Methamphetamine: Background, Prevalence, and Federal Drug Control Policies
Methamphetamine: Background, Prevalence, and
Federal Drug Control Policies
January 24, 2007
Specialist in Social Legislation
Domestic Social Policy Division
Methamphetamine: Background, Prevalence and
Federal Drug Control Policies
Methamphetamine has risen to the top of the American drug-policy agenda. For
most of its history, it was regarded in law and public opinion as a secondary or
regional concern, different from and less damaging than the drugs — heroin, cocaine,
and marijuana — that have defined the focus of national drug policy. More recently,
however, as the production, trafficking, and use of methamphetamine have spread,
a gathering consensus has come to regard it as one of the most dangerous substances
available in illegal markets. Methamphetamine’s dangers, including the devastating
impact of the drug on child welfare and health care systems in blighted communities,
the risk of fires and explosions and the environmental contamination resulting from
illicit manufacture of the drug, and the rapid increase in foreign suppliers of the drug
are likely to keep this drug problem at the forefront of the congressional agenda.
Existing evidence of the pattern of methamphetamine abuse and the
effectiveness of alternative responses to its abuse are in some cases highly imperfect,
and policymaking in this field remains an exercise in decision making under
uncertainty. There is, however, little doubt that methamphetamine use has risen
significantly since the early 1990s. Indeed, this trend arguably is the most important
change in drug consumption patterns since the crack cocaine epidemic of the late
1980s and early 1990s. The prospect of increased methamphetamine use is a major
concern for the future.
During the 109th Congress, more than 25 bills were introduced to address the
methamphetamine problem, including its implications for public health, child
welfare, crime and public safety, border security, and international relations. Of
these proposals, Title VII of H.R. 3199, the PATRIOT Act Renewal Act of 2005 (P.L.
109-177), was signed into law on March 9, 2006. The new law establishes measures
to control the availability of methamphetamine precursor chemicals used for the
illicit manufacturing of methamphetamine by drug trafficking organizations and
amateur producers. The law limits the amount of cold and sinus medicine that can
be purchased by consumers and requires that retailers maintain a registry of
purchasers and secure their drug inventories. Among other provisions, P.L. 109-177
provides for limits on imports of methamphetamine precursor chemicals and requires
the Departments of Justice and State to work with Mexico to effectively disrupt the
smuggling of illicit methamphetamine across the U.S.-Mexico border.
This report begins with a brief overview of the history of methamphetamine use,
followed by an analysis of the available prevalence data on the drug’s use. The final
section of the report provides a few overall conclusions that can be inferred from
over two decades of congressional action to control illicit methamphetamine use,
manufacture, and distribution. Appendices include a description of past
congressional action and a brief description of three case studies analyzing the impact
and effectiveness of past congressional efforts to regulate and control
methamphetamine and its precursor chemicals. This report will not be updated.
Introduction: The Issue Before Congress...............................1
Chemistry of Methamphetamine..............................3
History of Methamphetamine Use and Regulation................3
Current Uses of Methamphetamine............................5
Sources of Illicit Methamphetamine...........................6
Dangers of Methamphetamine................................8
Is There a Methamphetamine Epidemic?...........................10
National Prevalence Estimates...............................11
Evidence for a Geographic Spread or Shift.....................14
National Epidemic, Regional Drug Problem, or the Latest Drug
P ani c? .............................................18
Federal Branch Law Enforcement Programs and Policies..................19
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)................................20
COPS Methamphetamine Initiative...............................21
Other DOJ Grant Programs.....................................21
Other Federal Responses to Illicit Methamphetamine.................22
Federal Legislative History of Methamphetamine Controls............27
Drug Abuse Control Amendments of 1965.....................27
Controlled Substances Act of 1970...........................27
Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act of 1988................27
Domestic Chemical Diversion Control Act of 1993..............28
Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996..........28
Methamphetamine Trafficking Penalty Enhancement Act of 1998...28
Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000...............28
Combating Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005............29
What Works? Case Studies of the Effectiveness of Federal Laws to
List of Tables
Table 1. Methamphetamine Use Among Persons Aged 12 or Older,
Table 2. Prevalence of Lifetime Methamphetamine Use Among High
School Seniors, 1999-2005.....................................14
Drug Use and Health, 2005, Ranked by Percent of Persons Aged 12
or Older Using the Substance....................................15
Table 4. DOJ Grant Awards Relating to Methamphetamine Initiatives,
FY2000 - FY2005............................................21
Methamphetamine: Background, Prevalence
and Federal Drug Control Policies
Introduction: The Issue Before Congress
Methamphetamine has risen to the top of the American drug-policy agenda. For
most of its history, it was regarded in law and public opinion as a secondary or
regional concern, different from and less damaging than the drugs — heroin, cocaine,
and marijuana — that have defined the focus of national drug policy. The issue
before Congress is how to effectively disrupt the illicit manufacture, trafficking, and
use of methamphetamine that has spread eastward from the traditional center of the
drug’s use in the Pacific west. As historical drug-policy priorities have been revised
to reflect methamphetamine’s devastating impact on children of users, user health,
risk to the user’s community, and the environmental damage caused by the drug’s
manufacture, a comprehensive range of methamphetamine-related issues has cometh
before Congress. Legislation was enacted in the 109 Congress that addresses
various aspects of the problem.
During the 109th Congress, the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act
(CMEA) was enacted as part of the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act (P.L. 109-
177). Signed into law on March 9, 2006, P.L. 109-177 establishes measures designed
to further criminalize and control the illicit use of methamphetamine by limiting the
availability of certain precursor chemicals used in the illicit manufacturing of
methamphetamine by drug trafficking organizations and amateur domestic producers.
The new law restricts the amount of over-the-counter (OTC) cold and sinus medicine
that consumers can purchase and requires retailers to maintain a registry of
purchasers and secure these drug inventories. P.L. 109-177 also sets limits on
imports of methamphetamine precursor chemicals and requires the Departments of
Justice and State to work with Mexico to disrupt the smuggling of illicit
methamphetamine across the U.S.-Mexico border. (For additional information on
the provisions of the law, see Appendix A.)
In addition to the enactment of the CMEA, two other new laws have been
enacted to address a number of methamphetamine-related issues that are beyond the
scope of this report. P.L. 109-288 (S. 3525), enacted on September 28, 2006,
authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make competitive grants
to regional partnerships that provide programs and services designed to address
concerns related to children in foster care due to a parent’s or caretaker’s
methamphetamine or other substance abuse.1 P.L. 109-347 (H.R. 4954), enacted on
1 For more information on the impact of methamphetamine abuse and child welfare issues
see, CRS Congressional Distribution Memorandum, Child Welfare and Methamphetamine
October 13, 2006, requires the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agency to track and
report the seizure of methamphetamine and methamphetamine precursor chemicals
as part of the agency’s annual performance plan with respect to the interdiction of
illegal drugs entering the United States.
In addition to what was enacted, a number of bills were introduced in the 109th
Congress that would have addressed the methamphetamine problem through such
measures as providing grants for technology to detect the smuggling of
methamphetamine and its precursor chemicals, and grants for mentoring, after-
school, and educational enrichment programs for children whose parents are
methamphetamine addicts. The broad range of legislation that was introduced
indicates Congress’s perception of the far-reaching implications of the
methamphetamine problem in the United States. The problem of methamphetamine
abuse and its clandestine manufacture is not new, reaching back over 50 years. What
makes methamphetamine a uniquely worrisome illicit drug for Congress is that it has
easily adapted to changing federal prohibitions and continued to flourish.2 Moreover,
the chemicals from which methamphetamine is synthesized are produced and used
for legitimate medical purposes and cannot be eliminated or eradicated.
This report begins with a brief overview of the background and history of
methamphetamine use and abuse, followed by the sources of the drug in the country
today. The report then provides an analysis of trends in illicit methamphetamine use,
prevalence and geographic shift. The final section of the report provides a few
conclusions that can be inferred from two decades of efforts to control illicit
methamphetamine use and production. Two appendices follow that provide an
overview of congressional efforts to address the problem, including a summary of the
relevant provisions of the recently enacted law, P.L. 109-177, and an analysis of past
congressional efforts to control methamphetamine.
For legislative issues in the 110th Congress, see CRS Report RS22325,
Methamphetamine: Legislation and Issues in the 110th Congress, by Celinda Franco.
Abuse: Issues and Resources, by Meredith Peterson, June 7, 2006. For information on the
methamphetamine provisions of P.L. 109-288, see CRS Report RL33354, The Promotingth
of Safe and Stable Families Program: Reauthorization in the 109 Congress, by Emilie
2 For information on two case studies analyzing the impact of past federal laws to control
methamphetamine, see Appendix B.
Methamphetamine was first synthesized in 1893 by the Japanese chemist34
Nagayoshi Nagai, but its medical uses were identified only in the 1930s.
Methamphetamine was marketed by Burroughs Wellcome and Co. as a
pharmaceutical drug under the trade name Methedrine beginning in 1940 and by
Abbott Laboratories under the trade name Desoxyn® beginning in 1943. Originally
used as a nasal decongestant and bronchiodialator, between 1932 and 1949 many
other medical uses for methamphetamine and amphetamines became accepted,
including treatment of schizophrenia, tobacco smoking, heart block, radiation
sickness, and morphine and codeine addiction.
Chemistry of Methamphetamine. Methamphetamine, an easily
manufactured drug of the amphetamine group, is a powerful and addictive central
nervous system (CNS) stimulant with long-lasting effects. The precursor drug
ephedrine, from which methamphetamine can be produced, occurs naturally in plants
of the genus Ephedra, and natural amphetamines are present in several plant species.
Unlike heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, which are derived from botanical materials
produced by large workforces dispersed over vast territories, methamphetamine is
synthesized from chemicals produced in discrete factories around the world. Today,
methamphetamine is produced synthetically, using either synthetically produced
ephedrine or other synthetic products, such as pseudoephedrine and
phenylpropanolamine, chemicals contained in OTC cold and sinus medications.
History of Methamphetamine Use and Regulation. Amphetamines
were used by combatants in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and the Second Sino-
Japanese War (China and Japan, 1937-45), and both amphetamine and
methamphetamine came into wide use during World War II, when Japan, Germany,
and the United States distributed the drugs to troops in order to increase their
endurance and performance.5 It has been estimated that 200 million amphetamine6
or methamphetamine tablets were supplied to U.S. troops over the course of the war.
In Japan, methamphetamine was also widely distributed to wartime factory workers.
After the war, surplus methamphetamine stocks were dumped on the market in Japan,
leading to the first major methamphetamine epidemic (1945-1957).7
3 Charles W. Meredith, MD, Craig Jaffe, MD, Kathleen Ang-Lee, MD, and Andrew J.
Saxon, MD, Implications of Chronic Methamphetamine Use: A Literature Review, Harvard
Review of Psychiatry, May/June 2005, p. 142.
4 U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Agency, National Drug Intelligence Center,
Drugs of Abuse, 2005 Edition, p. 34.
5 Douglas M. Anglin, Cynthia Burke, Brian Perrochet, Ewa Stamper, Samia Dawud-Noursi,
“History of the Methamphetamine Problem,” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, vol. 32, no.
