TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Border officers have seized more methamphetamine in Arizona this fiscal year than they did the entire previous year, continuing an upward trend for the drug that officials say is much easier and cheaper to manufacture in Mexico.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at Arizona ports of entry have seized more than 3,240 pounds of meth between October and May, compared with 3,200 pounds for the entire last fiscal year. The federal government's fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
"We started noticing the increase with meth in fiscal year 2014, so we noticed an increment on crystal meth and obviously it all starts from the demand, you know. They're demanding this drug," agency spokeswoman Marcia Armendariz said.
The popularity of meth is not new to the border, but federal officials say the spike in seizures both at the border and within the country has raised eyebrows. Authorities also say heroin smuggling has increased over the past several years.
At six Southern California border crossings, authorities have seized 9,431 pounds of meth between October and April, a figure that could surpass the 14,732 pounds officers found in all of the last fiscal year.
In Arizona, drug smugglers have become more creative in how they try to bring hard drugs into the country. In one recent case, a woman had methamphetamine molded into the shape of a brassiere that she wore when she tried to cross into Arizona, Armendariz said.
One other popular form of transporting meth is by liquefying it. Armendariz said liquid meth is not that common at Arizona ports, but officials say it's a popular method for smugglers to go undetected in other ports. Crystal meth is dissolved in a solution and then later crystalized again. In one case, the meth officers found had been liquefied and placed in the washer fluid of a car, Armendariz said.
Liquid meth can also be stored in the second gas tanks that many large trucks have, said Matt Barden, a spokesman with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. About four pounds of meth can be formed from each gallon of liquid meth, he said.
Tightened laws in the U.S. that make it harder to manufacture meth have resulted in a booming market for Mexican drug cartels who operate "super labs" that can produce hundreds of pounds of meth at once, Barden said. Mexican meth also has a much higher purity level than meth produced in the U.S., and it is much cheaper.
Meth used to cost about $30,000 a pound. Now, it can be found for between $8,000 and $10,000, Barden said.
"You can't compete with that they have and (with) their prices," he said.
The once ubiquitous home or mobile meth lab is now rare, according to DEA figures. In 2010, the agency reported more than 15,000 labs, dumpsites and other meth-manufacturing equipment. By last year, that number had fallen to 9,240.
The less meth is manufactured in the states, the more of it Mexico will supply.
"It's at a huge uptick and then looking back, you sit there and wonder, and 'How it could be more popular than it is?' " Barden said.
The name of the federal agency in the second paragraph of this story has been corrected to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.