- Associated Press - Sunday, March 2, 2014

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - An underworld that traffics meth has found its way to South Mississippi, with Mexican drug cartels sending small groups to handle the delivery of meth in its most potent form.

The addictive stimulant is known as Mexican meth, crystal meth or ice because of its appearance.

Hundreds of kilos of ice have been found here in the past couple of years and most of it is linked to Mexican drug cartels and their super labs, said Daniel Comeaux, agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Gulfport office.

“Drug cartels are trying to infiltrate different states and are setting up cell heads as distributors,” Comeaux said. “That’s what we are seeing here.”

The DEA has arrested about 20 cartel members in ice investigations in South Mississippi, he said.

Mexico is the main source of meth consumed in the United States, according to the Justice Department’s 2011 National Drug Threat Assessment.

Ice is made in super labs that bear no resemblance to sanitized manufacturing labs.

The influx in South Mississippi is in line with a DEA assessment that shows a shifting landscape nationwide and the possible effects of a 2010 Mississippi law that outlawed popular decongestants containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient used to make meth.

For years, mom-and-pop meth labs or bathtub labs flourished in South Mississippi, occasionally making headlines when the chemicals exploded and started a fire or injured someone.

Shake-and-bake labs then popped up, allowing meth makers to easily mix the ingredients in a plastic soda bottle, shake it and let it “cook” wherever they wanted to make it.

While pseudoephedrine products were available over the counter, meth makers used “smurfs,” different people to buy small quantities to avoid suspicion. After Mississippi banned over-the-counter sales of those products, people involved in making meth just drove across the state line to get that ingredient.

Since the law passed, reports of home meth labs, dump sites and related chemical and equipment finds have decreased dramatically. In 2010, 912 were reported to the El Paso Intelligence Center. There were 321 in 2011 and six in 2012.

A home meth lab can make a couple of ounces of meth, but a super lab can churn out 10 pounds of ice every 24 hours, according to a Government Accountability Office report to Congress.

Drug cartels know their super labs can meet the high demand for ice better than small-time meth cooks can.

Drug-trafficking groups aren’t in the business of drugs, Comeaux said. They’re in the business of making money.

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