By “El Huaso” for Borderland Beat

National Guard in front of a seized drug lab. Photo: @GN_MEXICO_
As the United States suffers a synthetic drug use crisis marked by record overdoses, DEA figures show the number of drug labs in the United States is decreasing. In Mexico, government data suggests that synthetic drug production has increased to meet demand.
A recent article by news site Milenio cites DEA data on drug labs found between the years of 2020 and 2022, revealing that 539 drug labs have been found inside the United States. One of the most striking findings is the drastic reduction in synthetic drug production in the United States, despite soaring addiction and overdose rates. In 2020, 231 labs were seized. The following year, this figure fell 24% to 176. In 2022, just 137 labs were found, a further decrease of 25% from 2021.

At the same time, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data shows that methamphetamine continues to be seized at the southern border in staggering quantities, after sharp increases since the early 2010s.
The CBP figures match Mexican government statistics that show that more drug labs are being seized in Mexico than ever before. Further, seizures of meth domestically by Mexico’s army are up 168% since 2019.
These figures, contextualized by the declining number of production sites in the United States, suggest that Mexico has risen to meet demand for synthetic drugs in the United States.
Indeed, in their 2020 Drug Threat Assessment, the DEA claimed that “Mexican TCOs continue to be the primary producers and suppliers of low cost, high purity methamphetamine available in the United States”. This statement echoes what researchers, journalists, and Mexico’s government are saying.
Earlier last year, Mexico’s Secretary of Defense, General Luis Cresencio Sandoval reported that organized crime groups shifted their focus from cultivated drugs such as marijuana and heroin towards synthetics beginning in the early 2010s, due to their increased ease of transport and higher profits. According to Sandoval, this has now caused an increase in synthetic drug use in Mexico.
In a recent investigation, think tank InSight Crime found that this shift happened at the same that Mexican criminal organizations vacated the marijuana market, displaced by legal supply in the United States.