Methamphetamine Production

Meth is “cooked” from a variety of common, easily obtainable ingredients. While most of the meth in the United States comes from the super labs - those that can produce more than 10 pounds of meth in 24 hours - in Mexico or California, smaller labs are still active and problematic. Recipes for cooking meth can be found on the Internet and making meth is said to be as easy as making chocolate chip cookies. Meth is inexpensive to make; $1000 of raw materials yield approximately $20,000 of meth. Depending on the locality, supply and demand and purity, meth prices can range from $20-300 per gram. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports in the 2013 NDTA that between 2007 and 2012, the price of meth decreased more than 70% while its purity increased 130%.67 The 2017 and 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health noted that the current purity of meth is at least 90% pure, at least 95% potent and costs as little as $5.00 per dose or ‘hit’. A typical dose of meth is ¼ gram or 0.01 ounce.61,71,68 A gram of meth is consumed in 1-2 days and is the weight of a typical packet of artificial sweetener. The main ingredient is pseudoephedrine or ephedrine found in over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines. Ingredients used in meth production are shown in Table 1.17

Table 1. Ingredients Used in the Production of Meth.
Alcohol Hydrochloric/muriatic acid
Anhydrous ammonia-fertilizer Hydrogen peroxide
Antifreeze Iodine crystals
Battery acid Lead acetate
Benzene Lighter fluid
Charcoal lighter fluid Lithium from batteries
Diet aids/ephedrine Lye-sodium hydroxide
Di-ethyl ether – camp stove fuel Nail polish remover – acetone
Energy boosters OTC cold medicine/pseudoephedrine
Ethyl ether – starter fluid Paint thinner
Freon Red phosphorus – matches/flares
Gasoline Sulfuric acid – drain cleaner

Equipment frequently used in the production of meth is shown in Table 2.70

Table 2. Equipment Used in the Production of Meth.
Gas cans Pails/buckets
Hot plates Propane cylinders
Ice chests Rubber gloves
Jugs and bottles Rubber tubing
Kitty litter Tempered glassware
Laboratory beakers/glassware Thermometers

Cooking labs are becoming more prevalent in rural areas. The pronounced unpleasant odors associated with meth production have caused cookers to use less-populated areas, including national parks and other federal lands, to avoid detection.

A simpler, less expensive and faster method of making meth is increasing in popularity. The smaller batch known as the one pot, shake and bake, or 2L bottle method uses a 2-liter plastic bottle. Cold medicine and noxious chemicals are added to the bottle and shaken. No flame is needed. Even under the most stringent laws, enough cold medicine can easily be obtained to make a batch of meth. There is less need for big labs as the ingredients can fit in a backpack. This method also increases drug purity from approximately 39% to 83% and therefore lowered the average price of a gram of meth from $270 in 2007 to $105 in 2010, making meth more ‘accessible.’ This 2-liter method produces powerful explosions, intense fires and releases toxic waste. Even small mistakes in the process, such as removing the cap too soon or allowing water into the mix, can cause an explosion. Since this method is easier and portable many more labs are using this method. The ease of portability results in these labs turning up in more populated areas and, therefore, they may be more visible to law enforcement than labs in remote areas. This visibility is resulting in an increase in meth lab seizures and arrests after a period of decline.18,25

Mexico remains the primary supplier of meth to the US. Dismantling the La Familia cartel, once the top meth producer, was thought to reduce the meth pipeline. It seems, however, that a rival cartel, Sinaloa, has taken over industrial size meth production. A Mexican meth bust in 2012 netted 15 tons of pure meth valued at more than $4 billion. Seizure of almost 500 tons of precursor chemicals, all attributed to Sinaloa, indicate a continued increase in Mexican meth production.53 The largest single seizure of meth in the United States occurred in January 2019, when 3,800 pounds of meth were seized at the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.