6 Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Methylamphetamine Review, 2005.
7 Douglas M. Anglin, et. al., History of Methamphetamine Problem, p. 137; Michael S.
Vaughn, Frank F.Y. Huang and Christine Rose Ramirez, “Drug Abuse and Anti-Drug Policy
in Japan,” British Journal of Criminology, vol. 35, no. 4 (Autumn 1995), pp. 497-498.
Amphetamines were widely available in the United States without a prescription
until 1951, and amphetamine-containing inhalers were available over the counter
until 1959. Stimulants were widely used by long-haul truckers on transcontinental
trips and students for staying awake to study.8 The drugs were also widely used by
construction workers and other blue-collar workers, shift workers, housewives, and
office workers to help them stay awake or give them an extra “edge” in their
endeavors. Amphetamines were popular diet pills for anyone interested in losing
weight, particularly among women. In the 1950s, methamphetamine was considered
to be a promising therapy for depression.
Methamphetamine use has a lengthy history in the United States. Medical use
of methamphetamine began in the 1930s, when it was manufactured as a bronchial
dilator, and soon after prescribed for a variety of conditions, including narcolepsy,
attention deficit disorder, obesity, and fatigue. By the 1950s, methamphetamine was
readily available legally and widely used. In the 1960s, a liquid form of
methamphetamine gained popularity as a treatment for heroin addiction, which
quickly developed into a new abuse pattern involving injecting methamphetamine.
During this period, the black market for amphetamine and methamphetamine
consisted of diverted supplies from pharmaceutical companies, distributors, and
In response to the growing abuse of amphetamine and methamphetamine,
restrictions were placed on the availability of Desoxyn® and Methedrine in the
pharmaceutical market in late 1962. These restrictions led to the emergence of the
first illicit methamphetamine laboratories generally operated by motorcycle gangs,
first in the San Francisco area and later more widely in the western states. These
illicit “biker” laboratories synthesized methamphetamine using phenyl-2-propanone
(P-2-P) and methylamine as precursor chemicals, yielding a mixture of two isomers
(levo- and dextro-methamphetamine).9 The resulting substance was commonly
referred to as “crank,”10 which was a less potent form of methamphetamine than the
pharmaceutical product. This illicit form of methamphetamine was manufactured
and distributed by motorcycle gangs (also referred to as “outlaw biker gangs”)
beginning in the mid-1960s, and its use quickly spread along the Pacific Coast.
As the dangers associated with the use of amphetamine and methamphetamine
became better understood, further restrictions were placed on how much could be
legally produced and distributed. As a part of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970,
methamphetamine was classified as a Schedule II drug. The response to further
federal regulation of these pharmaceuticals fueled the illicit production of “crank,”
and its use spread beyond white- and blue-collar workers to include college students,
8 Errol Yudko, Harold V. Hall, and Sandra B. McPherson, Methamphetamine Use: Clinical
and Forensic Aspects, 2003, p. 6.
9 The illicit manufacture of methamphetamine by biker gangs led to scheduling of the drug
under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, as a Schedule II drug (discussed below).
10 The use of the term “crank” in this report refers to the weaker form of illicit
methamphetamine, also known as methamphetamine sulfate, that was largely manufactured
and distributed by West Coast motorcycle gangs.
young professionals, minorities, and women.11 By the 1980s, increased law
enforcement efforts to target the motorcycle gang subculture and its dominance of the
illicit methamphetamine supply led underground chemists to seek other methods of
illicitly manufacturing methamphetamine. The laws designed to crack down on
biker gangs selling methamphetamine inadvertently resulted in the development of
a new, easier method of manufacturing illicit methamphetamine that changed the
production and distribution of the drug.12 The new method of manufacturing illicit
methamphetamine was the simpler, ephedrine reduction-based method first
popularized in Southern California, primarily centered in San Diego. Use of the
“reduction” method made it not only simpler to manufacture methamphetamine, but
inadvertently led to the production of the significantly more potent form of
methamphetamine in use today.13 (See Appendix A for a more detailed description
of the federal legislative history of methamphetamine regulation.)
Current Uses of Methamphetamine. Today, methamphetamine is
medically used to treat a limited number of health conditions. These can include the
treatment of narcolepsy; attention deficit disorder; attention deficit/hyperactivity
disorder (ADD/ADHD); depression, as an adjunct to antidepressant medication; post-
stroke patients with cognitive impairment; and obesity.14 However, medical use of
methamphetamine is very limited, and alternative drugs are most often used to treat
the conditions that methamphetamine is currently approved to treat.
There are four forms of illicit methamphetamine: tablet, powder, base, and
crystal. Methamphetamine tablets usually contain a combination of
methamphetamine hydrochloride and caffeine. Methamphetamine tablets can be
taken orally, or after being crushed, the tablets can be smoked or taken intravenously.
Methamphetamine powder is crystalline hydrochloride salt and is water-soluble, and
can be taken orally, smoked, snorted, or injected, but in the United States it is usually
snorted or injected.15 Methamphetamine “base,” also known as “wax,” is a damp,
sticky, waxy or oily form of powder or paste of high purity that is thought to result
when the illicit methamphetamine producer does not have the skill to produce the
hydrochloride salt methamphetamine.16 It can be ingested orally or taken
11 Many added “crank” to their coffee, often referred to as “biker’s coffee.”
12 Errol Yudko, et. al., Methamphetamine Use: Clinical and Forensic Aspects, p. 6.
13 Generally, the two most commonly used methods for reducing ephedrine,
pseudoephedrine, or phenylpropanolamine (PPA) in order to manufacture illicit
methamphetamine are (1) reduction of the chemical precursors by boiling them with
hydroiodic acid and red phosphorus, or (2) reduction using lithium (from batteries) and
14 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Toxicology Program, Center
For the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, NTP-CERHR Expert Panel Report on
the Reproductive and Developmental Toxicity of Amphetamine and Methamphetamine,
“Chapter 1.0 Chemistry, Use and Human Exposure,” Mar. 2005, p. 11.
15 Jane Carlisle Maxwell, “Emerging Research on Methamphetamine,” Current Opinion in
Psychiatry, vol. 18, p. 235.
16 Methamphetamine base has also been found in Australia. See, National Drug and
intravenously. Crystal methamphetamine is methamphetamine hydrochloride powder
that has been re-crystallized using isopropyl alcohol or water and looks like pieces
of cracked ice or glass. This form of methamphetamine is usually smoked, but can
also be injected, snorted, or taken orally. The street name for crystal
methamphetamine is “ice,” and it is generally characterized by a level of purity
greater than 80%.17
The estimated level of past-year methamphetamine use in the United States in
2004 was approximately 0.6% of the population, significantly lower than use of some
other illicit drugs: marijuana (10.6%), prescription pain relievers used non-medically
(4.7%), cocaine (2.4%), tranquilizers (2.1%), and hallucinogens (1.6%).18 Among
National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimates of past month illicit
drug use in 2005, methamphetamine falls behind a number of other illicitly used
substances at 0.2% of those persons over age 12: marijuana and hashish (6.0%),
prescription pain relievers used non-medically (1.9%), cocaine (1.0%), tranquilizers
(0.7%), and hallucinogens (0.4%).19 It is also important to note that
methamphetamine past month use among those over age 12, although less than many
other illicit substances, is equal to Ecstacy (0.2%) and twice that of heroin (0.1%)
reported by NSDUH.20
Sources of Illicit Methamphetamine. According to the Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA), most illicit methamphetamine consumed in the United States
is produced in clandestine ‘super’ labs in Mexico and California operated by
Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). DEA estimates that more than 80%
of methamphetamine available illicitly is supplied by Mexican DTOs.
The Office of National Drug Policy’s (ONDCP) National Drug Threat
Assessment 2007, concluded that Mexican DTOs have expanded their control over
methamphetamine distribution in the U.S. This development is the result of greatly
reduced domestic methamphetamine production by amateur cooks in response to21
more tightly controlled precursor chemicals, first by state law in certain areas,
Alcohol Research Centre, Methamphetamine: Forms and Use Patterns, University of New
South Wales, 2006, available at [http://ndarc.med.unsw.edu.au/NDARCWeb.nsf/resources/
NDLERF_Methamphetamine/$file/NDLERF+ICE+FORMS+AND+USE.pdf], accessed on
Jan. 10, 2007.
17 U.S. Department of Justice, National Drug Intelligence Center, National
Methamphetamine Threat Assessment 2007, Nov. 2006, p. 17.
18 Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), University of Maryland, College Park,
October 3, 2005, Vol. 14, Issue 40, available at [http://www.cesar.umd.edu], accessed on
Jan. 10, 2007.
19 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH, 2005, p. 229.
21 According to the National Alliance For Model State Drug Laws, the following states
restrict sales of products containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine on the basis of quantity
followed in 2006 by federal law. The consolidation of methamphetamine production
and distribution by Mexican DTOs means that these considerably stronger and
expanded and more highly organized groups are producing and marketing a higher
The remainder of the U.S. market is supplied by small, makeshift, amateur
clandestine methamphetamine laboratories.22 Methamphetamine is relatively easy
and cheap to manufacture in small quantities by individuals with little knowledge
of chemistry or laboratory skills and equipment. Clandestine methamphetamine labs
are dangerous because the volatile chemicals used in the drug’s manufacture make
these laboratories vulnerable to fire and explosion,23 as well as environmental
contamination.24 Clandestine methamphetamine labs have been seized in numerous
settings, hidden from view but often in areas dangerous to children, such as sleeping
areas, kitchens and eating areas where food is prepared and stored, garages, vehicles,
hotel and motel rooms, storage lockers, mobile homes, apartments, ranches,
campgrounds, rural and urban dwellings, abandoned dumps, restrooms, houseboats,
and other locations. Amateur laboratories spread eastward along with the drug’s use,
cropping up in states that had not previously had a significant methamphetamine
problem. Concerns over the public health and environmental problems caused by the
proliferation of amateur laboratories also contributed to the sense of urgency behind
recent anti-methamphetamine legislation considered at the federal and state levels.
Amateur laboratories are distinct from super labs in their size and productivity,
as well as in their sources of the precursor chemicals, the chemicals used to
manufacture methamphetamine. Amateur laboratories generally rely on supplies of
retail OTC cold and sinus medicines as the principle source of precursor chemicals
that can be extracted from these products and synthesized into methamphetamine.
In contrast, super labs are dependent on huge quantities25 of the pure precursor
chemicals pseudoephedrine and ephedrine. These precursor chemicals used by
purchased only: Arizona, California, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, and
Washington. The following states restrict sales on the basis of quantity purchased,
packaging, and display/offer: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. Nevada
restricts sales of products containing ephedrine and/or pseudoephedrine on the basis of
22 These amateur labs are also commonly referred to as “mom-and-pop” labs, “Beavis and
Butthead” labs, “kitchen” labs, or “box” labs. Because each of these labs produces five to
seven pounds of toxic hazardous waste for each pound of methamphetamine produced, they
are also often referred to as “small toxic labs.”
