Fentanyl Bags
Plastic bags of Fentanyl are displayed on a table at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection area JOSHUA LOTT/Reuters

Mexico's seizure of fentanyl, most of it U.S.-bound, has dropped dramatically so far this year, according to figures released by the Defense Department and reported by ABC News.

Concretely, Mexican federal forces have only seized 286 pounds (130 kilograms) of the opioid in the first six months of 2024, a 94% year-on-year decrease. The figure was 5,135 pounds (over 2,300 kilograms) in the first half of 2023.

Efforts by Mexican law enforcement seem to have shifted toward methamphetamines, much more consumed in the country than fentanyl. Meth seizures reached a record 400 tons last year, a 1,200% increase compared to 2022. And figures on the same track in 2024, as they currently stand at 168 tons.

The outlet explained that meth is also exported to the U.S., but unlike fentanyl it is also consumed domestically. The opioid has been linked for some 70,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. every year, 70% of all such deaths in the country according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and officials acknowledging it as a public health emergency.

For example, California Governor Gavin Newsom has more than doubled the number of National Guard troops along his state's southern border with Mexico in efforts to crack down on "deadly drugs."

The governor's office said mid-June that California's National Guard County Drug Task Force operations have been boosted from 155 service members to nearly 400, as state and federal officials grapple with a spike in border encounters in recent years.

Shipments of chemical precursors reaching Mexico from China have also been a challenge. Seven months after Washington D.C. and Beijing reached an agreement to that end, a June report by The Washington Post showed that the trade in fentanyl precursors has largely resumed.

Three sources, including two salespeople for Chinese chemical firms and a reseller based in Mexico, described to the outlet how they have only conducted minor adjustments to evade scrutiny, altering customs labels and using alternative compounds among them.

The resilience of transnational criminal organizations, which adapt to law enforcement efforts, complicates the crackdown. While targeted enforcement has led to a reduction in seizures of precursor chemicals, finished fentanyl seizures remain high, suggesting the existence of alternate routes for these chemicals.

China remains the leading global producer of chemicals used to synthesize fentanyl, with much of the U.S. supply originating from Mexican labs that source Chinese chemicals.

Since November, U.S. and Chinese officials have held multiple meetings to discuss regulating new precursors and improving customs oversight. However, tackling the extensive network of small Chinese labs producing fentanyl precursors presents a formidable challenge. The situation is further complicated by China's lack of a domestic fentanyl epidemic, reducing its incentive to address the issue.

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