U.S. Meth Drug Problem Crosses the Border

A story on the drug war takes a reporter on a tour of a methamphetamine production lab in Mexico. Most of the illegal meth sold and used in the United States is now arriving from south of the border. Or is it?

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This week NPR focused on what we're calling the forgotten war, a look at the U.S. war on drugs. NPR's Carrie Kahn contributed to this series with a MORNING EDITION report on methamphetamine, which U.S. officials say is now mainly produced in Mexico. Carrie says that's a change from just a few years ago, when most of the meth in this country was produced in California.

CARRIE KAHN: Officials say meth production went south of the border after a U.S. crackdown on the sale of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine. That's meth's main ingredient. Every time I interviewed a U.S. law enforcement official on the topic, I heard the same number.

Mr. DAN SIMMONS (Special Agent, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration): Eighty percent of all the meth we have currently in the U.S. originates in Mexico.

KAHN: That's Dan Simmons, DEA special agent in San Diego. I heard 80 percent so many times, I just assumed everyone agreed it was true. That's until I got to Mexico.

Mr. OSCAR ROCHA (Advisor): We are assuming that there is a production of meth in Mexico. We don't know if it is a little, big, medium problem.

KAHN: That's Oscar Rocha, senior advisor to Mexico's attorney general. But if meth isn't being made in Mexico, where does Mr. Rocha think it is being made, especially since his country is seizing record amounts of the chemicals used to make meth, and U.S. Customs is seizing record amounts of finished meth at the border? I gave Mr. Rocha a chance to clarify.

Mr. ROCHA: Neither the U.S. nor Mexican authorities know for sure how much methamphetamine might be produced in Mexico. In the end, it's not that important.

KAHN: It's not important, Mr. Rocha continues, because both countries are working together to fight the scourge of meth. I called the Drug Enforcement Agency back to get a reaction to Mr. Rocha's comment. The DEA spokesman chuckled.

There's a long history of the U.S. and Mexico blaming each other for problems plaguing the region, whether it's drug trafficking or illegal immigration. Oscar Rocha may sound defensive and in denial to an American audience, but like many Mexicans, he's s tired of getting blamed for U.S. problems.

Instead of spending billions of dollars on drug interdiction, he'd like the U.S. to devote more resources to cutting demand at home. That's not just his opinion, but that of dozens of experts interviewed by NPR for investigation into the U.S. drug war. In one of Mr. Rocha's final comments during our hour-long interview, he said it's hard for Mexico to live so close to the largest drug-consuming country.

SIMON: NPR's Carrie Kahn.

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