23 As many as 15% of all methamphetamine labs are discovered as a result of explosions
or fire. See, U.S. D.O.J., Office of Justice Programs, Office of Victims of Crime, “Children
at Clandestine Meth Labs: Helping Meth’s Youngest Victims,” by Karen Swetlow, OVC
Bulletin, June 2003, p. 4.
24 For a discussion of legislation related to methamphetamine laboratory remediation, see
CRS Report RL32959, Methamphetamine Lab Clean-Up and Remediation Issues, by
25 The amounts of precursor chemical used by super laboratories are so large that they are
often reported in tons rather than in pounds.
Mexican DTOs are generally purchased in ton-quantities26 from chemical companies
in Europe, Asia, and the Far East, and then smuggled into Mexico where the
methamphetamine is manufactured and smuggled across the border for distribution
in the United States. Domestic super labs typically rely on large quantities of
precursor chemicals being smuggled into the United States from Canada or Mexico,
and most of these domestic laboratories tend to be located in California, or
occasionally in other western states.
Dangers of Methamphetamine. Illicitly used, methamphetamine can be
administered orally, nasally, by injection, and, in the powder form that resembles
granulated crystals, often referred to as “ice,” by smoking. Methamphetamine can
cause convulsions, stroke, cardiac arrhythmia, and hyperthermia.27 Chronic abuse
can lead to irreversible brain and heart damage, memory loss, psychotic behavior
including paranoid ideation, visual and auditory hallucinations, and rages and28
violence. Withdrawal from the drug can induce paranoia, depression, anxiety, and
The attendant dangers of manufacturing the drug in clandestine laboratories29
include heightened risk of fires, explosions, and environmental damage, due to the
toxic and volatile chemicals used in synthesizing methamphetamine. Concerns about
these dangers from methamphetamine manufacture increased as the number of these
laboratory sites proliferated and spread across western and midwestern urban and
rural communities. Similarly, the profound effects of methamphetamine abuse on
the users’ health, children, families, as well as their communities, quickly strained
resources for substance abuse treatment; foster care systems; and state, local, and
tribal law enforcement efforts to control access to the drug.30 Individuals, particularly
children, living in direct or indirect contact with the toxic fumes produced as the drug
is “cooked,” can be subject to problems associated with exposure to toxic chemicals31
and drug residues produced or left behind by the manufacturing process. Exposure
to these residues can result in respiratory illnesses and central nervous system (CNS)
26 Super laboratories are typically sites capable of producing over 10 pounds of
methamphetamine during a production cycle.
27 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institutes of Health
(NIH), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Methamphetamine Abuse and
Addiction,” Research Report Series, NIH Publication No. 06-4210, Revised September
29 Dan Hannan, Occupational Hazards: Meth Labs Understanding Exposure Hazards and
Associated Problems, June 2005, p. 24.
30 Dana Hunt, Sarah Kuck, Linda Truitt, “Methamphetamine Use: Lessons Learned,” Abt
Associates, Inc., for U.S. DHHS, NIJ, Feb. 2006, p. 34.
31 U.S. DOJ, NDIC, Chemical Precursor Committee, “Children at Risk,” Information
Bulletin, July 2002, p. 2.; Scott, Michael S., Clandestine Drug Labs: Problem-Oriented
Guides for Police Services, U. S. DOJ, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
(COPS), Apr. 2002, no. 16, page 3.
Those living near a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory site can also be at
risk of the fires and explosions of clandestine laboratories due to the volatile and
toxic nature of the chemicals used in the drug’s manufacture, as can law enforcement
officers and first responders who are called to the scene of a clandestine laboratory.
The manufacture of each pound of methamphetamine produces five to seven pounds
of toxic waste products.32 Because there are no federal standards for clandestine
methamphetamine laboratory clean-up, many state and local entities are left to
manage the issue of methamphetamine contamination as they see fit.
Laboratory Seizures.33 In 1993, DEA reported total federal, state, and local
seizures of 218 clandestine methamphetamine laboratories. By 1999, federal, state,
and local law enforcement reportedly seized over 9,000 laboratories/lab incidents; by
2002, 16,212 laboratories/lab incidents were seized. In 2004, a total of 17,170
clandestine labs were reported by the DEA; in 2005, the number of laboratory34
seizures had dropped to 12,484, a one-year decrease of 27%. Between 2004 and
in 2004 to 5,846 in 2005. According to DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC),
preliminary 2006 data indicate that the number of clandestine methamphetamine
laboratories has continued to drop further.
Methamphetamine labs also have been discovered on federal lands across the
country, in such areas as near or in caves, camping and recreational areas, and in36
abandoned mines. The number of reported methamphetamine laboratory seizures
on Department of Interior lands increased from 28 in 2001, to 41 in 2002, to 83 in
32 U.S. DOJ, NDIC, “Methamphetamine Identification and Hazzards,” p. 2, available at
[http://www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs7/7341/7341p.pdf], accessed on: Jan. 10, 2007.
33 DEA’s National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure (NCLS) database includes the reported
total number of laboratory seizures of (1) chemicals and glassware used for manufacturing
methamphetamine, (2) dumpsites of toxic waste products from the methamphetamine
production process, (3) and laboratories where methamphetamine was actively being
produced. The data includes information reported to DEA from state and local law
enforcement, as well as lab seizures by DEA. The El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC),
created by the DEA in 1974, administers the database and relies on state and local law
enforcement agencies to voluntarily report their statistics for inclusion in its NCLS database.
However, only three states — California, Missouri, and Oklahoma — have mandatory
reporting requirements of their statistics. Chemical dump sites or equipment used in the
manufacture of methamphetamine found in isolation are sometimes referred to as a “lab
incident.” For more information on EPIC and the NCLS database, see
[http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/reports/COPS/a0616/exec.htm], accessed on Jan. 10, 2007.
34 U.S. DOJ, DEA, available at [http://www.dea.gov/concern/map_lab_seizures.html],
accessed on Jan. 10, 2007.
35 U.S. Department of Justice, National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat
Assessment 2007, Product No. 2006-Q0317-003, October 2006, p. i.
36 Office of National Drug Control Policy, “Methamphetamine - Facts and Figures,” at
on Jan. 10, 2007.
the number decreased to 56 seizures in 2003.37
Trends in Illicit Methamphetamine Use
Historically, methamphetamine was a problem largely in the Pacific West,
particularly in Hawaii and California. However, during the 1990s, the use of
methamphetamine grew and began to spread, first into the northwestern states, and,
by 2000, its use had spread to the Midwest and South and to a much lesser degree to
the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region.38 For policymakers, it is important to
understand the depth and pervasiveness of the methamphetamine problem in order
to craft legislative responses that can effectively address the issues. Drug-use surveys
and other data sources can help to inform these discussions.
Is There a Methamphetamine Epidemic?
During recent congressional deliberations on the latest round of anti-
methamphetamine legislation, questions were raised about whether the
methamphetamine problem was truly a national drug priority. Critics of U.S. drug
policy argued that national drug data from the NSDUH did not support the urgency
of claims that a methamphetamine “epidemic” was spreading across the nation.39
The response of congressional policymakers to anecdotal stories that
methamphetamine use was spiraling out of control in their home districts was
considered by some critics to be another “drug panic” fueled, in part, by sensational
media coverage. To consider the question, “is there a methamphetamine epidemic
in the country?” first, one would need to specify the period in question. Second, one
would need to consider the definition of “epidemic” that would be applied. Finally,
it would be important to consider how accurately the available drug-use data capture
these developments nationally and whether these data could be used for estimating
drug-use patterns in local or regional areas.
If the question of a methamphetamine epidemic were posed today, there are
several lines of evidence indicating that the national prevalence of methamphetamine
use increased dramatically between 1994-2004. Since 2004, however, national
survey data indicate that the number of methamphetamine lifetime users and first
time users is declining nationally after peaking in, or around, 2004. However, the
latest NSDUH data for 2005 do not support a national epidemic because the survey
estimates that methamphetamine use has declined since 2004. Limitations of the
NSDUH sample40 and other survey and administrative data sets make it difficult to
38 U.S. DOJ, OJP, NIJ, Meth Matters: Report on Methamphetamine Users in Five Western
Cities, by Susan Pennell, Joe Ellett, Cynthia Rienick, and Jackie Grimes, April 1999, p. 4.
39 Jack Shafer, “Meth Madness at Newsweek,” Slate Magazine, Aug. 3, 2005, available at
[http://www.slate.com/id/2123838], accessed on Jan. 10, 2007.
40 Extrapolating prevalence estimates from a sample survey can be complicated by many
extrapolate methamphetamine use for small and rural communities. As a result,
NSDUH and other national drug-use data sets may not adequately track drug trends
in these communities, particularly in the case of methamphetamine use. Evidence
from clandestine laboratory seizures, although not a typical indicator of drug use, do
indicate that there was a noteable proliferation of amateur methamphetamine
laboratories spread from states in the West, moving into the Midwest and
southeastern states between 1999 and 2004. Other drug-use indicators reflect
increases in methamphetamine-related emergency department visits and substance
abuse treatment rates spreading into states in the Midwest and South. Reports from
state and local law enforcement agencies in certain regions that methamphetamine
use continues to be the most significant drug problem further corroborates the
variability of the problem.
National Prevalence Estimates. Since 1994, national estimates of self-41
reported methamphetamine use, as reflected in NSDUH, indicate that among
individuals age 12 or older there has been a significant increase among those
reporting use of methamphetamine in their lifetimes, more than doubling over the 10-
year period from just over 2% of the general population in 1994 to 4.9% in 2004.42
Over the shorter term, those reporting having ever used methamphetamine in their
lifetimes dropped by 16.4% between 2002 and 2005, from 12.4 million to 10.4
million individuals (see Table 1). Similarly, the number of persons reporting
methamphetamine use in the last year dropped by 6.7%, from 1.5 million in 2002 to
1.4 million in 2004. During the 2002-2004 period, the proportion of NSDUH
respondents over age 12 that reported lifetime use of methamphetamine has remained
a relatively constant proportion of the general population over age 12 compared with
the growth over the previous 10-year period.
factors, including sample size (the sample is not large enough to provide reliable year-by-
year annual state estimates of prevalence), differences in the sample population (persons
over age 12 vs. adults age 18 and over) and survey administration (i.e., in school vs. in
home, over-the-phone interviews vs. in-person interviews), and comparisons among data
sources need to be made with caution. Although it is not always appropriate to compare
prevalence estimates across different surveys for a single year, it is possible to compare
trends across years in a single survey. Trend lines from different surveys can indicate
increases or decreases in prevalence over time, and as such are useful for substance abuse
policy development and service provision. A potential source of bias in any survey is the
understatement or overstatement of actual behaviors and there is always the possibility that
individuals might underreport behavior that they perceive as sensitive or unacceptable, while
some respondents might exaggerate or boast about certain behaviors. The validity of self-
reported data depends on the honesty, memory, and understanding of the respondents.
41 The NSDUH survey is a household survey that samples the civilian noninstitutionalized
population age 12 and older about drug use. Individuals are asked about illicit drug,
tobacco, and alcohol use in their lifetime, the last year, the last month, and in the last month
as a dependent user. The 2005 sample included 68,308 persons. More detailed information
is available at [http://webapp.icpsr.umich.edu/cocoon/SAMHDA-STUDY/04596.xml],
accessed on Jan. 10, 2007.
