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Article Summary

Fentanyl: The China and Mexico Connection

Opioids have been causing a major problem across the United States. In recent years, however, there has been an increase in the rates of fentanyl abuse and addiction in the country. Read on to learn more about how China and Mexico has been contributing to this growing American problem.

Understanding Fentanyl

Fentanyl first surged into the American market in the early 2010s. since then, it has quickly become one of the most lethal of all the opioids available in the country. In 2017, for instance, the CDC - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - reported that over 47000 people lost their life to an opioid overdose in the United States. Of this number, 28000 were linked to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

But how does fentanyl get into the country seeing as how the federal government and many states have such strict laws against its production? To get answers to this question, it is important to understand the role that Mexico and China play in the local fentanyl trade.

Mexico, China, and Fentanyl

Most of the fentanyl that is sold in the United States - as well as fentanyl precursors and analogues - are produced by Chinese companies. However, Mexico is quickly turning out into one of the major production and transit points for the substance as well as its analogues. Further, Mexican traffickers have been playing a strategic role in the distribution of this drug across into the United States.

Although two major criminal groups seem to dominate the fentanyl trade, there are vast networks comprised of small subcontractors specialized in the importation, transportation, and production of synthetic drugs like fentanyl.

Both small and large organizations seem to be taking advantage of the growing popularity of this drug. Unfortunately, the substance is also increasingly being laced with other substances, such as marijuana, methamphetamine, and cocaine. In many cases, users do not even know that the batch of fentanyl that they are taking might also be comprised of other addictive substance, some of which are actually dangerous if not fatal.

The potency of this substance also opens the door to other drug dealers who choose to bypass Mexico. These dealers often get their supplies of fentanyl from China and proceed to sell the drug over the dark web - the section of the internet that is reserved for illicit activities.

Unfortunately, few people understand just how prevalent this part of the drug trade has become. Even fewer comprehend its medium and long term implications. Additionally, the market has relatively low barriers of entry as well as high returns. This makes the future of fentanyl control and vigilance rather bleak.

The Chinese Connection to Mexican Fentanyl

Mexican drug cartels have started capitalizing on the growing fentanyl trade, as well as trying to take advantage of the growing popularity of this substance in the United States. However, China also plays a role in this equation.

In 2017, the DEA - the Drug Enforcement Administration - released a NDTA - a National Drug Threat Assessment. This document, however, seems to be ambiguous about the true nature of the relationships between China and Mexican drug cartels.

To understand the role that China plays in the manufacture of fentanyl as well as the interactions that the drug trade has with Mexican traffickers, it is essential to examine other cartel drugs like heroin and methamphetamine as well as how they interact with fentanyl.

Illicit Fentanyl

Fentanyl is one of the most dangerous of all opioid drugs. If you overdose on this substance, there is a high risk that you could end up dying. Further, there is a risk of overdose even if you just came into contact with fentanyl without even using it.

The illicit production, sale, and distribution of the drug is quite lucrative. It is for this reason that many Mexican cartels have switched from other substances to fentanyl. Some of them have even started manufacturing the substances in labs using various precursor chemicals that they import from China. After selling fentanyl, most of these cartels reap large profits.

The fact that the drug is so potent means that the cartels are able to deal in much smaller shipments of it while ensuring boosts in the profits that they make from their trafficking activities. For instance, a single kilo of fentanyl is equal to about 50 kilos of heroin.

The Connection with Methamphetamine

Mexican cartels are often middlemen in the cocaine trade. They buy the product in wholesale batches from Colombian drug traffickers before proceeding to smuggle the drug into the US. As you can well imagine, this cuts into the profitability of cocaine.

However, some Mexican cartels also deal in methamphetamine. They also manufacture this drug and are able to enjoy a greater percentage of the profits that are realized once it is sold in the United States.

Due to this trade, the cartel groups that deal in meth and control the ports used to bring the drug into the United States end up enjoying a significant advantage. Although most of these groups sell meth or participate in its trade to some extent, it seems that those based in Tierra Caliente - including the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion - have reaped the greatest rewards.

Further, it seems that at least part of the meth that is sold in the United States is important locally using precursors either obtained domestically or imported from Canada, Europe, or Asia.

However, the synthetic stimulant is also supplied to the United States by smugglers from Canada, Asia, and other parts of the globe. Even so, it seems that most of the meth that is in the United States is produced in Mexican drug laboratories.

Some of these labs are industrial-scale facilities that law enforcement officials refer to as super labs. Mexican chemists also produce meth that is often of a higher quality and cheaper than any that comes from other sources. This is why Mexico has been able to control the US meth market.

Even so, the volume of methamphetamine production that Mexico engages in would never have been possible unless chemists were able to procure precursor chemicals from China.

The contact that these Mexican cartels use to buy meth precursors are also the same ones that supply all the compounds used in the production of fentanyl. In the same way, the cartels also tend to use the same networks and methods that they developed for the meth trade to traffic this opioid drug.

It is also important to note that the synthesis of fentanyl is much easier than that of meth. For this reason, cartel chemists often have an easy time making the switch to fentanyl production.

