http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/world/southwestern-states-a-hot-spot-in-the-nation-s-fentanyl-crisis/article/543231

Southwestern states a hot spot in the nation’s fentanyl crisis

Posted Feb 14, 2019 by Karen Graham
Southwestern border states are being hit by a flood of illicit fentanyl smuggled from Mexico — a profitable new business for drug gangs that has pushed the synthetic opioid to the top spot for fatal U.S. overdoses.
The DEA is alerting all citizens to drug overdose deaths tied to counterfeit pills laced with powerf...
The DEA is alerting all citizens to drug overdose deaths tied to counterfeit pills laced with powerful opioid fentanyl. Manufactured by Mexican drug trafficking (DTOs) and sold as oxycodone on the illicit drug market, fentanyl is an opioid 100 times stronger than morphine.
DEA
Sky blue pills - nicknamed "Mexican Oxy," are stamped with “M″on one side and “30” on the other to make them look just like legitimate oxycodone. Yet they contain a potent dose of fentanyl that will kill you. In Arizona, alone, fentanyl deaths tripled from 2015 to 2017, reports the Associated Press.
The deaths of so many young adults and high school students is a tragic reflection of the opioid crisis being experienced in the U.S. today. “It’s the worst I’ve seen in 30 years, this toll that it’s taken on families,” said Doug Coleman, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge of Arizona.
Coleman adds, “The crack (cocaine) crisis was not as bad.” With all the pills and powder arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico in the past few years, the drug has surpassed heroin for overdose deaths and touched all demographic groups.
Popping the pills, which range in price from $9 to $30, at parties “is a lot more widespread than we know,” said Yavapai County Sheriff’s Lt. Nate Auvenshine. “There’s less stigma to taking a pill than putting a needle in your arm, but one of these pills can have enough fentanyl for three people.”
photo illustration of 2 milligrams of fentanyl  a lethal dose in most people.
photo illustration of 2 milligrams of fentanyl, a lethal dose in most people.
DEA
The Sinaloa cartel's newest product
The Nogales border crossing is one of the main entry points the Sinaloa Cartel uses to get its drugs into the United States. Last year in Nogales, pills were smuggled into Arizona by a Phoenix woman who was paid $200 to tote them.
At the same border crossing last month, border agents made their biggest fentanyl bust ever — nearly 254 pounds (115 kilograms) found in a truckload of cucumbers.
Most of the fentanyl, valued at over $3.5 million, was in powder form, along with over 2 pounds (1 kilogram) made up of pills. The tablets are manufactured in primitive and unsanitary conditions using pill presses readily available on the Internet. There is no quality control, meaning the pill-taker really doesn't know if they are getting a lethal dose.
One of a number of different types of pill presses available to drug rings. This is a hydraulic pres...
One of a number of different types of pill presses available to drug rings. This is a hydraulic press.
Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services
China's illicit labs have long been the source of fentanyl coming into the U.S. and Canada. But in 2017, the Mexican army found a fentanyl lab in a remote part of Sinaloa state - seizing the powdered ingredients and finished fentanyl and production equipment.
The find was probably the first indication that the Sinaloa Cartel was now in the business of manufacturing the drug. “It’s still a major, major force in the Mexican criminal underworld,” Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said yesterday, according to the Japan Times.
Most of the fentanyl that does come in from Mexico is about 10 percent pure, while the packages that still arrive from China are usually 90 percent in purity. Of the fentanyl coming in from Mexico, 85 percent comes through the San Diego area border crossings, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment.
In the past two years  addicts in search of cheaper drugs have turned to fentanyl or heroin cut with...
In the past two years, addicts in search of cheaper drugs have turned to fentanyl or heroin cut with fentanyl
SPENCER PLATT, GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP
Sinaloa drug cartel still raking in cash around the world
Despite the outcome of the Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman trial, the Sinaloa cartel is still marching onward. How does the cartel manage to do this?
Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada has helped run the cartel for the past three decades, and he is an astute businessman with a reputation as a level-headed, old-style capo who would rather negotiate than resort to bloodshed. “El Mayo is still considered the main player at the table,” said Will Glaspy, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent in charge of the Houston division
The cartel has a worldwide network of contacts that allows them to move Colombian cocaine to Cameroon and Mexican meth cooks to Malaysia. It also controls seaports to get drugs and precursor chemicals shipped in from around the globe.
They have labs and chemists to process the chemicals into drugs and they also pay handsome bribes to corrupt cops to make sure the drugs get to the border. And then, there are the tunnels, costing multi-millions of dollars used to smuggle drugs into the U.S.
Image shows drug tunnel corridors on Otay Mesa  California originating from Mexico 1993-2016.
Image shows drug tunnel corridors on Otay Mesa, California originating from Mexico 1993-2016.
San Diego Tunnel Task Force
The Sinaloa cartel is sitting in the driver's seat right now because shortly after the new government took charge Dec. 1 in Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador decided to end the "drug war" on his terms.
“We haven’t arrested capos, because that is not our main function,” President Lopez Obrador said Jan. 30. “The government’s main function is to guarantee public safety, and the strategy is no longer to carry out raids to capture capos.” He added, “Officially there isn’t a war anymore.”
Fentanyl use reaching epidemic levels in Mexico's north
For the longest time, heroin was the drug of choice for addicts in Mexican border cities like Tijuana, Mexicali and Ciudad Juárez, reports Filter Magazine.
Trucks line up to cross the border with the United States at Otay Mesa Commercial Port of Entry in T...
Trucks line up to cross the border with the United States at Otay Mesa Commercial Port of Entry in Tijuana, Mexico
GUILLERMO ARIAS, AFP
But with the base chemicals being imported from China at such a low cost, it is actually cheaper to manufacture fentanyl than heroin. Only trouble is, according to interviews with Filter, the shift to fentanyl has also caused a rise in overdose deaths.
Filter says: "In the face of what is by all accounts an emerging fentanyl crisis, people who use drugs encounter indifference or even outright hostility from both the general public and authorities."
Perhaps because of governmental indifference, the scope of the nascent fentanyl crisis in northern Mexico is unknown, even though there are organizations like Prevencasa, a non-profit group dedicated to harm reduction among Tijuana’s intravenous drug users.