BEIJING, Dec 3 (AFP) - Police in southwestern China have busted 85 people suspected of manufacturing methamphetamines at eight illegal production labs and distributing the drug nationwide, state press said Thursday.
Police confiscated 44 tonnes of chemicals that could have been used to make up to 10 tonnes of illegal crystal methamphetamine with a street value of 2.17 billion yuan (318 million dollars), the Global Times said.
"This is a huge illegal drug case that took six months to investigate, was spread out over 21 provinces and regions and included five gangs with over 85 people suspected to be involved," the Legal Daily said.
The case came to light in April after drug authorities discovered large shipments of ephedrine, a drug commonly used in flu, cough and asthma medicine, in Yibin city in Sichuan province, the paper said.
Ephedrine is a key ingredient in methamphetimines.
Chinese drug authorities last year began tracking large purchases of ephedrine, which is also a common ingredient in many traditional Chinese herbal medicines, reports said.
Besides the police, the State Food and Drug Administration and the National Narcotics Control Commission were involved in the bust, the papers said.
During the raids on the drug labs, police also confiscated 415 kilogrammes of ephedrine, 955 grams of methamphetamine and 18.2 million yuan (2.7 million dollars) in cash, the reports said.
Recreational drug use has risen in China as society has become more open and incomes have grown, especially methamphetimines, which have become widely available in bars and dance halls nationwide.