Mexican authorities have warned of an increase in seizures of drug labs in Sinaloa state, a sign that criminal organizations may be diversifying their drug production and trafficking activities to put more focus on synthetic drugs.
Regional military commander Rogelio Terán Contreras recently said that the number of synthetic drug labs discovered in Sinaloa has been increasing, reported El Universal.
According to official statistics, authorities destroyed 47 of these clandestine labs in 2014. That figure rose to 80 in 2015, and so far this year at least 55 have been destroyed, suggesting the 2016 total could equal or surpass the 2015 total by year's end.
The precursor chemicals used to produce synthetic drugs are often imported through the country's maritime ports, El Universal reported. And most of the drugs produced in these labs are intended for export to the United States.
Terán explained that the proliferation of drug labs has taken a toll on the resources of law enforcement and security forces.
According to El Sol de México, the forensics work and the dismantling of each lab costs the Attorney General's Office between $50,000 and $100,000. In addition, soldiers have to be dispatched to secure the labs during the process, which can take up to three months.
InSight Crime Analysis
The increase in synthetic drug lab busts in Sinaloa -- one of the three states that comprise Mexico's "Golden Triangle," the primary region for marijuana and opium poppy cultivation -- could suggest that regional criminal organizations are seeking to diversify their drug-related activities. Mexican crime groups have already been ramping up opium production to make up for declining revenues from marijuana. Thus, it is possible that they are also looking to synthetic drugs as an alternative income stream.
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While authorities might be destroying an increasing number of drug labs in Sinaloa, recent data from the Mexican government show that nationwide seizures of one of the most common synthetic drugs, methamphetamine, have dropped precipitously. According to a recent report, meth seizures in Mexico dropped by 99 percent this year compared to last.
On the other had, the most recent annual report from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) indicates that methamphetamine production in Mexico may have doubled since 2009. And the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that seizures of meth by US border authorities have steadily increased in recent years (pdf), further suggesting increased production by Mexican crime groups. The DEA also reported that some evidence suggests methamphetamine use in the United States may be increasing, lending weight to the notion that Mexican criminal organizations could be responding to changes in drug market demand.