EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – El Paso is becoming the tip of the spear in the fight against the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says it will direct interdiction, enforcement and outreach resources to the El Paso Division as part of a nationwide effort to disrupt the flow of fentanyl from Mexico to the United States.
The Project Wave Breaker initiative will rely on analytical intelligence to target specific activities of Mexican drug cartels that are primary suppliers and distributors of fentanyl in the U.S.
More than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in fiscal year 2020 and deaths caused by synthetic opioids like fentanyl and meth increased by 60 percent. That’s up from 2019’s record 71,630 fatalities.
The cartels export fentanyl pills in powerful 1.8 milligram doses – that’s just shy of the 2.2 milligrams that would be considered a lethal dose, the DEA says. They also lace other drugs with the substance to boost potency.
“While the Southwest border is a major entry point for fentanyl, the cartels are spreading their poison into communities across the nation,” said DEA Acting Administrator D. Christopher Evans. “Through this initiative, we’re tackling a very real public health, public safety and national security threat by identifying the most egregious street-level networks in our communities and working our way up through the supply chain.”
The DEA blames the Sinaloa cartel with capitalizing on the opioid epidemic in the United States to flood communities north of the border with fentanyl and driving overdose rates to a new record. But other transnational organizations like the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) are also very active in the trafficking of synthetic opioids.
The Sinaloa cartel rose to dominance in the past two decades under the leadership of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. But with the drug lord jailed for life in the United States, his old associate Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and his sons Archivaldo, Ovidio and Alfredo Guzman are now running the cartel.
El Paso-Juarez corridor coveted by drug cartels
El Paso is sought after by the Sinaloa and other drug cartels because of its strategic geographical location, said DEA El Paso Office Special Agent in Charge Kyle W. Williamson.
“The people that are conducting transportation of the drugs, they have access to the entire U.S. interstate system from El Paso,” he said. The loads of drugs that make it out of the ports of entry in vehicles or are successfully smuggled in desolate areas in between the ports head to California on I-10 West, Albuquerque and Denver on I-25 and San Antonio, Dallas and beyond starting out of I-10 East.
There’s no shortage of fentanyl coming through the so-called “Juarez corridor” is staggering. “Our fentanyl seizures the first five months of the fiscal year have exceeded the amount of seizures in 2019 and 2020 combined, despite the COVID-19 pandemic,” Williamson said.
The DEA official worries about the sophistication and ruthlessness of the cartels. Some of the seized fentanyl pills contained lethal doses (2.2 milligrams).
“The Sinaloa cartel has been a problem and remains a problem. They’re very well organized and have plenty of resources to maintain their operations,” Williamson said.
He urged local residents to help federal authorities keep the cartels out of their communities and the drugs out of their children’s hands.
“It’s very important for the community to be involved. We want to balance enforcement with prevention and treatment,” he said. “Our biggest concern, obviously, is our youth. The fentanyl that’s coming across the border is in a small pill form and looks harmless. It’s important for people to be aware of what’s going on in their surroundings and parents to monitor what their kids are doing.”
Eleven DEA divisions will be part of Project Wave Breaker. These offices located in Southwest border states and in some of America’s largest cities last year accounted for 85 percent of all synthetic opioid seizures.