42 U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, Methamphetamine Use: Lessons
Learned, by Dana Hunt, Sarah Kuck, and Linda Truitt, February 2006, p. iii.
Table 1. Methamphetamine Use Among Persons Aged 12 or
Use 2002 2003 2004 2005
26 years of age or older10,26110,3259,7398,379
Use in Last Year1,5411,3151,4401,297
26 years of age or older790636761645
New Users in Last Year299260318192
Use in the Last Month597607583512
26 years of age or older375353340252
Dependent Use in Last Month164250346257
Stimulant is Primary Drug of Abuse6392130103
Other Illicit Drug is Primary Drug of101158216154
Source: DHHS, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), NSDUH 2002-
Better indicators of drug prevalence provided by data in Table 1 are in the
category use in the last month and dependent use in the last month because these
respondents are reporting more current or ongoing use of methamphetamine. Among
respondents age 12-17 years of age, methamphetamine use in the last month
increased by 4.3% between 2004 and 2005. Among respondents age 18-25, reported
use in the last month rates increased by 15.6% from 2002 to 2003, remained
relatively stable between 2003 and 2004 rising by only 0.5%, and increased again by
5.8% between 2004 and 2005. Moreover, among respondents over age 12 reporting
dependent use in the last month, between 2002 and 2005 the increases were more
notable: an increase of almost 56.7%; an increase of 63.5% for those reporting
dependence on a stimulant as their primary drug of abuse.
Additional corroboration of the slight downward trend in self-reported national
estimates of lifetime use of methamphetamine use is indicated in two other sources
of national drug use data, Monitoring the Future (MTF)43 and the Youth Risk
Behavioral Surveillance System (YRBSS).44 These two surveys of youths indicate
declining self-reported methamphetamine use among junior high and high school
students. The MTF survey indicates a significant decrease in lifetime use of over
40% for 12th graders between 1999 and 2005, after a significant one-year drop
between 2004 and 2005 from 6.2% to 4.5% (see Table 2). The YRBSS reports a
decline of over 16% among students in all grades who used methamphetamine one
or more times during their lives between 1999 and 2003, with the largest declineth
among 12 graders.
Other drug-use data sources measure national trends in methamphetamine by
tracking instances of drug users using the health care system for substance abuse
treatment or in a drug-related emergency department visit. Unlike the national
estimates based on self-reported methamphetamine use such as NSDUH, MTF, and
YRBSS, two often-cited healthcare administrative data sets indicate that
methamphetamine use has been on the rise since the 1990s. The Treatment Episode45
Data Set (TEDS) reports that treatment admissions in cases where the primary drug
dependence is methamphetamine/amphetamine46 have risen from 1% of all treatment47
admissions in 1992, to 7.4% in 2002. Similarly, methamphetamine-related
emergency room visits captured by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN)48
indicate that methamphetamine/amphetamine-related emergency department (ED)
mentions,49 while fluctuating since 1995, have been on the rise since 1999, increasing
by almost 70% by 2002. Between 1999 and 2002, ED mentions rose from 10,447 to
43 MTF is an annual survey of students in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades about their history of
illicit substance use. In 2005, 49,300 students in 402 public and private schools were
included in the sample.
44 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) is conducted by the Center for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and measures the prevalence of six priority health
risk behavior categories, including drug use. YRBSS is a national school-based survey that
in 2005 included a sample of 13,953 students in grades 9 through 12.
45 TEDS is an administrative data set collected by SAMHSA that is comprised of almost
2 million admissions reported by more than 10,000 facilities providing substance abuse
46 Since some states do not distinguish between methamphetamine and amphetamine
admissions for substance abuse treatment, reporting a single total, SAMHSA estimates that
methamphetamine admissions account for 80% of all amphetamine admissions.
47 Hunt, Dana, Sarah Kuck, Linda Truitt, Methamphetamine Use: Lessons Learned, prepared
for the Department of Justice on a grant from the Office of Justice Programs, February 2006,
48 DAWN collects information on drug-related episodes from over 1,000 hospital emergency
departments (EDs) in 21 cities across the country. Although DAWN does not monitor drug
use directly, it does measure the consequences of drug use that results in ED visits.
49 An emergency department mention refers to patient visits in which the patient is treated
for a drug abuse-related medical problem.
50 Hunt, Dana, Sarah Kuck, Linda Truitt, Methamphetamine Use: Lessons Learned, on grant
Table 2. Prevalence of Lifetime Methamphetamine Use Among
High School Seniors, 1999-2005
Y e ar Methamphetamine
Source: Monitoring the Future, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999-2005.
National estimates of methamphetamine prevalence do not uniformly indicate
that methamphetamine’s use has been increasing, and the rate of growth varies
among the drug-use surveys and datasets. Among some of the drug-use surveys,
namely TEDS and DAWN, there is evidence indicating that, in the case of
methamphetamine, national prevalence estimates may mask important regional
changes in the drug’s use, described above. Based on NSDUH data, some critics of
federal drug policy argue that the prevalence of methamphetamine does not warrant
the kind of congressional attention the problem received at the federal level in the last
couple of years. Indeed, some argue, methamphetamine use in the last month among
persons aged 12 or older ranks far below other illicit drug use with only 0.2% of the
total population over age 12 reporting such use (see Table 3), the same percentage
that used Ecstacy and twice as many as used heroin, OxyContin, and sedatives. Yet,
there is general agreement that the illicit use of heroin, OxyContin, and sedatives is
a serious concern that should be addressed by anti-drug policies without the drug’s
abuse being of “epidemic” proportions.
Evidence for a Geographic Spread or Shift. The methamphetamine
problem, perhaps more than most other illicit drug problems, has tended to be more
regional and cyclical in nature, which may partially explain some of the stability in
the national prevalence estimates. National drug-use surveys, such as NSDUH, could
fail to report certain important localized variations in drug use, particularly when
acute drug problems occur in smaller cities or rural areas and regions with lower
populations.51 Most experts agree that, to a large extent, the recent congressional
from U.S. DOJ, OJP, Feb. 2006, p. iii.
51 Sally Satel, “Much Ado About Meth?,”American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy
Research, Nov. 4, 2005, at [http://www.aei.org/inlcude/pub_print.asp?pubID=23414],
action on anti-methamphetamine legislation was spearheaded by Members from
Midwestern states. While national estimates of methamphetamine prevalence
provide some mixed indications of the drug’s use, illicit methamphetamine use has
become more geographically widespread than it has been in previous decades.
Table 3. Past Month Use of Drugs Measured by the National
Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2005, Ranked by Percent of
Persons Aged 12 or Older Using the Substance
1Any Illicit Drug8.1
2Marijuana and Hashish6.0
3Illicit Drug other than Marijuana3.7
4Nonmedical Use of Psychotherapeutics2.6
5Pain Relievers (incl. OxyContin)1.9
6Cocaine (incl. Crack)1.0
7 T ranquilizers 0.7
8Stimulants (incl. Methamphetamine)0.4
9Hallucinogens (incl. LSD, PCP, Ecstasy)0.4
11 Met ham phet a m i ne 0.2
Source: SAMHSA, Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH, 2005.
In 2001, DAWN rates for methamphetamine/amphetamine ED visits remained
concentrated in the Midwest and western cities surveyed. By 2002, rates per 100,000
population were growing the most dramatically in DAWN-surveyed cities in the
accessed on Jan. 10, 2007.
South and Northeast.52 The metropolitan areas reporting the highest rates (visits per
Seattle (46), and Los Angeles (39).53 For the Northeast cities, Boston had the highest
rate (15 per 100,000 population), followed by Newark (9 per 100,000 population).
Although there were significant percentage increases in the rates of ED visits for
some cities in the Northeast and South, between 2001 and 2002 rates increased in
Boston from 11 to 15 (+45%), Buffalo from 2 to 4 (+100%), Newark from 14 to 23
(+64%), New Orleans from 11 to 16 (+45%), and St. Louis from 12 to 24 (+100%),
these rates remained significantly lower than the rates for most cities in the West.54
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Community Epidemiology
Work Group (CEWG),55 in 2004 and 2005 methamphetamine indicators remained
high in West Coast areas and parts of the Southwest, as well as in Hawaii.56 In
addition, regional differences were indicated by the report’s finding that in one
midwestern CEWG area, St. Louis, Missouri, methamphetamine use grew, with ED
admissions increasing by 15% between 2004 and 2005.57 The National Drug
Intelligence Center (NDIC)58 reports that methamphetamine is widely available
throughout the Pacific, Southwest, and West Central regions of the United States, and
is increasingly available in the Great Lakes and Southeast regions.59 Data from the
Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM)60 program survey sites, during 2002, lend
further support to the finding that the greatest concentration of methamphetamine use
is in the Western region of the country.61 In 2002, out of 36 sites, the highest
percentages of adult male arrestees testing positive for methamphetamine when
52 U.S. DHHS, Office of Applied Statistics, SAMHSA, DAWN, “Amphetamine and
Methamphetamine Emergency Department Visits, 1995-2002,” The DAWN Report, July
DAWN_tdr_amphetamine.pdf], accessed on Jan. 24, 2007.
55 CEWG is a network of researchers from major metropolitan areas around the country and
internationally providing community-level surveillance on drug abuse at the National
Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
56 According to CEWG, the areas where methamphetamine use remains high are: Atlanta,
Denver, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Seattle, San Diego, and Texas.
57 U.S. DHHS, NIH, CEWG, Epidemiologic Trends in Drug Use, (Advance Report), June
accessed on Jan. 17, 2007.
58 NDIC was established in 1993 as a component of DOJ charged with monitoring strategic
domestic counterdrug intelligence.
