meth and the cartels are making a comeback. Joseph T. Rannazzisi, deputy assistant administrator in the Drug Enforcement Administration's Office of Diversion Control, said much of the turf gained in the fight against meth "has now been lost" because of easy access to the substances used to make the product.
"Methamphetamine is unique from other illicit drugs of abuse because production of the drug requires no specialized skill or training, and its recipes are readily available on the Internet," Rannazzisi said. "The precursor chemicals associated with this drug have also been historically easy to obtain and inexpensive to purchase. These factors have contributed to methamphetamine's rapid sweep across our nation."
A report released last August, "National Drug Threat Assessment 2011," from the National Drug Intelligence Center, a part of the U.S. Department of Justice, revealed that methamphetamine usage was "increasing, especially among the young."
The jump was attributed to Mexican-based transnational criminal organizations that control smuggling routes across the Southwestern border and maintain the capacity to produce, transport, and/or distribute methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine is primarily smuggled across the California border with Mexico, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center. Seizures of methamphetamine there declined sharply in 2007 but have increased every year since. Most of the increase has been recorded in southern California.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, two-thirds of the meth supply in the U.S. is produced by "super labs" in Mexico and southern California and trafficked throughout the country. The remaining third is made in small meth labs found in basements, kitchens, garages, bedrooms, barns, vacant buildings, campgrounds, hotels and trunks of cars. The meth produced in small domestic laboratory operations is usually consumed locally.
The Rand Corp. placed the economic cost of meth use in the U.S. in 2005 at between $16.2 billion and $48.3 billion. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and The National Institute on Drug Abuse have invested tens of millions of dollars into researching the effects of meth and effective treatments.
In response, state and federal lawmakers adopted laws to control some of the essential ingredients that go into meth manufacturing -- pseudoephedrine, ephedrine and phenylpropanolamine, some of which are found in common cold remedies.
Some products, once easily available, were kept behind the counter so retailers could limit distribution, keep track of purchases and provide reports and information to state and federal authorities.
The increased federal restrictions became effective in September 2006 and included rules for employee training, product packaging and placement and log books. To purchase products containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, a customer must present identification and sign the log book at sales locations. Law enforcement can now identify anyone purchasing more than 9 grams of the substances within a 30-day period.
"These measures had an immediate and positive result," Rannazzisi said. "Meth lab incidents plummeted and proved that effective chemical control could have a dramatic positive impact on illicit methamphetamine production."
(Bill Straub is a correspondent for The Evansville Courier in Indiana.)
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.