My first published effort at tracking the pace and proliferation of biological technologies (PDF) was published in 2003. In that paper, I started following the efforts of the DEA and the DOJ to restrict production and use of methamphetamine, and also started following the response to those efforts as an example of proliferation and innovation driven by proscription.
The story started circa 2002 with 95% of meth production in Mom and Pop operations that made less than 5 kg per year. Then the US Government decided to restrict access to the precursor chemicals and also to crack down on domestic production. As I described in 2008, these enforcement actions did sharply reduce the number of "clandestine laboratory incidents" in the US, but those actions also resulted in a proliferation of production across the US border, and a consequently greater flow of drugs across the border. Domestic consumption continued to increase. The DEA acknowledged that its efforts contributed to the development of a drug production and distribution infrastructure that is, "[M]ore difficult for local law enforcement agencies to identify, investigate, and dismantle because[it is] typically much more organized and experienced than local independent producers and distributors." The meth market thus became both bigger and blacker.
Now it turns out that the production infrastructure for meth has been reduced to a 2-liter soda bottle. As reported by the AP in the last few days, "The do-it-yourself method creates just enough meth for a few hits, allowing users to make their own doses instead of buying mass-produced drugs from a dealer." The AP reporters found that meth-related busts are on the increase in 2/3 of the states examined. So we are back to distributed meth production -- using methods that are even harder to track and crack than bathtub labs -- thanks to innovation driven by attempts to restrict/regulate/proscribe access to a technology.
And in Other News...3D Printers for All
Priya Ganapati recently covered the latest in 3D printing for Wired. The Makerbot looks to cost about a grand, depending on what you order, and how much of it you build yourself. It prints all sorts of interesting plastics. According to the wiki, the "plastruder" print head accepts 3mm plastic filament, so presumably the smallest voxel is 3mm on a side. Alas this is quite macroscopic, but even if I can't yet print microfluidic components I can imagine all sorts of other interesting applications. The Makerbot is related to the Reprap, which can now (mostly) print itself. Combine the two, and you can print a pretty impressive -- and always growing -- list of plastic and metal objects (see the Thingiverse and the Reprap Object Library).
How does 3D printing tie into drug proscription? Oh, just tangentially, I suppose. I make more of this in the book. More power to create in more creative people's hands. Good luck trying to ban anything in the future.