Pubdate: Sun, 27 Nov 2005
Source: Monitor, The (McAllen, TX)
Copyright: 2005 The Monitor
Author: Brittney Booth
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Federal Officials Catching More At Mexican Border

HIDALGO -- Federal law enforcement agents are arresting more people at
Hidalgo County international bridges smuggling Mexican-made
methamphetamine into this country, something clearly backed up at
local drug treatment programs.

Easily manufactured with accessible ingredients in homemade
laboratories, methamphetamine, commonly called meth, is a highly
additive drug that has reached epidemic proportions in some parts of
the country.

Crystal meth, a purer form and stronger form of the drug than the
powder version, can be inhaled by smoking, and is particularly popular
among young clubgoers.

But as law enforcement agents around the country crack down on
clandestine meth labs, the prevalence of Mexican-made meth is growing
nationally with Mexican criminal organizations increasingly
trafficking the drug, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center.

Most of the Mexican-made methamphetamine comes into this country
through Arizona, where authorities confiscated more of the drug in
2003 than from California and Texas combined, according to the
center's National Drug Threat Assessment 2005 Executive Summary.

However, it appears smugglers are increasingly using Hidalgo County as
a conduit to bring the dangerous drug into the U.S.

Though the number of the arrests is still small, meth seizures at the
three international bridges in Hidalgo County nearly doubled in a
three-month period, compared to the same time last year, said Alonzo
Pena, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent in
Charge of the San Antonio region that covers the border from Del Rio
to Brownsville.

From Aug. 21, 2004, to Nov. 21, 2004, agents made five separate
seizures at the international bridges in Hidalgo, Pharr and Progreso,
totaling 38 pounds of methamphetamine and worth $330,000. During the
same time period this year, agents reported nine methamphetamine
seizures weighing 97 pounds and worth $827,000, Pena said.

Agents found the drugs in powder form, typically hidden in a passenger
vehicle. Most meth smugglers arrested were from states such as South
Carolina and Georgia, he said. This year, agents detained younger
suspects and more women. In 2004, the youngest person detained was 27.
This year, agents arrested a 17-year-old, a 19-year-old and two 21-

While Pena hasn't analyzed the statistics in other border cities,
typically, he said, they follow the same trends.

"Traditionally when we see it in one area, we see it in other areas,"
he said. "If it's happening in McAllen, I assume its going to be
happening (along the border.)"

In fact, local drug abuse treatment facilities report treating more
people for methamphetamine addictions.

"It is definitely on the rise," said Mary Bishop, a counselor and
program staff at the Palmer Drug Abuse Program.

She said the free drug abuse treatment center has seen an increase in
the number of people addicted to meth in the past year. Many have come
from other states, in particular California, but local users are growing.

"We are starting to see it quite a bit in the schools, anywhere from
high school to middle school," Bishop said.

While not as popular in the Rio Grande Valley as drugs such as
cocaine, the rise in the local number of people seeking help for the
drug means meth is available here.

"By the time you start getting clients in here, that means there is a
problem," she said. "The market is there, it's available and cheap
to make."

Bishop said the program is trying to raise awareness about
methamphetamines dangers and educate the area on the drug's effects.

The Rio Grande Valley Council Inc., a non-profit substance abuse
treatment program which serves most of South Texas, is also treating
more methamphetamine addicts, said Public Education Coordinator Nancy

She said the drug often comes from Mexico as a liquid, and is smuggled
in tequila bottles because it looks similar to the alcohol's gold
from. The drug's high potency, making its high last up to 12 hours,
makes the drug particularly addictive, Trevino said.

"We are seeing that meth is becoming more and more popular and the
high is one of the reason they prefer it," she said.

Parents need to know the symptoms that come with methamphetamine use,
such as drastic change in behavior, increasing violence, paranoia,
insomnia and confusion, she said.

Still, methamphetamine drug use hasn't reached the epidemic levels
as in other parts of the country.

There are a handful of pending methamphetamine possession cases in
Hidalgo County, but most are teenager smugglers caught at the bridge
who are not eligible for federal prosecution, District Attorney Rene
Guerra said.

And Border Patrol agents also don't confiscate methamphetamine very
often at the checkpoints, according to McAllen Sector Spokesman Roy

"Of all the drug seizures we get, meth is the least amount we seize at
the check points," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin