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Mexican drug cartels are rapidly expanding fentanyl production, pushing more deadly drug into the United States and benefiting from an easily produced and highly addictive substance.
“Even seeing a single lab in Mexico press pills was something unique we were seeing. And that only happened a few years ago,” said Uttam Dhillon, the former interim administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“We are now seeing literally a million pills seized in Los Angeles, for example, just a few months ago. So the growth has been huge.”
The Sinaloa cartel and its rival Jalisco Carte are responsible for much of the production and smuggling of fentanyl into the United States, according to former officials and analysts.
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In 2019, the United States successfully lobbied the Chinese government to subject fentanyl to a stronger regulatory regime. This reduced shipments of fentanyl from China to North America and opened the opportunity for Mexican cartels to produce the drug themselves.
“Mexican cartels run a global business. They run it as a Fortune 500 company right now,” Derek Maltz, a former DEA special agent, told Fox News’ America’s Newsroom. “They have implemented a strategic and deceptive marketing plan to drive addiction and increase profits.”
“All they need are the chemical precursors,” Dhillon said. “Once they have those chemicals, they can produce them on an industrial scale.”
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Unlike cocaine and heroin, fentanyl is synthetically produced with chemicals produced primarily in China and without crops grown in the fields. The drug is extremely potent in small doses, which means smugglers can feed a market in the United States with much smaller shipments.
“If manufacturing costs a few hundred dollars, sales in the United States will generate hundreds of thousands of dollars or potentially even more, depending on how it is cut,” said Dr Vanda Felbab-Brown, Director of the Initiative. on non-state armed actors at the Brookings Institution.
“Profitability is even greater because the means of smuggling and transport are greater and the ease of evading law enforcement is great.”
Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada allegedly leads the Sinaloa cartel. The US government offers up to $ 15 million for his capture and $ 10 million for the alleged boss of Jalisco Nemesio “El Mencho” Cervantes.
“The individual leaders of these cartels are ruthless, greedy and sophisticated. These cartels take billions of dollars a year and the leaders profit from them every single day,” Dhillon said. “They are very adept at avoiding prosecution in the United States and have adapted, avoiding Mexican law enforcement.”
In 2016, the US government successfully partnered with Mexican counterparts to capture Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the former leader of the Sinaloa cartel, after his years of successful escape and law enforcement evasion. . Since then, that bilateral relationship has changed dramatically.
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“President Andres Lopez Obrador’s current administration in Mexico has really gutted cooperation,” Felbab-Brown said.
“Mexico’s decision to no longer cooperate effectively with the DEA is downright frustrating,” added Dhillon. “The DEA and our law enforcement efforts – that cooperation is the cooperation we have had with Mexico for decades – it’s critical to aggressively attack the cartels where they live in Mexico.”
President Lopez Obrador has embraced a “hugs, not bullets” policy in dealing with cartels, arguing that fighting criminal groups only creates more violence.
The DEA declined to comment on this story.
“CBP has made unprecedented investments in surveillance systems at our borders, implemented new non-intrusive inspection technology at POEs, and we leverage improved intelligence analytics and information sharing with other federal agencies and foreign partners,” a Department of Homeland spokesperson said in a statement released to Fox News.
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A record 107,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 70,000 of these victims were killed by synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.