59 U.S. DEA, National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat Assessment, 2005.
60 The ADAM program is a bioassay survey collecting urine samples and self-reported drug
use information from booked adult and juvenile arrestees in 35 urban areas across the
61 Missouri Department of Mental Health, Missouri Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse,
Methamphetamine in Missouri 2004, April 2004, p. 6, available at
[http://mimh200.mimh.edu/mimhweb/pie/reports/meth2004.pdf], accessed on Jan. 17, 2007.
arrested were located in Honolulu (44.8%), Sacramento (33.5%), San Diego (31.7%),
and Phoenix (31.2%).62 For female arrestees, out of 23 sites, the highest percentages
of adult female arrestees testing positive for methamphetamine were located in
Honolulu (50%), San Jose (42.8%), Phoenix (41.7%), Salt Lake City (37.7%), and
San Diego (36.8%).63
In 2002, TEDS reported that methamphetamine admission rates for substance
abuse treatment were highest in the West, although there was significant variation in
certain states.64 According to the report, 21 states had admission rates over the
national average and 12 states had admission rates that were twice the national
average. The 12 states with rates twice the national average accounted for 15% or
more of total national admissions. Several states with large rural populations,
including Arkansas, Oklahoma, Idaho, Utah, Iowa, and Nebraska, all reported that
20% or more of their substance abuse admissions in 2003 cited methamphetamine
as the primary drug of abuse. Similarly, DAWN data on “methamphetamine ED
mentions” changed regionally between 1995 and 2002. Areas with relatively high
methamphetamine mentions in 1995 experienced significant drops in their ED
mentions by 2002, including Denver (-43%), Dallas, TX (-51.7%), and San Francisco
(-34.3%). In contrast, in areas where methamphetamine use was more recent, certain
cities experienced dramatic increases in ED mentions, such as in Minneapolis
(+243%), Miami (+200%), and New Orleans (+174%).65
Evidence of the geographic spread of methamphetamine use from the West to
Midwest and Southeast states is also apparent from data on clandestine laboratory
seizures. According to DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC), reports by state
and local law enforcement of seizures of clandestine methamphetamine laboratories
rose dramatically in number between 1999 (7,438) peaking in 2003 (17,356), and
began to slow in 2004.66 Not only did the number of clandestine methamphetamine
laboratories increase dramatically during the period, but some western states also
experienced declines in laboratory seizures. California laboratory seizures went from
Washington state began in 1999 with 599 reported methamphetamine seizures (8%
of all seizures), peaked in 2001 with 1,480 seizures (almost 11% of all seizures), and
by 2005 reported 532 seizures (just over 4% of all seizures). In the Midwest,
Missouri went from 439 laboratory seizures in 1999, to 2,176 in 2005.67
64 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA, Office of Applied Statistics,
Treatment Episode Data Set 1994-2004, July 2006.
65 Hunt, Dana, Sarah Kuck, Linda Truitt, Methamphetamine Use: Lessons Learned, prepared
for the Department of Justice on a grant from the Office of Justice, February 2006, p. 15.
66 For detailed maps of all methamphetamine clandestine laboratory seizure incidents, see
[http://www.dea.gov/concern/map_lab_seizures], accessed on Jan. 15, 2007.
67 U.S. DOJ, DEA, Maps of Methamphetamine Lab Incidents, available at
[http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/concern/map_lab_seizures.html], accessed on Jan. 15, 2007.
National Epidemic, Regional Drug Problem, or the Latest Drug
Panic? In the case of national methamphetamine prevalence estimates, there are
some limitations on how quickly and reliably the drug-use data sources reflect
changes in patterns of use. Until the resurgence of methamphetamine use in the mid-
1990s, the low reported incidence of methamphetamine use, compared to the use of
drugs such as marijuana or cocaine, hampered the development of state drug-use
estimates from national estimates. As a result, until recently, these drug-use surveys
and treatment admission datasets reported methamphetamine as part of a more68
general category of “stimulants (non-cocaine).” This combined reporting has made
it difficult to track national methamphetamine trends over time. In addition, the
small sample size of survey respondents reporting methamphetamine use makes it
difficult to estimate state-level prevalence data on the drug’s use for any single year.69
Moreover, such data limitations, in turn, complicate capturing regional or state
variations in methamphetamine prevalence.70 In the case of recent trends in
methamphetamine use, the most recent national prevalence estimates for 2005 do not
show significant changes in regional variations and geographic shifts in the drug’s
Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary defines an “epidemic” as an occurrence
“affecting or tending to affect many individuals within a population, community, or
region at the same time.” In the public health literature, epidemic is a term often
used in a non-biological sense, referring to widespread and growing societal71
problems, such as drug addiction. The Columbia Electronic Encyclopediadefines
“epidemic” as the appearance of new cases of a disease, during a given period, “at
a rate that substantially exceeds what is expected based on recent experience.” As
such, defining an epidemic can be subjective, depending on what is “expected” or the
recent experience of a given population. Because what is meant by epidemic can
vary based on subjective judgements of what is “expected” or considered normal,
the incidence of a few cases of a disease could be considered an “epidemic”in one
area, while in another area where many cases of the same disease are common a few
more cases would not be considered an epidemic.
Whether or not the prominence of methamphetamine on the congressional anti-
drug agenda was due to an actual drug “epidemic” or instead the result of a
geographic shift in the drug’s prevalence is, in part, a question of semantics. Clearly,
there are states that have been experiencing epidemic levels of methamphetamine use
for decades without provoking a national sense of crisis and prominence on the
68 The category of stimulants often included amphetamines, as well as the illicit use of legal
pharmaceutical substances such as Ritalin, Adderall, and appetite suppressants.
69 SAMHSA provides periodic state-level methamphetamine prevalence estimates using
three-year average NSDUH data to strengthen the reliability of the available state data,
available at [http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/methTabs.htm], accessed on December 20, 2006.
70 U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, Methamphetamine Use: Lessons
Learned, by Dana Hunt, Sarah Kuck, and Linda Truitt, February 2006, p. 6.
71 The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition Copyright © 2003, Columbia
University Press, available at [http://www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/], accessed on Jan. 10,
congressional agenda. In these states with historically high methamphetamine
prevalence, recent trends continue to indicate continued growth in the drug’s use but
at a less dramatic pace than that seen in certain Midwestern states where
methamphetamine use was less common and rose quickly. Understandably, there are
some who would argue that the characterization of a geographic shift or spreading
of the abuse of methamphetamine as an “epidemic” was an overstatement of the drug
problem. The media’s use of graphic images of methamphetamine abuse and
manufacture - photos of men and women whose faces have been ravaged by the
drug’s use or the sensational damage to houses or other structures from explosions
and fires resulting from highly flammable and volatile chemicals used in the
manufacture of methamphetamine by clandestine laboratories - could have
contributed to an exaggerated public perception of the problem. In any case, the
spread of the methamphetamine problem across a number of states in the Midwest
and South, although not numerically significant on a national scale, was enough to
trigger a national response.
Federal Branch Law Enforcement Programs
Federal approaches to illicit drug use take one of three basic forms: (1) demand
reduction (prevention and treatment), (2) domestic law enforcement, and (3)
interdiction.72 Many law enforcement efforts at all levels of government rely on
arrest and incarceration, drug seizures, and production interruptions at the drug’s
major sources. The sources of methamphetamine manufacture are unique because
the drug can be synthesized from precursor chemicals that are produced for medical
purposes and available in bulk for DTOs from certain chemical manufacturers around
the globe. Many of the other chemicals used in the synthesis of the drug are
chemicals found in household products that are not easy to regulate.
Illicit methamphetamine production is particularly sensitive to law enforcement
efforts to limit access to its chemical precursors because, without ephedrine and
pseudoephedrine, methamphetamine simply cannot be readily synthesized. In
addition, the manufacture of methamphetamine’s precursors is a capital-intensive,
difficult chemical process that requires exacting laboratory techniques and equipment
that does not lend itself to illicit manufacture. As a result, these methamphetamine
precursors are only manufactured in bulk by a handful of chemical companies around
the world. Therefore, new federal restrictions on methamphetamine’s precursor
chemicals can have a significant impact on the availability and abuse of illicit
methamphetamine. Federal and state laws have been developed to regulate the
precursor chemicals used, including ephedrine and pseudoephedrine OTC products,
as well as anhydrous ammonia, an agricultural product that is used in some methods
of synthesizing methamphetamine.
72 Throughout the federal government there are programs that provide grants, activities, and
services related to the prevention, education, and treatment of methamphetamine, as well
as for assisting localities with clandestine lab remediation. These programs are beyond the
scope of this report, which focuses on DOJ programs related to the enforcement of federal
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
DEA is the principal federal agency tasked with enforcing federal drug control
laws. Defendants arrested by DEA agents within the United States and its territories
are tracked by the DEA Defendant Statistical System. Not all suspects arrested by
DEA agents are federally prosecuted; many suspects are transferred to state or local
jurisdictions for prosecution instead of being transferred to the U.S. Marshals Service
for federal prosecution.73
DEA employs several methods to combat the proliferation of methamphetamine.
In FY2005, DEA made 5,870 methamphetamine arrests and seized 2,491 kilograms
of the drug. Through DEA’s Operation Three Hour Tour, high-level Columbian and
Mexican drug traffickers in the U.S. were targeted resulting in the dismantling of
three major transportation cells and 27 distribution groups and the seizing of 155
pounds of methamphetamine.74
In addition, DEA works closely with state and local law enforcement in
partnership on investigations and operation, dismantling and removing toxic wastes
from clandestine laboratories, and regulating precursor chemicals. DEA commits
more than $145 million per year to address the methamphetamine problem.75 DEA’s
clandestine methamphetamine laboratory efforts can include training for police
officers and sheriff’s deputies on best practices for responding to methamphetamine-
related situations, providing containers for transporting toxic waste from laboratory
sites, and removing hazardous materials.
DEA is also involved in establishing methamphetamine enforcement teams with
Mexican counterparts to investigate and target Mexican methamphetamine drug
trafficking organizations. DEA and the Customs and Border Protection Services
work together to target suspicious cargo that may be related to methamphetamine
trafficking organizations.76 In addition, DEA and Mexican counterparts are working
to share intelligence, establish collaboration, and implement joint strategies to
address the methamphetamine problem on both sides of the U.S. - Mexico border.77
73 U.S. DOJ, OJP, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Compendium of Federal Statistics, 2003,
October 5, 2005, p. 17, available at [http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cfjs03.pdf],
accessed on Jan. 15, 2007.
74 U.S. DOJ, DOJ Public Affairs, Fact Sheet: The Department of Justice’s Efforts to Combat
Methamphetamine, Jun. 16, 2006, at [http://www.dea.gov/pubs/pressrel/pr0616006p.html],
accessed on Jan. 10, 2007.
76 U.S. DOJ, DEA, Joseph T. Rannazzisi, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Office of
Diversion Control, Congressional testimony before House Government Reform Committee,
Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, June 16, 2006,
available at [http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/pubs/cngrtest/ct061606p.html], accessed on Jan. 10,
77 U.S. DOJ, DEA Public Affairs, News Release, “DEA: Meth Superlab Discovered by
Mexican Authorities,” available at [http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cfjs03.pdf],
COPS Methamphetamine Initiative
The “Meth Hot Spots” program under the Community Oriented Policing
Services (COPS) program is a grant program that specifically provides funding for
a broad range of initiatives designed to assist state and local law enforcement to
undertake anti-methamphetamine initiatives. For FY2006, the Meth Hot Spots
program received appropriations of $63.6 million. Since 1998, the COPS program
has provided over $350 million nationwide to address the methamphetamine
problem.78 The COPS Methamphetamine Initiative supports law enforcement,
training, and lab cleanup activities targeting areas of greatest need for assistance
combating methamphetamine production, distribution, and use. The program
provides grants for community policing approaches to methamphetamine reduction,
as well as grants for state and local innovative strategies focused on combating the
The grants have been used by communities for many purposes, including
developing law enforcement and businesses and/or community partnerships to
educate and enforce anti-methamphetamine plans; drug-free workplace initiatives;
media campaigns to increase public awareness; database development; substance
abuse treatment; drug use surveys; clandestine lab seizures; law enforcement training;
and community policing strategies.
Other DOJ Grant Programs
Additional DOJ grant programs provide assistance for a broad range of
programs and initiatives which can include anti-methamphetamine efforts. Table 4
reports DOJ funding for grants awarded to state and local programs related to anti-
methamphetamine initiatives across the country.79 Cumulatively, for the period
FY2000 - FY2005, 470 grants were provided, totaling $263.8 million.
