Fentanyl is a synthetic (human-made) opioid that’s up to 50 times stronger than heroin. It has been a major contributor to drug overdose deaths in the United States.
In 2021, over 100,000 U.S. citizens died of drug overdoses, and 67% of those deaths involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
The vast majority of fentanyl in the U.S. comes from Mexico. However, this wasn’t always the case.
The Deadly Rise Of Mexican Fentanyl
The fentanyl crisis started when the U.S. government responded to the opioid epidemic by placing tighter regulations on prescription opioids. Due to these regulations, people with prescription opioid addictions suddenly struggled to get opioids from their doctors.
Many of them turned to the street. There, they encountered fentanyl, even when they weren’t looking for it.
The drug is often laced in other substances, including the illegal opioid heroin and prescription opioids like oxycodone. Drug traffickers use fentanyl to make their products more potent and to cut production costs, as it’s relatively cheap to make.
At the start of the fentanyl crisis, most U.S. dealers got the drug from China, often via the dark web. However, that changed when chemists from Mexican drug trafficking cartels learned how to make fentanyl themselves.
These criminal organizations soon became the nation’s main fentanyl supplier. They manufacture fentanyl pills as well as powders.
Why Mexican Cartels Make Fentanyl
Mexican drug cartels value fentanyl for several reasons.
Easy To Manufacture
First, the drug is very easy to manufacture. In the past, Mexican cartels only produced plant-based substances like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. These substances take months to grow. They also require large fields.
Fentanyl, on the other hand, can be made in just a couple days in a small laboratory.
Easy To Smuggle
Along with being easy to make, fentanyl is also easy to smuggle.
Because it’s so potent, even tiny amounts of the drug will get you high. In fact, just two milligrams (the size of two grains of salt) can kill you.
This means that cartels can easily smuggle small amounts of fentanyl and earn the same amount of money they’d get from smuggling larger drugs, which is much more risky.
Simple, Cheap, & Profitable
Cartels also have little to no trouble smuggling fentanyl precursor chemicals (chemicals used to make fentanyl). That’s because many of these chemicals are also used to make soap, pesticide, and other legal products.
Ultimately, Mexican cartels view fentanyl as a simpler, cheaper, and more profitable alternative to other drugs.
How The U.S. Government Is Responding
When Mexican fentanyl first became popular, many people criticized the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Department of Homeland Security for not responding quickly enough.
Around that same time, President Donald Trump claimed that building a wall along the Mexican border would stop the flow of fentanyl. However, most fentanyl enters the U.S. through official ports of entry, meaning the wall offers little protection against trafficking.
Since then, the U.S. government has significantly increased its efforts to stop Mexican fentanyl.
In 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents seized over 379 million fatal doses of fentanyl, enough to kill every U.S. citizen. Most of these seizures took place at U.S.-Mexico border crossings, especially those in California and Arizona.
Currently, federal law enforcement is only seizing up to 10% of the drugs arriving from Mexico.
That’s because over 200,000 vehicles cross the border every day, and law enforcement officers can’t screen all of them. Thus, although the seizures of fentanyl in 2022 might seem large, the government still has a long way to go before it ends fentanyl trafficking.
How To Avoid Fentanyl
You can’t identify fentanyl by sight, smell, or taste. Some people try to detect the drug using fentanyl test strips. While these products can be helpful, they’re not always accurate. The only way to completely avoid fentanyl is to stop using illicit drugs.
If you feel unable to do so, you may have a drug addiction. This disease causes symptoms such as:
- loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- loss of motivation
- tolerance (needing increasingly larger or more frequent doses of a drug to feel the desired effects)
- physical dependence (experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you don’t use drugs)
Like other diseases, drug addiction requires treatment.
To learn about treatment options, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer behavioral therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and other forms of evidence-based care to help you or your loved one stay sober.