Fentanyl surging from Mexico with China’s assistance proving national security threat

Southside Matt

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NarcoticsDepositPhotos.com

Opioid abuse has become a crisis in the United States, leading to lawsuits by state and federal officials against pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies. Just in the past week, states and municipalities have reached settlement agreements worth upwards of $26 billion.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose deaths due to opioid use rose by 38.1 percent, over three times the previous number, for the 12-month period ending January 31, 2021, as compared to the previous 12 months. Presently, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reports that 136 people die nationwide from an opioid overdose. While this spike coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, it also alerted officials to the growing popularity of synthetic forms of opioid drugs being found on the streets, specifically and particularly fentanyl.

In its legal form, fentanyl is used as a pain killer when prescribed by physicians or used in surgeries. The drug is highly-regulated, and the formulas used to produce fentanyl are extremely precise.

Illicit forms of fentanyl, on the other hand, are not produced according to such exact science. With a lethal dose for most people of 2mg, counterfeit fentanyl pills have been discovered by the DEA with concentrations ranging from 0.02 mg up to 5.1 mg, over twice the lethal dosage. The DEA reports that 42%, nearly half, of the pills they tested for fentanyl contained at least the lethal dose of 2 mg.

Even when trying to avoid fentanyl because of its lethality, drug users may find that other drugs have been intentionally contaminated with fentanyl. Drug dealers have turned to routinely mixing fentanyl with other drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine. These other drugs are highly lethal themselves in excessive doses, but mixing them with fentanyl only increases the likelihood of a fatal interaction.

As overall opioid overdose deaths rose 38.1 percent, those that included synthetic opioids, mostly illegally-produced fentanyl, rose 55.6 percent and seem to be the main driver of the spike.

Fentanyl is highly-coveted among some users as it produces feelings of euphoria, pain relief, relaxation, and sedation. Those who wish to it others and use it in the form of a date-rape drug consider it for the added drowsiness that it can produce.

Along with these desired effects, the drug can also produce the negative effects of dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and issues with urinary retention and pupillary constriction.

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The lethality and increased flow of the drug into the United States has one group, Families Against Fentanyl, advocating that the drug be declared a weapon of mass destruction under federal statute.

Families Against Fentanyl has, along with advocating for this declaration, analyzed data provided by the CDC to bolster its position. According to this analysis, overdose deaths from fentanyl use overtook suicide, vehicle accidents, and gun violence to become the largest killer of adults aged 18 to 45 in 2020.

With the year-over-year statistics ending in January showing the increase of opioid overdoses, April’s 12-month statistics from the CDC show that drug overdoses, in general, took over 100,000 lives. That same data indicates that almost two-thirds of those deaths involved fentanyl use or overdose.

The number and increase in these deaths caused the CDC to declare the situation an epidemic. A December 17, 2020, emergency health advisory from the CDC regarding the overdoses stated, “This represents a worsening of the drug overdose epidemic in the United States.”

This spike in overdose deaths coincides with increased trafficking of illegal fentanyl into the United States from Mexico. The majority, if not all, of the illegal fentanyl in the United States flows into the country over the border with Mexico.

As restrictions on entry into the United States over the border with Mexico have been relaxed by the administration of President Joe Biden, Mexican drug cartels have increased their efforts to have their drugs distributed throughout the U.S.

For the fiscal year of 2020, which ended September 30, 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that, while overall drug seizures were down nine percent, fentanyl seizures increased in August by 34 percent.

In a December 16 press conference, Cheri Oz, DEA Special Agent in Charge for the Phoenix Field Division, detailed the results of a two-month operation that involved the DEA and local authorities in the Scottsdale, Arizona, area. “In total during the two-month surge, we seized 3 million pills, 45 kilos (kilograms) of fentanyl powder, over 35 firearms, and arrested over 40 drug traffickers.” She further laid the trafficking efforts at the Sinaloa Cartel from Mexico. “The Sinaloa Cartel primarily uses the trafficking routes that run through Arizona. Phoenix is historically known as a repackaging and distribution area.”

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Cheri Oz, DEA PheonixU.S. Drug Enforcement Agency

At the same press conference, Scottsdale Police Chief Jeff Walther invoked the National Security aspect of the drug trade. “It’s not just a drug. (It is an) intended destabilizing influence in our country.” Chief Walther went further in describing the effects when he stated that, “if those across the border can continue to push this destabilizing influence in our country, we’re going to see…these record numbers of seizures.” He described it as “flowing like a river into Arizona (with) tendrils that go across the country.”

Mexico, for its part, has also attempted to restrain the trafficking actions by the cartels. Mexico’s Defense Department released figures on Monday for 2019 to 2021, figures that indicate a 525 percent increase in fentanyl seizures as compared to the previous three years. The most-recent three-year count showed 7,710 pounds of fentanyl being seized, compared to 1,232 for 2016-2018.

Mexico’s Defense Secretary General Luis Cresencio Sandoval told National Public Radio (NPR) that the change and increase came as the result of the ease with which fentanyl can be produced. “There was a change in consumption, there was a change in drug markets due to the ease of producing synthetic drugs.”

While Gen. Sandoval indicated to NPR that the seizures were proof that the problem is being addressed, others are concerned that drug enforcement efforts are not the main source for increased seizures. Instead, security expert Alejandro Hope argued to NPR that, “It could be because of a greater effort, or it could be because there is greater volume.”

Fentanyl production in Mexico also has Chinese ties. As Chinese companies have not been able to gain access to the U.S. market or to export the finished product to Mexico, they have developed an arrangement with the Mexican drug cartels. The Chinese companies produce the base ingredients for fentanyl, which are able to be shipped into Mexico, and have them delivered to the cartels. The cartels then mix the ingredients to produce the final fentanyl product before sending that on to the U.S.

The process to produce fentanyl is extremely dangerous. Many times, the steps are performed outdoors in cattle fields. The open air protects the workers against the lethal fumes that come from the production while the cattle provide cover to protect against detection by law enforcement. Despite the hazards, though, many of the workers perform the work as the pay is better than any other opportunity in their areas. This process, along with the hazards, can be seen in a video report from Public Broadcasting Service’s (PBS’s) News Hour titled Fentanyl Frontier. The video also details measures taken to make so-called “high quality” counterfeit fentanyl tablets and then transport them into the U.S.

PBS continued the series in two other installments. The second installment details how the drugs are trafficked into the United States and the lengths users will go to in order to avoid detection, while the third shows how children as young as 6 years old are recruited to protect against the dangers of the drug cartels.

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While the PBS series does not make the connection, much of the material used in the production of fentanyl does come from China according to a report by the U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission (USCC) released in August. If Chief Waltham’s assertions of national security implications are true, then this arrangement between Chinese companies and the Mexican drug cartels is working toward destabilizing the United States and putting it in jeopardy of takeover by those unfriendly to its principles.

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Hailing from the Great State of Texas, South Side Matt monitors government for compliance with the Constitutional values that founded the United States, and works to maintain liberty for all in that spirit. His articles focus on furthering this cause, but also occasionally go "off track" into lighter topics such as cooking, general life and others.

Fort Worth, TX
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