Table 4. DOJ Grant Awards Relating to Methamphetamine
Initiatives, FY2000 - FY2005
Total Grant Amount ( in millions)$12.6$32.5$52.5$62.9$55.0$48.3
Total Number of Grants23441181019787
Source: DOJ, Bureau of Justice Assistance, totals as of October 19, 2005.
accessed on Jan. 17, 2007.
78 U.S. DOJ, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, COPS Fact Sheet:
Methamphetamine Initiative, Sept.2004, available at [http://www.cops.usdoj.gov] , accessed
on Jan. 10, 2007.
79 The amounts provided in Table 4 exclude grants under the COPS Methamphetamine
Drug courts offer an alternative to incarceration that includes mandatory
substance abuse treatment with intensive supervision and monitoring. Enacted by the
Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (P.L. 103-322), drug courts
are designed to allow judges to monitor drug treatment of defendants as a means of
ending their use of illicit drugs. Drug courts are considered to be an important
component of the national anti-drug abuse strategy, and while not designed to address
the illicit methamphetamine abuse problem, drug courts in several states have used
the drug court model for methamphetamine offenders.80
Other Federal Responses to Illicit Methamphetamine
Many agencies and bureaus within DOJ are involved in addressing the issue of
illicit methamphetamine. In addition to DEA’s efforts to control the supply of illicit
methamphetamine, DEA collaborates with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
and numerous task forces, as well as the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task
Force (OCDETF) and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program.
In addition and jointly with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies,
DEA targets drug traffickers both domestically and internationally to stem the flow
of methamphetamine in the United States.
Numerous bills were introduced during the 109th Congress to address the issues
of curbing illicit methamphetamine use, trafficking, and production. While most
policy makers agree that methamphetamine is a devastating drug that negatively
affects entire communities, they do not agree on which approach is best for
confronting this problem. However, interest in responding to the methamphetamine
problem fostered agreement on the provisions enacted in the Combat
Methamphetamine Epidemic Act (CMEA) in Title VII of the USA PATRIOT Act
Reauthorization and Improvement Act (P.L. 109-177).
The CMEA was signed into law on March 9, 2006. As enacted, P.L. 109-177
establishes measures to control the availability of methamphetamine precursor
chemicals used for the illicit manufacturing of methamphetamine by drug trafficking
organizations and amateur producers through restrictions on the amount of over-the-
counter (OTC) cold and sinus medicine that could be purchased by consumers in a
month, and the requirements that retailers maintain a registry of purchasers and
secure their drug inventories. Grants to states for programs designed to provide
substance abuse treatment for parenting mothers while keeping them with their
children are provided under the new law. Among other provisions, P.L. 109-177 sets
limits on imports of methamphetamine precursor chemicals and requires the
80 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance,
Drug Courts: An Effective Strategy for Communities Facing Methamphetamine, BJA
Bulletin, May 2005, p. 2. Available at [http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA], accessed on Jan.
Departments of Justice and State to work with Mexico to disrupt the smuggling of
illicit methamphetamine across the U.S.-Mexico border.
In addition to the enactment of the CMEA, two new laws were enacted and
several bills were introduced in the 109th Congress to address a number of
methamphetamine-related issues that are beyond the scope of this report. For
example, P.L. 109-288 (S. 3525), enacted on September 28, 2006, authorizes the
Secretary of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to make competitive grants to
regional partnerships to provide programs and services designed to increase the well-
being, permanency of outcomes, and enhance the safety of children who are in foster
care as a result of a parent’s or caretaker’s methamphetamine or other substance
abuse.81 P.L. 109-347 (H.R. 4954), enacted on October 13, 2006, requires the
Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agency to track and report the seizure of
methamphetamine and methamphetamine precursor chemicals as part of the agency’s
annual performance plan with respect to the interdiction of illegal drugs entering the
For Congress, oversight of the recently enacted regulations of the CMEA could
be a major concern in the overall effort to control illicit methamphetamine use. The
regulation of retail sales of OTC cold and sinus medications containing precursor
chemicals could be a strategy that Congress may want to monitor to determine
whether federal regulations are effectively limiting the diversion of these chemicals
for the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine. In exercising its oversight role,
Congress may also want to explore how the enhanced federal criminal penalties are
being applied to defendants convicted and sentenced under the new law. Similarly,
Congress may be interested in overseeing and evaluating the funding and
implementation of the new grant program enacted in P.L. 109-177 for children and
parenting mothers undergoing substance abuse treatment for methamphetamine
addiction. In addition, Congress may be interested in monitoring the Departments
of Justice and State’s efforts to reduce the smuggling of methamphetamine or its
precursor chemicals across the United States - Mexico border. CBP’s efforts to track
and report seizures of the drug and its precursors, as provided under P.L. 109-347,
may also be of critical interest to Congress as it monitors efforts to control the illicit
supply of methamphetamine. Grants for regional partnerships to help children in
foster care because their parent or caretaker’s substance abuse (P.L. 109-288) could
also inform Congress on the effectiveness of this type of discretionary grant program
and shape future legislative responses.
Reports that cheap, high purity methamphetamine smuggled into the United
States from Mexico quickly supplanted much of the drug formerly manufactured in
small amateur laboratories indicate that methamphetamine continues to be a drug of
concern. As such, monitoring CBP’s efforts to track and report methamphetamine
seizures at the U.S. - Mexico border may also be an oversight issue of concern to
Congress. Congress may also want to monitor DEA and CBP efforts to coordinate
and share information on interdiction of methamphetamine and its precursor
chemicals with the Mexican government’s anti-drug forces. Evidence that the
81 For information, see CRS Report RL33354, The Promoting Safe and Stable Families
Program: Reauthorization in the 109th Congress, by Emilie Stoltzfus.
demand for methamphetamine in the United States continues to make smuggling a
lucrative undertaking suggests that the drug’s use will continue despite continued law
enforcement and interdiction efforts. Congress may want to consider other
approaches that encompass demand reduction (treatment and prevention measures)
to reduce the illicit use of methamphetamine. Finally, to monitor and evaluate the
effectiveness of federal drug regulations, Congress may want to consider a significant
improvement and expansion of drug-use surveys and drug-related administrative data
sets, along with drug interdiction data collection.
The illicit use of methamphetamine is seen as a serious problem in the United
States. The severity of the problem varies in communities across the country and in
some states methamphetamine has been a serious problem for decades. There is
evidence that methamphetamine use has been moving eastward into new regions of
the country, into both rural and urban communities, often with devastating results.
Methamphetamine is not a new ‘drug of abuse’ but its low price, long-lasting effects,
high purity, ease of manufacture, and ready supply from Mexican drug trafficking
organizations raise concerns that methamphetamine use may continue to be difficult
Legislation considered and recently enacted by Congress relies on interdiction
and law enforcement efforts as the primary means of controlling the availability of
methamphetamine. Past experience suggests that such approaches can succeed, and
there is reason to believe that the most recently enacted law (P.L. 109-177) can
significantly reduce the availability of illicit methamphetamine. In the past, when
precursor chemicals became difficult to obtain, methamphetamine prices rose, the
drug’s purity declined, and fewer addicts were able to maintain their
methamphetamine habit. As a result, some methamphetamine addicts entered
treatment, substituted other drugs to ease withdrawal, or just quit.
The anti-methamphetamine provisions of P.L. 109-177 placed restrictions on
the availability of retail OTC cold and sinus medicines to eliminate access to
methamphetamine precursor chemicals for amateur labs, reducing the attendant
dangers of clandestine labs. States that passed such restrictions on OTC precursors
experienced significant declines in the number of clandestine laboratory seizures.
Numerous reports from state and local law enforcement indicate that the Mexican
drug trafficking organizations that already supply most of the drug that is used in the
United States have been able to quickly step in and supply methamphetamine
markets that formerly relied on amateur produced methamphetamine, providing a
purer, more addictive product. As a result, the restrictions on OTC medications may
not have as great an impact on the overall methamphetamine problem. The new law,
however, may help eliminate more informal clandestine laboratories by replacing the
state patchwork of laws with a federal floor restricting retail sales of
methamphetamine precursors. Simultaneously, communities will be spared the
attendant dangers of fires and explosions from amateur methamphetamine labs,
making it less likely that children would be exposed to toxic fumes and other dangers
from methamphetamine manufacture.
The methamphetamine market has been profoundly affected by past attempts to
regulate precursor chemicals, albeit temporarily (see Appendix B). However, new
laws are immediately scrutinized by drug traffickers for any weaknesses or loopholes
that can be exploited. As described in Appendices A and B, the history of
methamphetamine regulation points to the temporary impact of federal interventions
in the face of an ever-evolving drug market fed by international drug organizations.
When methamphetamine precursors were unregulated in Canada, DTOs
exploited that source, smuggling methamphetamine or precursors into the United
States until the Canadian government began regulating pseudoephedrine and other
precursor chemicals in 2003. Drug traffickers then shifted methamphetamine
production to Mexico, readily supplied with the necessary methamphetamine
precursor chemicals by other international chemical companies willing and able to
provide ton-quantities. Recent press accounts indicate that the Mexican government
has announced that it has begun taking steps to limit imports of methamphetamine
precursor chemicals to correspond to legitimate domestic demands. Such a move by
Mexico could begin to reduce access to methamphetamine precursors by drug
trafficking organizations.82 The effectiveness and durability of these Mexican
policies are difficult to gauge, and it is particularly important to remember that
methamphetamine precursors are manufactured outside of Mexico, and could be
made into methamphetamine and smuggled into the U.S. via other routes. A singular
focus on Mexico as the source country of illegal methamphetamine could be
Drug traffickers and drug markets are highly adaptable, responding quickly to
changing laws, by stockpiling chemicals or adopting new production methods, or
switching chemical suppliers in order to continue their illicit, highly profitable,
enterprises. Such a flexible and dynamic market requires that federal drug policy be
equally adaptive and as well informed as possible. Better data on all aspects of drug
use and drug markets could help with the formulation of more responsive and
successful federal policies. Current drug use surveys and datasets could be expanded
and funded at higher levels to improve the quality and reliability of the information
available to Congress and policymakers.
Supply-side interventions alone will not eliminate the illicit methamphetamine
drug problem. Efforts to prevent the use of methamphetamine offer an opportunity
to target prevention efforts in areas where methamphetamine use has not already
taken hold, especially in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the country.
