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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Local production of methamphetamine, hampered by regulations making it harder to get ingredients, is giving way to high-quality imports, drug enforcement officials say.
"The Mexican trafficking groups have flooded the market with methamphetamine," said Barry Jamison, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration office in Utah. He was quoted in a copyright story in The Salt Lake Tribune.
Jamison cites the March 6 indictment of 24 people who allegedly operated the largest meth trafficking ring in state history. The DEA estimates the group moved more than 300 pounds of imported meth from California and Mexico throughout the Salt Lake Valley each year, bringing in profits estimated at nearly $5 million.
Police say breaking the ring cut off supplies for meth-users, but not for long.
Mexican cartels "certainly have the ability to fill the void," Jamison said. "In the drug trade, the laws of supply and demand certainly apply."
The number of meth labs in Utah skyrocketed in the late 1990s. Police busted 56 labs in Utah in 1996, according to the DEA. That number reached 262 in 1998 and 272 in 1999, but has since declined. The number was 132 last year, the DEA said.
Legislation was enacted in 2000 to track the sale of ingredients.
Sales of such components as iodine, ephedrine and red phosphorous are now monitored by the state Department of Occupational and Professional Licensing through a database accessible by law enforcement.
There is a limit on the number of boxes of Sudafed, which contains ephedrine, that consumers can buy at one time, and red phosphorous requires a license to purchase. Buyers of iodine must provide identification and in writing state what purpose they have for buying the substance.
Once the law was enacted, the number of meth labs in Utah dropped significantly and the ones that remain have become small, unsophisticated and mobile, Salt Lake City police Sgt. Mike Ross said.
There also has been an improvement in the quality of the imported product.
A few years ago, imported meth was pink, brown or orange tint, indicative of impurity. Now it is as white as the drugs produced locally.
"It used to be inferior stuff. Now it is probably superior," Jamison said.
Officers speculate the increase in quality also has deterred Utah residents from producing their own meth.
"If you can buy it and it is better than you can make, then why not?" Ross said.
The decline in local meth labs also has meant a decrease in dangers and contamination from those operations.
Ross believes the actual amount of meth in Utah is higher than ever before, but he takes heart in knowing fewer contaminated homes are in neighborhoods and fewer children are being exposed to the toxic fumes emitted in the manufacturing process.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)