A decade ago, federal authorities choked off the supply of chemicals needed to make methamphetamine. Within a year, reports The Oregonian in Portland, the drug cartels that make most of the nation’s methamphetamine found new ways to obtain ingredients, taking advantage of a loophole left open by Congress. As a result, meth use rebounded, and the epidemic spread eastward. Today, an estimated 1.3 million Americans smoke, snort, or inject the drug. An investigation by The Oregonian shows that Congress and federal authorities could have contained the methamphetamine epidemic, and still can. The investigation establishes for the first time that methamphetamine traffickers are uniquely vulnerable to government pressure.
Criminologist Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, a longtime skeptic of the government’s ability to disrupt the drug trade, said The Oregonian’s findings were startling. Reuter called them the first convincing evidence that government and law enforcement agencies could substantially reduce meth addiction. The research, he said, shows that tightening control over the supply of meth chemicals would make “a significant difference to the criminal interests” while modestly inconveniencing consumers. The Oregonian found striking correlations between government actions and meth abuse. In two periods — 1995-96 and 1998-99 — federal authorities interrupted the flow of chemicals to drug cartels. Each time, crime and addiction fell in tandem as the price of the drug rose. The Oregonian discovered these previously overlooked successes by examining millions of reports on arrests, emergency room admissions, drug treatment, and the price and potency of meth seized by drug agents.