METH 2.0 ALERT
A NEW strain of more dangerous ice is set to swamp Australia from the jungle labs of Mexico’s fearsome Sinaloa drug cartel.
The Herald Sun has visited two filthy meth factories uncovered in the cartel’s heartland that were producing 30 tonnes of the drug a month. Police warn the new generation of methamphetamine will flood the market here. Labelled “Meth 2.0” by US authorities, the Sinaloa ice is made by swapping hard-to-get pseudoephedrine for cheap and readily available Chinesemade chemical precursors.
Sky-high profits are driving a new wave of violence in the region, including last week’s murders of nine American citizens — six children and their mothers — and an armed takeover of Culiacan city last month, forcing the release of gang boss Ovidio Guzman, son of jailed kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
“We have a problem with methamphetamine coming out of Mexico,” said Detective Superintendent Conrad Jensen, the Australian Federal Police’s senior officer for Latin America, based in Mexico City. “It’s certainly on a super-size scale.”
The Mexican labs are producing about a third of Australia’s ice, says the AFP, which worked with US authorities to seize an Australiabound world record 1.7 tonnes — worth $1.3 billion — in Los Angeles in January. In August, 755kg of ice was seized in Melbourne, packed in frozen cow hides. A Mexican national has been charged.
“The number of seizures don’t reflect the true scale of the story, rather the size of the individual seizures,” Supt Jensen said.
“Where we used to see seizures of 50 to 100kg just a few years back, now they are well into the hundreds of kilos or even tonnes.”
The Herald Sun was the first Australian news outlet to visit the meth factories, spending four days with the Sinaloa state police last month as it unveiled two labs that were producing 30 tonnes a month of ice between them.
Police deputy chief Major Carlos Leyva said the cartel’s ice production was booming and had replaced marijuana and Colombian cocaine as its main drug product.
His team raided at least 49 labs this year, compared to just nine in 2018. He said he didn’t have enough officers to shut down new factories.
“It is a booming business and their output is getting bigger all the time,” Major Leyva said.
He said despite the raids, police had not made a single arrest at the jungle labs in two years, with the Sinaloa cartel’s stranglehold on the state so firm its armies of informants had warned gang members working there before he or his Marines and army counterparts could get them.
Major Leyva insisted the raids were worthwhile and hurt the cartel, after they disposed of the drugs they found and disrupted their business.
Supt Jensen said Mexican ice was considered premium quality by users, produced using a method dubbed P2P.
“The pre-precursor chemicals used to produce P2P in Mexico are being brought in from Asia and other places,” he said. “Gone are the days of a backyard set up somewhere, and it’s now a labstandard production.
“P2P is about going to the next level in terms of the amphetamine chemistry.
“You can’t compare this to anything we’ve seen in Australia.”
US authorities are so concerned by the new generation of meth they recently warned it was on track to kill more Americans than the opioid crisis, with a recent spike in Mexican-produced ice deaths outpacing the early years of the opioid epidemic.
Demand has driven Australian drug users to pay among the world’s highest prices for ice, with a street value of $750 a gram compared to an average $53 a gram in the US, drawing attention from the cartels.
“The reason the Australian price is so high … is due to demand in Australia and supply factors, the price our drug users are willing to pay, distance and it is harder to get the drugs through our borders,” said Supt Jensen. “We are a lucrative market and we’re on the radar of the organised crime groups.
The Sinaloa ice moves from ports on the Mexican and US west coast, through Asia and then handed to local contacts, usually bikies and Asian gangs but increasingly Mexican nationals.
Although “El Chapo” Guzman is jailed in the US, the dangerous nature of his criminal network was made clear earlier this month when nine Mexican army members were traded for the freedom of his son Ovidio after he was briefly arrested in Culiacan.
Thirteen people died in 10 hours of gunfights through the state capital and the rolling over of the Mexican President to release Ovidio Guzman was described by security experts as “a new blueprint for organised crime”.
Mexican police (right) and marines (below left) at a methamphetamine lab (below right) in the Mexican jungle near the city of Culiacan.