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

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents reported a notable increase in illicit fentanyl seizures along the US-Mexico border during the 2023 fiscal year, totaling 12,119 kilograms (26,718 pounds), an almost 90% surge compared to the 6,397 kilograms (14,104 pounds) seized in the previous fiscal year.

The spike in seizures, reported by InSight Crime, coincides with the reported cessation of fentanyl production and trafficking by the Chapitos faction of the Sinaloa Cartel in Sinaloa. This decision is attributed to heightened US government efforts to prosecute alleged fentanyl traffickers, particularly Ovidio Guzmán López.

Guzmán López, accused of leading the Chapitos faction along with other sons of former Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, has been a focal point for US authorities regarding the surge in overdose deaths linked to synthetic opioids. Guzman Lopez was arrested for the second time this year and extradited to the U.S. in September after being indicted in April. The U.S. government holds him primarily responsible for the rise in overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl.

In 2022, opioids, primarily illicit fentanyl, contributed to approximately 75% of the 110,000 recorded overdose deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Illicit fentanyl from Mexico is commonly used in counterfeit M30 Oxycodone pills, known as "blues." A CDC report from September 2023 revealed that illicit fentanyl was the sole drug found in 41.4% of US drug overdose deaths involving counterfeit pills between mid-2019 and late-2021.

Fentanyl Seized in Mexico
Mexican Army seized fentanyl pill manufacturing center and a methamphetamine lab, in Culiacan. Reuters

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently reported an increase in the lethality of counterfeit pills, InSight Crime added. Laboratory testing showed that seven out of every ten seized pills contained a deadly dose of fentanyl, a notable rise from the previous estimate of four out of ten.

Despite reports of a ban on fentanyl by the Chapitos faction, the impact on cross-border flows and its existence beyond Sinaloa remain uncertain, the publication says. Seizures, though imperfect as a metric, offer insight into enforcement efforts against this crisis.

Additional indicators, such as purity and price, further complicate the landscape. Inconsistencies in purity levels, as revealed by DEA testing, suggest multiple producers with no standardized production method. Price variations across the United States, ranging from $0.35 to $20 per pill, add to the complexity, with some markets experiencing oversupply and plummeting prices, while others face the opposite trend.

The opioid crisis is at the forefront of President Joe Biden's domestic agenda. Biden made reference to this last week in his bilateral meetings with Mexican and Chinese counterparts, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Xi Jinping.

Concretely, Biden and Xi reached an agreement to curb fentanyl manufacturing and exports. It has been widely reported that chemical precursors to manufacture fentanyl are sent to Mexico from China before making its way through the border with the U.S.

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