Meth producers in Michocán

A new report suggests Mexico's role in the production and trafficking of methamphetamine to the United States continues to grow, a reflection of how criminal groups throughout Latin America are diversifying their criminal portfolios to respond to market demands. 

According to a report (pdf) by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), an independent body tasked with monitoring the United Nations drug accords, Mexican authorities seized over 19 tons of methamphetamine in 2014, a 34 percent increase from the previous year. Authorities also discovered 131 methamphetamine laboratories, most of which were located in the states of Guerrero, Michoacán, and Sinaloa.

In addition, seizures of methamphetamine at the US border have "increased by a factor of three since 2009," the report states. In response, the smuggling methods of Mexican criminal groups are becoming more sophisticated in order to avoid detection. Methamphetamine is increasingly being diluted in a liquid solvent, making the drug harder to detect, according to the INCB.

InSight Crime Analysis

The INCB report underscores the adaptability and flexibility of criminal groups in Mexico to respond to shifts in consumer drug markets. Criminal groups have long relied on the production of illicit drugs such as cocaine and marijuana to supply the large and lucrative US consumer market. But cocaine consumption in the United States has fallen by as much as 50 percent, and the loosening of US marijuana laws is believed to be driving down demand for marijuana grown south of the border. 

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In response to these changes, Mexican criminal groups have increased their role in the methamphetamine trade in recent years to offset some of the losses from declining cocaine usage in the United States. Drug trafficking groups have also shifted some cultivation over from marijuana to poppy crops in order to meet the surging US demand for heroin.

Meanwhile, there are signs that criminal groups in other parts of Latin America are taking advantage of the rise in synthetic drug consumption throughout much of the region. Last year authorities in Colombia busted what could be the first large-scale, international synthetic drug trafficking ring, even as synthetic drug production has grown in countries like Argentina and Guatemala