Illicit drug use generally is cyclical in nature. Just as patterns of illicit drug use vary
over time, there are critical points during a drug epidemic when prevention and
treatment interventions can be most effective.83 Drug research indicates that certain
interventions work better at different points in a drug “epidemic,” or cycle. While
82 U.S. — Mexico relations are beyond the scope of this report. For more information, see
CRS Report RL32724, Mexico — U.S. Relations: Issues for the 109th Congress, by K. Larry
83 Doris A. Behrens, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Gernot Tragler, Gustav Feichtinger, “Optimal
Control of Drug Epidemics: Prevent and Treat — But Not at the Same Time?” Management
Science, Mar. 2000, vol. 46, no. 3, March 2000, p. 333.
it is difficult to know the optimum time in which to intensify a drug control
intervention,84 once methamphetamine is readily available in an area it is much more
difficult to prevent its illicit use. Public education and awareness initiatives could
be effective methods for preventing the spread of methamphetamine use. In addition,
efforts could be increased to treat addiction using the latest research findings to
provide effective therapies and social services to support the recovery process.85
Although research indicates that methamphetamine addiction may require longer
treatment periods and methods, its treatment can be just as successful as that of other
drugs. Limited treatment funds at all levels of government suggest that treatment
interventions for methamphetamine addiction should be based on what research
indicates is effective. Both prevention and treatment strategies could result in fewer
methamphetamine users entering the criminal justice system and taxing law
enforcement resources and penal institutions.
84 Ibid, p. 346.
85 U.S. DHHS, NIH, NIDA, “Methamphetamine Abuse and Addiction,” Research Report
Series, NIH no. 06-4210, Sept. 2006, p. 7.
Federal Legislative History of Methamphetamine Controls
Federal policy on illicit methamphetamine has evolved in a complex historical
environment of the legal and illegal use of stimulants. Thus, the complicated
relationship between the legitimate production and uses of methamphetamine
precursor chemicals and the illicit abuse of methamphetamine continues today. This
appendix briefly summarizes the major federal anti-drug laws that attempt to control
the availability of and demand for illicit methamphetamine. It also provides the
current federal penalties for possession of methamphetamine.
Drug Abuse Control Amendments of 1965. The Drug Abuse Control
Amendments of 1965 (DACA, P.L. 89-74) included the first federal effort to establish
special controls on stimulant drugs, namely amphetamine, by bringing the drug or
any of its optical isomers under federal regulation. The law required that any drug
containing any amount of amphetamine be more tightly regulated by requiring that
it could only be legally obtained by physician’s prescription. This law marked the
first time that manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, and others involved in producing
stimulant drugs were subject to registration and regulation under the Federal Food,
Drug and Cosmetic Act.
Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Methamphetamine first became a8687
Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA, P.L. 91-513).
Since its enactment, the scope of the CSA has been expanded to include regulation
of chemicals used in the illicit production of methamphetamine and other illicit
drugs.88 Initially, only injectable methamphetamine was classified as a Schedule II
drug; all other amphetamines were classified as Schedule III drugs. In 1971, all
amphetamines, including all forms of methamphetamine, were reclassified under
Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act of 1988. The Chemical
Diversion and Trafficking Act of 1988 (CDTA, P.L. 100-690) regulated bulk
ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, the precursor chemicals from which
methamphetamine is synthesized. This was the first major federal attempt at
controlling methamphetamine precursor chemicals. The law required record keeping,
reporting requirements, and import/export notification requirements for bulk, pure
86 See 21 C.F.R §1308.12.
87 Schedule II drugs are those with a recognized medical use but a high potential for abuse
and a high incidence of physical or psychological dependence. These are available only by
prescription, and distribution is carefully controlled and monitored by the DEA. In addition
to methamphetamine and amphetamine, Schedule II drugs include, among others, cocaine;
methylphenidate (Ritalin); most pure opioid agonists such as Demerol, fentanyl, opium,
oxycodone, morphine, methadone; and short-acting barbiturates such as secobarbital.
88 For more information on regulation of pseudoephedrine in OTC medications, see CRS
Report (archived) RS22177, The Legal Regulation of Over-the-Counter Cold Medication,
by Jody Feder, available upon request.
(single entity) ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products. However, the requirements
for bulk methamphetamine precursor chemicals in P.L. 100-690, did not apply to
OTC tablets or capsules containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
Domestic Chemical Diversion Control Act of 1993. The Domestic
Chemical Diversion Control Act of 1993 (DCDCA, P.L. 103-200) removed the
record-keeping and reporting exemption for pure (single entity) ephedrine products.
The new law was enacted in 1993, went into effect in April 1994, but federal
regulations implementing the law were not issued until August 1995. The law
required distributors, importers, and exporters of List I chemicals89 to register with
DEA, and gave DEA the power to revoke a company’s registration without proof of
Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996. The
Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996 (MCA, P.L. 104-237),
broadened federal regulation of listed chemicals to include those found in OTC cold
and sinus medicines. Under the MCA, the methamphetamine precursor chemicals
containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, or phenylpropanolamine were added to
Schedule II of the CSA, broadening existing restrictions on these precursor chemicals
used to produce illicit methamphetamine. Other provisions of the MCA also
increased penalties for the trafficking and manufacturing of methamphetamine and
methamphetamine-related listed chemicals.90
Methamphetamine Trafficking Penalty Enhancement Act of 1998.
The Methamphetamine Trafficking Penalty Enhancement Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-277)
lowered the quantity thresholds of methamphetamine necessary to trigger mandatory
minimum drug trafficking penalties. The law cut in half the quantities of
methamphetamine mixture and pure methamphetamine substance necessary to trigger
the five- and ten-year mandatory minimum prison sentences for individuals convicted91
of certain methamphetamine offenses.
Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000. The
Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000 (MAPA, P.L. 106-310) included
provisions to address the problem of diversion of OTC drug products containing
89 In addition to regulating illegal drugs, the CSA also regulates certain chemicals that,
although they may have legitimate medical purposes, can be used in the illicit production
of illegal drugs. List I chemicals are defined as those that are used in the manufacture of
controlled substances and are important to the manufacture of the substances. See DEA,
U.S. Chemical Control at [http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/concern/chemical], accessed on Jan.
90 In 2000, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a health advisory on the use of
OTC and prescription products containing phenylpropanolamine hydrochloride because its
use increased the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. While many drug manufacturers voluntarily
reformulated their products to remove phenylpropanolamine, some products using the
chemical remain on the market.
91 For the Sentencing Commission’s implementation of the law see, U.S. Sentencing
Commission, Methamphetamine, Final Report, Nov. 1999, at [http://www.ussc.gov/publicat/
methreport.pdf], accessed on Jan. 10, 2007.
methamphetamine precursor chemicals from retail and mail order sources to the
illicit production of methamphetamine. MAPA established thresholds for single
purchases of OTC medicines containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and
phenylpropanolamine (PPA) at 9 grams per day. P.L. 106-310 added the requirement
that the products be packaged in containers of not more than 3 grams of precursor
base chemical. Products packaged in “blister packaging” were provided a “safe
harbor” exemption from the threshold limits set by MAPA. The act also
strengthened sentencing guidelines and provided training for federal and state law
enforcement officers on methamphetamine investigations and the handling of the
chemicals used in clandestine methamphetamine labs. It also put in place controls
on the distribution of the chemical ingredients used in methamphetamine production
and expanded substance abuse prevention efforts.
Combating Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. The USA
PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act (P.L. 109-177), signed into law on
March 9, 2006, included provisions to regulate the domestic and international
commerce in methamphetamine precursor chemicals and increased penalties for
methamphetamine offenses.92 In addition, the new law contained provisions to
expand environmental regulations related to toxic chemical dumping by clandestine
methamphetamine labs, and provide grant programs for drug-endangered children
and adults afflicted by methamphetamine abuse and addiction.
Specifically, P.L. 109-177 establishes a new set of controls for the
methamphetamine precursor chemicals, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and93
phenylpropanolamine, that are designed to control illicit diversion. The following
limits apply to retail sales of OTC products containing methamphetamine precursor
!drugstores, convenience stores, grocery stores, news stands, mobile
retailers (i.e., lunch wagons, street vendors) and other retailer limits
on sales of these OTC products to 3.6 grams of the precursor base
per customer per day (previously limited to 9 grams per transaction)
(21 U.S.C. 830(d), 802(46), 802(47);
!limits mobile retail sales to 7.5 grams of precursor base per customer
per month (21 U.S.C 830(e)(1)(A);
!requires that products containing methamphetamine precursor
chemicals be kept “behind the counter” and, for mobile retailers, that
the products be secured under lock and key (21 U.S.C.
!with the exception of sales of less than 60 milligrams (two 30 mg
doses) or less, retailers are required to maintain a logbook that must
be kept for at least two years, recording the time and date of sale, the
92 For a legal analysis of the provisions of P.L. 109-177, see CRS Report RL33332, USA
PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005: A Legal Analysis, by Brian T. Yeh
and Charles Doyle.
93 P.L. 109-177 defines the methamphetamine precursors as “scheduled listed chemical
products” and as such can be marketed or distributed lawfully as a nonprescription drug
under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 802(45)).
name and quantity of the product sold, and the name and address of
each purchaser (21 U.S.C. 830(e)(1)(A));
!purchasers are required to present a government-issued photo
identification, sign the logbook for the sale providing their name,
address, and the date and time of the sale (21 U.S.C. 830(e)(1)(A));
!requires that retailer’s logbooks include a warning that false
statements will be punishable under 18 U.S.C. 1001 with a term of
imprisonment of up to five years and/or a fine of not more than
$250,000 for an individual offender, or $500,000 in cases involving
an organization (21 U.S.C. 830(e)(1)(A), 830(e)(1)(D));
!requires the Attorney General to promulgate regulations to protect
the privacy of the logbook entries, except for access by federal, state,
and local law enforcement;
!requires that retailers train their employees on the methamphetamine
precursor products statutory and regulatory provisions of the law (21
U.S.C. 830(e)(1)(A), (B));
!provides retailers civil immunity for disclosure of logbook
information to law enforcement, unless the disclosure constitutes
gross negligence or intentional, wanton, or willful misconduct (21
U.S.C. 830(e)(1)(E)); and
!requires retailers to take measures against possible employee theft
or diversion of OTC products containing methamphetamine
precursor chemicals, and preempts any state law that prohibits
employers from asking prospective employees about their past
methamphetamine precursor or controlled substance convictions (21
These provisions went into effect on September 30, 2006, with the exception of the
per day, per customer, 3.6 gram limit on retail sales of products containing
methamphetamine precursor chemicals which went into effect 30 days after
enactment. Mail order retailers of such products are required to confirm the identities
of their customers, in addition to limiting sales of these products to 7.5 grams per
customer, per month. The Attorney General is permitted to waive the 3.6 gram limit
on retail sales and the 7.5 gram monthly limit on mail order or mobile retail sales if
the AG determines that an OTC product containing methamphetamine precursor
chemicals cannot be used in the manufacture of illicit methamphetamine.
Current Federal Penalties for Methamphetamine Possession
Concern about the illicit production and abuse of methamphetamine were
behind recent efforts in the 109th Congress to enact the Combating Methamphetamine
Epidemic Act of 2005, which was enacted in P.L. 109-177 on March 9, 2006. The
new law, among other things, amends penalties for possession and distribution of
methamphetamine under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
The CSA, as recently amended, provides penalties for methamphetamine
offenses according to the amount of the drug in the offender’s possession upon arrest.