In the same way, there are some cartels - particularly those that have no control over the ports of entry for chemical precursors - to important finished fentanyl in large quantities from China before finding ways to sell it in the United States.

The Connection with Heroin

When fentanyl came on the market, it was sold as a prescription pain relief medication. At the time, it was intended to replace other opium-based drugs like morphine. The fact that it is synthetic also means that fentanyl never requires a growing cycle, which is not the same case with opium poppies. This effectively means that anyone can produce it at any time they wish.

It is these qualities that have made fentanyl one of the favorites among drug dealers who are looking for cheaper ways to improve the potency of the heroin that they sell. Some of them also mix it with fillers in an attempt to produce fake heroin, while others use it as one of the active ingredients in the production of counterfeit opioid pills that they later market as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

For several decades now, Mexican drug cartels have been pushing into the heroin market in the United States. Today, more than 90 percent of all the whole sale heroin that has been seized in the country originated from Mexico.

While there is some Southwest Asian and South American heroin in the United States, Mexicans seem to have dominated the market because they sell a product that is much more potent but for a lower price.

In the meth and cocaine trade, Mexicans often liaise with other American criminal groups for retail sales on the street level. However, there are many areas where Mexican criminals control and own the distribution channel for these drugs.

Mexicans have also been changing the methods that they use to distribute illicit substances in the United States. Today, users do not have to go into an inner city to buy heroin. This is because Mexican traffickers now deliver their product right to the doorsteps of their buyers.

Over the past few years, the cartels have been using this complex logistical system to enable them distribute fentanyl. They do so with fentanyl that is a replacement for pharmaceutical opioids such as oxycodone as well as a supplement or substitute for heroin.

Like meth and heroin, fentanyl has also been finding its way into the United States through many other avenues. For instance, Canadian, Asian, and Chinese criminals have been mailing the drug directly to their buyers while some have been sending the drug via courier services.

However, the volume of trade that is being conducted on the Dark Web and through mail order seems to be far smaller than that being smuggled into the United States by Mexican drug cartels.

Fighting the Problem

Although both China and Mexico are involved in the fentanyl trade to one extent or the other, it seems that the drug will continue making it into the United States for many years to come. This is despite the efforts that law enforcement authorities such as the DEA - the Drug Enforcement Administration - have been engaging in.

Further, economics continues to drive the fentanyl industry in much the same way it controls other aspects of the illicit narcotics trade. This is because users are still paying for these drugs. As a result, creative traffickers are always coming up with unique ways to meet the growing demand.

Even so, there have been efforts from the Chinese, Mexican, and American governments to try and combat the fentanyl trade that links the three countries and ruins lives across the globe.

In 2017, for instance, the Chinese government started controlling 4 fentanyl variations - including valeryl fentanyl, acryl fentanyl, furanyl fentanyl, and carfentanil. These variations are now controlled substances in China.

It is expected that this move is going to curtail or completely eliminate the sale of these variations through mail deliveries going out from China. However, there is a high risk that the source might not be extinguished. This is because creative and inventive chemists might still be able to create new analogues in a bid to overcome the existing regulations.

However, the fact that the supplies from China are being stemmed also means that Mexican cartels might be able to use this to their advantage and end up increasing their share of the American fentanyl market. This is not altogether unlikely because the efforts to reduce the production and sale of meth precursor chemicals were responsible for enabling the Mexican markets to take over the US meth market.

For instance, even if the fentanyl that is imported from China is halted, this is not likely to reduce or remove the threat arising from Mexico. The only solution might be to interrupt the sale of precursor chemicals in Mexico. Unless this happens, Mexican cartels will still be able to produce enough fentanyl and more to meet the growing demand in the United States.

In this, and many other ways, it seems that fentanyl is like methamphetamine. This is because stopping the flow of the precursors used to produce these drugs is the only way to ensure that there are not manufactured.

However, lawlessness and corruption in Mexico has given cartels the latitude they need to continue operating - and profitably so. As long as these cartels are able to get their hands on the chemicals required to produce fentanyl, it is highly likely that they will continue synthesizing the drug and selling it in the United States.

The United States can only attempt to halt the growing tide by increasing its investments in public education and prevention campaigns as well as ensuring that there are adequate supplies of naloxone to save lives that would otherwise have been lost to a fentanyl overdose.

CITATIONS

https://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA16/20180906/108650/HHRG-115-FA16-Transcript-20180906.pdf

https://filtermag.org/yellow-peril-blaming-china-fentanyl-racist-legacy/

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-05-fentanyl-crackdown-mexico-balloon-effect.html

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/fentanyl-crisis-mexican-cartels-push-opioid-assembly-190429132930980.html

https://www.apnews.com/736f6a25b4b34a65b33232617c3596fb

https://www.insightcrime.org/investigations/mexico-deadly-rise-fentanyl/

https://www.scmp.com/news/world/united-states-canada/article/2185915/mexican-drug-lord-el-chapos-jail-cheap-chinese

https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/fentanyl_insight_crime_final_19-02-11.pdf

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