Fentanyl, the new treasure of the cartels in Mexico

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Fentanyl, the new treasure of the cartels in Mexico


El Financiero

Fri., 12/15/2017 - 18:57

Fentanyl, the new treasure of the cartels in Mexico

In the summer of 2005, epidemiological alerts went out in Chicago. From all over the metropolitan area there came reports of heroin users killed by overdoses and the figures bordered on the unprecedented. Three deceased in a day. Four the next. Six in a week. By September, the Cook County morgue, the county to which Chicago belongs and one of the most populated in the United States, was overloaded with 152 corpses that filled the refrigerators with a similar cause of death: sudden cardiac arrest for drug abuse. It seemed that the deceased had been struck by lightning. After injecting, they simply fell dead. The cause of all this? A powerful chemical called fentanyl, which mixed with heroin enhanced its effect and at the same time dramatically increases the possibility of an overdose and the wealth of criminals.

"Fentanyl has huge profit margins, even bigger than the iPhone."

"I think the only example I can find is when HP invented the printer cartridges, they cost a dollar and sold them for 40," said Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis of the geopolitical intelligence platform Stratfor, regarding fentanyl, a a product so lethal that in the streets they call it "La Muerte" and that is generating an genuine revolution in the income of the cartels. "We are facing one of those situations that change everything".

Occasionally a product like this arrives. It is something so innovative and original that it alters the status quo with the force of an earthquake. Remember what the Windows operating system meant for the computer world.

Drug trafficking today is living through its own economic revolution thanks to fentanyl, a drug tmeant o control the pain discovered in 1959 that, according to experts, has triggered an accelerated transformation within the Mexican cartels, in particular, the Jalisco Cartel Nueva Generación Cartel.

It's simple economics. Compared to other products such as marijuana and cocaine, fentanyl is cheaper to make. It does not require large land, nor much labor and the only inputs are easily obtainable in the international market, as unregulated chemical precursors. It is also easily transportable. An envelope, a single and simple envelope with a kilo of fentanyl can drug entire populations and make very rich whoever gets to market it on the streets of the United States.

"One kilogram of fentanyl equals 50 kilograms of heroin," Stewart added. Under this logic of miniaturization could be transferred tens of millions of dollars in a single large shipment. According to the DEA, a kilo of powdered fentanyl can be transformed into one million tablets of a milligram, which in the worst scenario can be sold for 10 dollars each or up to 20 dollars, according to the market. That is, that one kilo of fentanyl can generate income of up to 20 million dollars. By comparison, its production cost is negligible: the DEA estimates that it does not exceed $2,000.

Another fact that plays in favor of the economy of drug traffickers: the necessary doses of fentanyl to enhance other drugs, such as heroin, is very low and therefore its product is extremely efficient. The dark side of that feature is that the lethal dose for anyone who has not yet developed an opioid resistance is just 2 milligrams.

Thus, fentanyl represents a true paradigm shift and criminals who enter the game early can come away with a huge advantage over their competitors.

In summary, researchers and analysts agree: narco 2.0 is here. And it comes at a time when anyone can take their computer, enter the "deep web" and place an order for fentanyl, heroin or any other drug.

"This is something just crazy," says Ioan Grillo, writer and specialist in drug trafficking issues.

"Fentanyl is simply a drug that is in a different magnitude than the others," says Vanda Felbab-Brown, a researcher at the Brookings Institute.

An adequate reaction to the size of the challenge represented by fentanyl is that which President Donald Trump had not long ago: "This is getting out of control."

For a couple of years, fentanyl has gained ground as the fashion drug of the drug addict in the United States, where it is consumed alone (the right way, say those who consume it) or with heroin (mixed, in street slang).

"We know that its origin is in Asia," said federal deputy Waldo Fernandez, president of the Bicameral National Security Commission of the Congress of the Union, in Mexico. "But our cartels, like any industry, decided to get involved because they are looking for ways to increase their wealth."

Fentanyl has the potential to pay the cartels enough money to pay for a militia.

For example, in 2015, federal agents seized 44 kilograms of fentanyl in Sinaloa and Baja California, territories of the Pacific Cartel. In an extreme case, taking the lowest prices of the market and without processing the drug, they would have sold in something like one thousand 500 million pesos, almost 50 percent of the total budget of the Gendarmerie for 2017. It is the equivalent of the salary annual of 12 thousand Mexican soldiers. Or one thousand 900 colonels. The payroll of a thousand division generals could even be paid.

"The mathematics of fentanyl is crazy," says Grillo. "If we see what it costs to produce a kilo of cocaine, about $ 2,000, then selling it in the United States will generate $ 100,000. But you have to move it from Colombia, pass it through Central America, take it through Mexico and put it north. But with fentanyl, you can produce it in a laboratory near the border and we talk about the profit margin being 300 to 1. For every dollar you invest, you get 300. It's unreal. "

Mexican cartels have realized this and along with Chinese manufacturers have flooded the US market with fentanyl, which is causing unprecedented damage to that economy.

Goldman Sachs said in a recent report that the abuse of the use of drugs such as heroin and fentanyl, is one of the factors that have caused fewer people of working age and working conditions to reintegrate into the labor market.