!For a first offense, if the individual possesses 5-49 grams of pure
methamphetamine or 50-499 grams of a mixture containing
methamphetamine, the penalty would be not less than five years and
not more than 40 years imprisonment; if death or serious injury
occurred, from 20 years or up to life imprisonment. Fines could
amount to $2 million if the case involved an individual offender, and
up to $5 million if the case involved the conviction of more than one
!For a second offense, the penalty for possessing 5-49 grams would
be from 10 years to life imprisonment; if death or serious injury
occurred, life imprisonment. Fines could amount to $4 million for
an individual offender or up to $10 million if the case involved
!For 50 grams or more of pure methamphetamine, or 500 grams or
more of a mixture containing methamphetamine, for a first offense
the penalty would be from 10 years to life imprisonment; if death or
serious injury occurred, from 20 years to life imprisonment. Fines
could amount to $4 million if the case involved an individual
offender, $10 million if multiple offenders were convicted.
!For a second offense, the penalty would be from 20 years to life
imprisonment; if death or serious injury occurred, life imprisonment.
Fines could amount to $8 million if the case involved an individual
offender, $20 million if multiple offenders were convicted.
What Works? Case Studies of the Effectiveness
of Federal Laws to Control Methamphetamine
Experts in the area of drug policy have long debated how effectively the federal
war on drugs has controlled drug abuse in the U.S. The orientation of U.S. anti-drug
policies relies heavily on supply-side controls whose efficacy is frequently questioned
as the primary anti-drug strategy.94 Some federal anti-drug policies have had
unintended consequences. For example, researchers of drug policy often note that
abuse of amphetamines led to federal law that banned the substance, which
unintentionally fostered demand for an alternative stimulant, which in turn led to the
development of increased use of methamphetamine. By the late 1960s, the increased
illicit use of methamphetamine led to the enactment of federal measures to restrict
the availability of phenylpropanolamine (PPA), a precursor chemical widely used at
the time to manufacture one form of illicit methamphetamine (crank). Federal
controls restricting the availability of PPA significantly disrupted the illicit
production and distribution of crank (levo-dextro-methamphetamine) by biker gangs.
This drove underground chemists, eager to meet the demand for an alternative
stimulant in the illicit drug market, to seek a substitute for PPA. Thus, PPA’s
chemical cousins, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, came to be the key ingredients of
a new and improved form of the stimulant — the most potent and addictive form of
methamphetamine (dextro-methamphetamine), and a form of the drug that could be
easily synthesized. Inadvertently, tighter regulation of PPA was the catalyst behind
the development of the form of illicit methamphetamine abused and manufactured
The following section considers three case studies that attempt to discern
whether or not the enactment of certain federal laws had an effect on the supply of
An analysis by Carlos Dobkin and Nancy Nicosia95 looks at the impact of two
large interventions that occurred in May 1995. The first was the implementation of
the Domestic Chemical Diversion Control Act of 1993 (DCDCA (P.L. 103-200)),
and the second was a large DEA drug bust. Taken together the two interventions
were of unprecedented scale. The DEA drug bust shut down two significant
methamphetamine precursor suppliers whose production potential was 24 metric tons
of methamphetamine in 1994: (1) Clifton Pharmaceuticals - producing 25 metric
tons of methamphetamine precursors, and (2) Xpressive Looks International - 500
cases and a distribution network that was responsible for supplying 830 million
tablets of methamphetamine.
94 Reuter, Peter, “The Limits of Drug Control,” American Foreign Service Association,
January 2002, at [http://www.afsa.org/fsj/jan02/reuter.cfm], accessed on: Jan. 10, 2007.
95 Dobkin, Carlos and Nancy Nicosia, “The War on Drugs: Methamphetamine, Public Health
and Crime,” (forthcoming), and Carlos Dobkin, “The Impact of Methamphetamine Abuse
on Health and Crime,” unpublished paper, Jan. 18, 2005.
For the federal government’s strategy of disrupting the supply of
methamphetamine and methamphetamine precursor chemicals, these 2 cases were
impressive successes. Although the federal policy resulted in a dramatic reduction
in the availability of methamphetamine, the effects were temporary. Dobkin and
Nicosia’s analysis indicates that the impact of the two DEA interventions was made
possible by the enactment and implementation of methamphetamine precursor
controls in the DCDCA. Their analysis further shows that DEA’s actions eliminated
a huge share of the available methamphetamine precursor supply in California, an
amount equal to 70% of the ONDCP’s estimated national methamphetamine
consumption of 34.1 metric tons in 1994. The passage of the DCDCA in 1993,
which went into effect in April 1994, was followed by final regulations implementing
the new law in August 1995. The DCDCA eliminated the exemption of single entity
(pure) ephedrine products, so products containing ephedrine were subject to record
keeping and import/export notification requirements like those required of
transactions of bulk ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.96 The DCDCA also permitted
DEA to deny or revoke a company’s registration without proof of criminal intent.
The implementation of these two new provisions of the law was essential to
disrupting the market for methamphetamine precursor chemicals at that point in time.
According to Dobkin and Nicosia, these two companies were supplying more
than 50% of the precursors used nationally to produce methamphetamine. DEA’s
actions eliminated two very large ephedrine and pseudoephedrine suppliers operating
in California at that time.97 As a result, DEA’s efforts caused a significant reduction
in the national precursor supply which triggered an increase in price, from $30 to
$100 per gram, and caused purity of methamphetamine to drop from 90% to less
than 20% over the five month period that followed. Dobkin and Nicosia’s work
showed that the provisions of the DCDCA enabled DEA to disrupt the supply of
methamphetamine precursor chemicals, and as a result the supply, purity, and price
of methamphetamine were profoundly affected. However, while the immediate
effect was profound, it was also temporary, and the analysis found that prices
recovered within four months, while purity of methamphetamine took much longer
to return to previous levels, almost 20 months to climb back to 85%.98
Dobkin and Nicosia also analyzed data from the ADAM/DUF survey99 in
relation to the DEA drug busts in May 1995 as an alternative measure of the
effectiveness of the DCDCA regulations. Their analysis focused on exploring the
relationship between methamphetamine use and crime by looking at the ADAM/DUF
data for the period 1993-1996. They found that methamphetamine use among
arrestees in three California cities (San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Jose) declined
by 55%. Felony drug arrests, unlike some other crime trends including reported
96 Dobkin and Nicosia, p. 8.
97 Dobkin and Nicosia, “The War on Drugs: Methamphetamine, Public Health and Crime,”
98 Ibid., p. 21.
99 They note that the ADAM/DUF data are a “selected sample rather than a census,”
acknowledging that the data cannot be extrapolated to indicate any broader trends in the
population, but is only representative of the specific sample of arrestees.
property crime and violent crime, declined by 50% after the DEA intervention, and
misdemeanor drug arrests decreased by 25%.
The success of disrupting chemical inputs needed for manufacturing
methamphetamine, their analysis concluded, was evident in the drug-use indicators
of hospital admissions, drug treatment admissions, arrestee drug use, and drug
arrests. These indicators of methamphetamine prevalence also tracked closely with
changes in the purity of methamphetamine following the DEA intervention event, but
do not track as well with changes in the price of methamphetamine after the event.
Their analysis also concluded that even a large-scale disruption only reduced adverse
health effects and drug crime temporarily.
In a similar analysis, Cunningham and Liu looked at the effects on hospital
admissions of three federal policies that regulated ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in
1989, 1995, and 1997.100 The federal interventions included (1) the 1989
implementation of the Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act of 1988, which
regulated bulk quantities of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine; (2) the 1995
implementation of the Domestic Chemical Diversion Control Act of 1993, which
regulated the distribution of products that contained ephedrine as the only active
medicinal ingredient; and (3) the 1997 implementation of the Comprehensive
Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996, which regulated products that included
pseudoephedrine, with or without other active ingredients, and the distribution of
products that included ephedrine in combination with other active medicinal
ingredients. Each of the federal interventions built on the previous regulation, often
closing loopholes that were newly exploited by drug trafficking organizations
(DTOs). These federal interventions focused on responding to large-scale
methamphetamine producers, until passage of the Comprehensive Methamphetamine
Control Act of 1996, which focused on the distribution of sinus and cold
Cunningham and Liu’s analysis looked at methamphetamine related hospital
admissions and how they were affected by all three precursor regulations in
California. They also looked at the impact of three of these regulations in the late
1990s in Arizona and Nevada, both of which border California. Using an
autoregressive-integrated moving average time-series analysis they found that after
seven years of steady increases in methamphetamine related admissions in California,
the number of methamphetamine admissions began to decline for about two years
following the intervention in 1989 (P.L. 100-690).102 What followed was a
resurgence in methamphetamine admissions that continued until August 1995, a
month after the regulation of single ingredient ephedrine took effect.
100 James K. Cunningham and Lon-Mu Liu, “Impacts of Federal Ephedrine and
Pseudoephedrine Regulations on Methamphetamine-Related Hospital Admissions,” Society
for the Study of Addiction to Alcohol and Other Drugs, vol. 98, no. 9 (September 2003), pp.
101 Ibid., p. 1230.
102 Ibid., p. 1231.
A report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) on the price
and purity of illicit drugs adds support to the findings of Dobkin and Nicosia, and
Cunningham and Liu.103 Using the DEA’s System to Retrieve Information from
Drug Evidence (STRIDE)104 data base, the study provided estimates of the price and
purity of methamphetamine through the second quarter of 2003.105 Acknowledging
illicit drug pricing variations across cities, the ONDCP report showed that
methamphetamine prices from 1981 to 2003 rose overall, but that there were three
very large price spikes in the years following three precursor control regulations in
1989, 1995, and 1997. In addition, the report found that purity trends for
methamphetamine did not move the way that might be expected for other drugs.
Unlike other illicit drugs, the analysis found that methamphetamine prices and purity
were very volatile and did not exhibit the same trends. This analysis also found that
the spikes in price and purity of methamphetamine were related to the regulation of
precursor chemicals introduced in 1989, 1995, and 1997.106
The analyses described above indicate that legislative changes aimed at
regulating the methamphetamine precursor chemicals had a significant effect on the
supply, price and purity of illicit methamphetamine in the short term. The findings
of Dobkins and Nicosia, and Cunningham and Liu also found that the changes
brought on by new, more restrictive federal law only worked temporarily, as illicit
suppliers found alternative ways to circumvent the regulations or develop alternative
suppliers of precursor chemicals. Thus, what these analyses show is that preventive
legal strategies developed by Congress over the past 17 years have steadily
strengthened restrictions on the distribution of pseudoephedrine/ephedrine-containing
products. However, these analyses also point out that these changes in federal law
only brought about temporary changes. Federal drug policy and regulation work
effectively and may benefit by being adaptive and responsive to the adaptive changes
that suppliers of illicit methamphetamine, and other illicit drugs, willingly undergo
to supply the demand for illicit drugs in the United States.
103 ONDCP, The Price and Purity of Illicit Drugs: 1981 Through the Second Quarter of
104 STRIDE is a forensic database containing information obtained by DEA from seizures,
purchases, and other drug acquisition activities. DEA uses STRIDE for inventory control
of drug acquisitions by DEA, as well as for scientific data collected regarding the quality
and quantity of the drugs for use in the judicial process.
105 ONDCP, The Price and Purity of Illicit Drugs, p. 1.
106 Ibid., p. 14.