Mexico – The New Source of Fentanyl

When the first wave of overdoses attributed to fentanyl was seen in the mid-2000s, most of the supply could be traced directly back to China. A highly industrialized country replete with cheap labor, fentanyl could be produced there in bulk and shipped to the U.S. affordably, leaving room for enormous profit margins for dealers. Mexican drug cartels saw the surge in demand for fentanyl and wanted in on the action. Thus began a shift in production that has led to Mexico’s continued rise as a source of fentanyl for the U.S.

First, we saw Mexico become a link in the supply chain for fentanyl. Chinese manufacturers would ship the drug to Mexico, where it would be offloaded and smuggled across the border into the United States. This circumvented laws regulating the importation of fentanyl and its analogues, an attempt by the U.S. government to curb the spread of overdose deaths resulting from fentanyl.

As demand for the drug continued to grow, drug cartels began manufacturing fentanyl in-house, as they already had many of the necessary labs available due to their burgeoning methamphetamine production business. This enabled them to take a larger portion of the profits garnered from the sale of fentanyl, while also increasing their control over the market.

However, the precursor chemicals required to manufacture fentanyl were still sourced almost exclusively from China – specifically, the Wuhan province of China.

Once the coronavirus had overtaken Wuhan, China locked down the entire province, shutting down manufacturers and distributors of those precious precursor chemicals. Mexican drug cartel profits were now significantly threatened as their drug labs had no means of production.

While shipments have resumed as of early April, the cartels are looking to rid themselves of dependence on China for production of fentanyl. While they have yet to achieve success, their labs are working towards the ability to manufacture the necessary precursors of fentanyl production. When that occurs, Mexico will have cemented itself as the de facto supplier of fentanyl to the United States.


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