SAN FRANCISCO — Methamphetamine continues to spread across the West with help from Mexican traffickers and Chinese chemical exporters, the nation's drug czar warned the region's top law enforcement officials Monday.
White House drug czar Barry R. McCaffrey said methamphetamine--often called "speed," "crank" or "ice"--is now the dominant drug in many Western states and has spread east.
"Methamphetamines, in our judgment, will be the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1990s if we don't organize ourselves," McCaffrey said, calling abuse of the drug "a national tragedy."
He cited soon-to-be-published medical studies stating that brain scans of laboratory animals show that the effects of methamphetamine last two years after abuse of the drug stops.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who sponsored last year's federal methamphetamine crackdown legislation, had pushed for the meeting, called the Western Regional Methamphetamine Conference.
She pointed the finger straight at Mexican drug traffickers, and when asked if the Mexican government had done enough to stop drug smuggling, snapped, "Absolutely not."
She said Mexico could begin by "honoring extradition requests by our government, by a crackdown on the four big cartels, arresting cartel leaders, by weeding out corruption in their own military and police," and enforcing money-laundering laws.
Drug Enforcement Administration chief Thomas Constantine said the Mexican drug cartels, including that run by the Felix Arellano brothers, receive raw material from China, process it into methamphetamine and send it across the border into California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Gangs led by the U.S. prison-based Mexican Mafia then help get the drug onto the streets.
Mexican customs authorities had helped stop some shipments, but said much more must be done, said Constantine.
China, meanwhile, has ignored U.S. requests that shipments of the methamphetamine-producing chemical ephedrine be better policed.
"China . . . does remain a problem," said Randy Weaver of the National Drug Intelligence Center.
But the United States itself may not be without sin when it comes to importing precursor chemicals, participants acknowledged. DEA figures show U.S. imports of pseudoephedrine, which replaced ephedrine in many methamphetamine labs, have tripled since 1990.
Constantine said ongoing prosecutions are turning up increasing evidence that the methamphetamine trade is no longer a small, disorganized industry run by motorcycle gangs.
California has so far taken the brunt of the methamphetamine fight, said state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren.
In 1996, state authorities raided 799 methamphetamine labs, compared with the Drug Enforcement Administration's total national figure of 813, according to state statistics.
He called California "a producer nation," and said the damage done by the drug includes rampant child abuse.
"Some of the worst crimes we have seen, some of the most tragic and bizarre and inhumane examples of treatment of children, have occurred at the hands of those influenced by methamphetamine," Lungren said.
One father in the Southwest cut off the head of his 10-year-old son and stabbed him 60 times, the attorney general said.
In San Diego, almost 40% of the people arrested have methamphetamine in their blood, more than any other drug, according to Jeremy Travis of the National Institute of Justice.