Prepare to combat crystal meth surge from Asia
Asia is reported to have become a powerhouse for producing crystal methamphetamine and supplying ingredients of the drug.
TIGHTENED control of a chemical used to make methamphetamine and increased oversight of the chemical's distribution in Mexico has contributed to a surge of activity in Asia. Law enforcement agencies need to prepare for a new injection of meth into Hawaii.
A task force created early this year to coordinate county, state and federal efforts to fight illicit drugs has been effective, but the task might grow with the possible influx of meth or its ingredients brought into the state.
Asian drug traffickers introduced crystal meth to Hawaii in the 1980s, long before use of the drug swept across the mainland. The main source has been the West Coast and Mexico since the mid-1990s. The drug commonly has been smuggled into the state by plane or postal delivery.
Restrictions on the use of pseudoephedrine, an essential chemical in meth but also used in cold medicines, has effectively reduced domestic production of the drug in recent months. Mexico recently banned middlemen from handling ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, allowing only pharmaceutical companies to import the chemicals.
Meth traffickers in China and India retain easy access to ephedrine. Three years ago in a warehouse outside Manila, reported Steve Suo of the Oregonian of Portland, Ore., drug agents confiscated 1.1 metric tons of crystal meth and enormous manufacturing equipment used to produce 1,100 pounds of the drug a week. More superlabs have been found since then in the Philippines, Malaysia, Fiji and Indonesia.
Although 15 million of the 25 million crystal meth users live in Asia, according to the United Nations, evidence of smuggling from Asia into North America surfaced in August, when police in India accused a Canadian of operating an Indian-Chinese-Canadian ephedrine-smuggling network for meth labs in Canada. The product has been shipped back to Asia, but it has become a "very potential danger" to the United States, according to Quianrong Wang, a U.N. law enforcement adviser.
The Drug Enforcement Administration plans to exchange personnel with Mexico's health agency to improve technical training of regulars, but that should be broadened to include Asian countries. The United Nations has proposed auditing sales records of Chinese ephedrine manufacturers and has a program aimed at testing and determining the source of ephedrine seized at meth labs. The U.S. government should endorse and help finance those efforts.
U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo estimates that 30,000 Hawaii residents are meth users. The amount of ice seized by authorities in Hawaii peaked in 2004 and declined dramatically this year, but that trend should not lead to complacency.