Fentanyl is a highly addictive and deadly drug of which just a two-milligram dose can prove fatal, while methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. The majority of meth in the United States is currently produced by cartels in Mexico.
As per figures issued by Mexico’s Defense Department, seizures of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl soared by 525 percent in the first three years of the current administration, which took office on Dec. 1, 2018, when compared to the previous three years.
Law enforcement confiscated 1,232 pounds (559 kilograms) of fentanyl—which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine—from 2016 to 2018 and 7,710 pounds (3,497 kilograms) from 2019 to 2021.
Mexican Defense Secretary Gen. Luis Cresencio Sandoval acknowledged that Mexican cartels have moved away from naturally grown drugs such as opium and marijuana, where seizures and crop eradication have fallen, and moved toward synthetic drugs.
Mexican cartels reportedly import fentanyl, a synthetic opioid first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat acute pain, typically in advanced cancer patients, from China before pressing it into pills or mixing it into other narcotics to increase potency.
Seizures of methamphetamines have more than doubled. Meth seizures rose from 120,100 pounds (54,521 kilograms) from 2016 to 2018 to almost 275,000 pounds (124,735 kilograms) in the past three years, an increase of 128 percent.
“There was a change in consumption. There was a change in drug markets due to the ease of producing synthetic drugs,” Sandoval said.
The change was reflected in a drop of more than 50 percent in the amount of opium poppy fields destroyed in the past three years. The eradication of marijuana fields in Mexico also has dropped by about 50 percent, which could also be partially attributed to the legalization of marijuana in many U.S. states.
More and more Mexican cartels are turning to large, industrial-scale labs to produce synthetic drugs, and Sandoval noted that the number of drug labs raided fell to 203 over the past three years from 287 from 2016 to 2018. However, he said the labs that were raided were noticeably larger.
“The laboratories that have been discovered or seized in this administration have had larger capacities, which has allowed us to seize a larger quantity of methamphetamine products,” Sandoval said.
According to an analysis of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data by nonprofit group Families Against Fentanyl, overdoses from the drug were the top killer in adults aged 18 to 45 in 2020—overtaking suicide, vehicle accidents, and gun violence.
A record number of Americans, more than 100,000, died of drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending in April, according to CDC data. Fentanyl was involved in almost two-thirds of those deaths. Overdose fatalities accelerated during COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns throughout 2020.
“This represents a worsening of the drug overdose epidemic in the United States,” the CDC stated in an emergency health advisory issued on Dec. 17, 2020.
Methamphetamine-related overdose deaths nearly tripled from 2015 to 2019 among adults aged 18 to 64 in the United States, according to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health.
“We are in the midst of an overdose crisis in the United States, and this tragic trajectory goes far beyond an opioid epidemic. In addition to heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine are becoming more dangerous due to contamination with highly potent fentanyl and increases in higher-risk use patterns such as multiple substance use and regular use,” NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, one of the authors of the study, said in September.
“Public health approaches must be tailored to address methamphetamine use across the diverse communities at risk and particularly for American Indian and Alaska Native communities, who have the highest risk for methamphetamine misuse and are too often underserved.”
In November, authorities announced federal drug charges against Mexican trucker Carlos Martin Quintana-Arias after they confiscated 17,584 pounds of methamphetamine and 388.93 pounds of fentanyl from a commercial trailer attempting to enter the United States from Mexico, the largest seizure for both 2020 and 2021.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.