As the methamphetamine problem has grown and migrated east across the United States, law enforcement departments and communities throughout the United States have had to quickly develop strategies and policies to address the unique and evolving challenges to deterring production, distribution, trafficking, and use of this highly addictive drug.
Detecting and monitoring distribution activity has not been easy for law enforcement either, because much is done behind close doors and within a tight-knit group of friends and relatives. The drug's production and distribution methods are unlike those for other illicit drugs, which over the years have made identifying users and meth labs a major challenge for law enforcement. For one, the drug is relatively easy to produce using precursor chemicals and materials found in drug and hardware stores. The drug can be produced in small clandestine labs, which are typically located in rural areas where law enforcement resources are limited.
To deter production, many states, communities, and law enforcement agencies have developed strategies to prevent the precursor agents needed to produce meth from getting into the hands of producers and to monitor activities to apprehend offenders. Agencies and police departments have also worked with local businesses and auto supply stores to limit the sale of meth supplies.
Some communities conduct awareness trainings at area retailers to help them identify potential meth producers. Businesses have been especially responsive by monitoring and video recording cold medicine purchases. Some states and the federal government have banned over-the-counter sales of cold medicines that contain the ingredient pseudoephedrine, which is commonly used to make methamphetamine and limit the amount of meth precursors a consumer can buy in a single transaction.
While these efforts have been successful in reducing the number of meth labs in the United States, law enforcement agencies have another challenge with which to contend-the increased trafficking of meth and its precursor chemicals from Mexico. Authorities now estimate that 80 percent of the methamphetamine on U.S. streets is controlled by Mexican drug traffickers, with most of the supply smuggled in from Mexico. So now law enforcement activities are increasingly focused on controlling and monitoring the trafficking and trade of meth and precursor chemicals from Mexico.
The increase in trafficking have prompted states and the federal government to take a hard look at solutions to catch and severely prosecute traffickers. The federal government has also passed legislation, such as the Combat Meth Act and has worked with other countries who supply precursor chemicals to ensure that they import these chemicals to manufacturers only. The federal government has also encouraged barring wholesale distributors from importing raw pseudoephedrine and ephedrine.
The focus may have shifted to stopping trafficking across the border, but law enforcement still have to deal with labs domestically, which can cause certain hazards, beyond normal police work. The hazardous and combustible materials found in any meth lab have caused serious harm to first responders and have prompted agencies to provide specialized training and equipment to officers who handle meth arrests. They also need special training on how to handle meth users who can be particularly violent. While essential, these additional needs put a strain on limited resources.
To be successful in combating the meth, law enforcement needs to have a comprehensive strategy to deal with all the many facets attributed to the meth epidemic. That means that law enforcement play a huge role in various activities including enforcing current laws, preventing trafficking, supporting prevention and treatment objectives, assisting in placement of children of offenders, or playing a role in educating youth about the dangers of using the drug.