The cardboard boxes were stacked neatly from floor to ceiling, many with white importation stickers still affixed to their sides. Federal agents opening them recovered more than 13,000 anti-flu tablets and arrested an 18-year-old man arriving in a pickup with nearly 1,000 more.Investigators say the modest home, raided this month in the western town of Jocotepec, close to Guadalajara, was a secret methamphetamine laboratory hoarding cold pills containing pseudoephedrine, a chemical agent used to make the popular street drug.
Such raids have become too common to make headlines in Mexico, the biggest producer of meth in the Americas.But after Health Department studies concluded the country imports more pseudoephedrine than its citizens could possible consume for the common cold, Mexico quietly began imposing restrictions on the drug's importation, hoping to make it tougher to make meth.
U.S. motorcycle gangs once controlled the methamphetamine trade in the United States, but Mexicans now dominate the growing industry, producing more than 50 percent of the drugs in "super-labs" in Mexico as the U.S. makes it harder to produce the drugs north of the border. Much of the rest of the drugs are made in clandestine labs in California, also run by Mexicans, U.S. officials say.
To make meth, over-the-counter cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine and similar chemicals are "cooked" in labs, mixed with common items such as rock salt, battery acid and iodine crystals to make meth in a process that also produces toxic waste. The drug has become increasingly popular in the United States.
"It has effects that are similar to cocaine, but it's cheaper, easier to produce and easier to transport," said Luis Astorga, a sociologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico who studies the drug trade. "In Tijuana, Mexicali, California is right there across the border. The labs are everywhere." The bulk of pseudoephedrine is produced in India, China and Hong Kong and sent to Mexico by mostly legitimate distributors based in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
Mexico also limited the sale of pills containing pseudoephedrine to licensed pharmacies and required that the medicine be stocked behind the counter, as well as prohibiting customers from buying more than three boxes of pills containing pseudoephedrine and requiring prescriptions for doses larger than 60 milligrams.
On Thursday, police at Mexico City's international airport seized about 11 pounds (5 kilograms) of pseudoephedrine hidden in containers labeled as pastries in a freight shipment area, local media reported. As a result of the restrictions, the amount of pseudoephedrine Mexico imports this year should be between 130 and 135 tons (118 and 122 metric tons) _ 40 percent less than the 21 million cold tablets weighing approximately 224 tons (203 metric tons) it allowed to cross its borders in 2004, the Federal Commission for the Protection from Health Risks said in a statement, informs the AP.
Juan Pablo Llamas, a spokesman for Mexico's pharmaceutical industry, said the new restrictions were fine _ as long as they kept drugs out of the hands of meth producers and not the sick."They are necessary measures, but problems are possible when they restrict the public's access to common medicines, especially during the cold season, like now," he said. "But they are taking gradual steps that so far haven't affected sales", informs the AP. N.U.