The Great Recession of 2009 could even aggravate the consumption of opiates among the population that became unemployed.

Not only the investment bank has noticed that phenomenon, but also the own Federal Reserve of the United States (Fed).

"I do believe that (the consumption of opiates) is related to the decline in the labor market participation of people able to work," said Janet Yellen, president of the Fed, at a recent appearance in the Senate of her country. "I do not know if it's casual or a symptom of the long-term economic problems that have affected those communities and particularly the workers who have seen a reduction in their job opportunities."

Vanda Felbab-Brown, who is also the author of the book 'Narco-Noir: the posters of Mexico, Police and Corruption', has bad news for the Americans, since Mexican organized crime has already turned its attention to the opportunity that the chemical represents and has established contacts in Asia, attracted by an unbeatable economic opportunity, thanks to a product capable of changing the market.

"I would say that this is a drug that a cartel like the Jalisco Nueva Generación would like and could use to try to displace its rivals, especially the Sinaloa Cartel," said the researcher.

In effect, official figures show that North America is flooded with fentanyl. From 2014 to 2016, the number of seizures in the United States went from 5 thousand 500 to 35 thousand, an increase of 636 percent, according to figures from the DEA. South of the border the situation is similar. Before 2014, the Federal Police in Mexico did not have seizure records.

Then came 2015 and the market was headed. Since then and with updated figures to March of this year, shipments have been found throughout the country, in places such as Mexico City, Puebla, Nayarit, as well as Sonora and Sinaloa, which corroborates the notion that Mexican cartels already they jumped into the game.

The emergence of this drug has taken such a surprise to the Mexican government that there are not even protocols or precise metrics for seizures. The Federal Police has records of seizures of dozens of pills and pills, 1,500 liters, 3 thousand ampoules and an undetermined amount of dust. That only in 2016.

The Secretariat of National Defense, which often compiles highly detailed statistics on narcotics searches in Mexico, does not even list fentanyl in its monthly reports. Therefore, to have a more complete picture of what is happening - and how the Mexican government does not yet have a clear idea of ​​what to do with that drug - it is necessary to go to the calculations of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Control of the United States (ICE, for its acronym in English).

Since 2016, shipments have been found from Mexico in Tucson, Arizona, with 13 kilos; San Clemente, California, with 23 kilos; Nogales, Arizona, with 10 kilos; and Pine Valley, California, with 2 kilos. In total, it is more than 48 kilos, valued in a range ranging from 1,600 to 9,800 million pesos.

And those are just the cases that have been made public.

ICE figures show an important point: of all the cities that tried to introduce the drug to the United States, most are in areas of old influence of the Sinaloa Cartel, alongside border ports controlled by the organization now led by Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. But these are cities that are now being contested by the Cartel of Jalisco Nueva Generación, which has triggered an escalation of confrontations and executions.

Information from the consulting firm Stratfor explains that one of the reasons why the violence has exploded on the border is due to the attempt of the Cartel of Jalisco Nueva Generación to take over traditional points of entry to the United States such as Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez and Mexicali. with which it would complement the control it has established over strategic ports of the Mexican Pacific -where the precursors used to produce fentanyl enter-such as Acapulco, Lázaro Cárdenas and Manzanillo.

With data like these, the researcher Felbab Brown explains that the CJNG would be challenging the Sinaloa before the emergence of a new market that has the potential to eclipse all other trafficked drugs.

"The Jalisco New Generation Cartel are the new guys on the block," he said. "They are more aggressive and are looking to take control of territory from the Sinaloa Cartel, heating up the markets from Tijuana to Michoacán. One of the issues is that Sinaloa has dominated for years the wholesale and retail trades in the United States. Well, fentanyl would allow the Jalisco Cartel to take over new markets in US territory. "

While this is happening, in the Mexican government there is no plan to deal with the crisis, which on the other side of the border has hundreds of officials and specialists in public safety and health focused. The problem is ignored or not addressed. There is virtually no mention of fentanyl in official government information: the PGR has referred to the chemical only 5 times in the same number of years. The Presidency of the Republic, in one and that only at the request of the White House. The Secretariats of the Interior, National Defense and the Navy, none.

With the situation booming to the north and with no response to the south, even in the environment of little confidence that the Trump era has brought, the US embassy in Mexico had to enter to attend the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto last May, which financed the first National Conference of Forensic Chemistry of Fentanyl with funds from the Mérida Initiative.

For two days, forensics, chemists, federal agents, state police and justice attorneys from all over the country were taken to Mexico City to attend training courses to deal adequately with fentanyl, under strict security measures.

"My government has clearly stated that stopping the flow of opioids and other illegal narcotics entering the United States is one of our top priorities," said Ambassador Roberta Jacobson, who inaugurated courses designed for DEA agents to explain to their counterparts. Mexican characteristics of a drug that many have not even seen. Or that they have not been able to identify.

Many researchers did not even know that contact with this chemical can be lethal. An anecdote, widely circulated that day, served to assess the danger - and ignorance - in the point.

In May 2015, Chinese customs agents seized 46 kilograms of fentanyl in a container that would be shipped to Mexico. Six officers went into a coma. They touched this chemical without protective equipment.

What the lack of action reflects is that the crisis and a possible disagreement between a fed-up United States and a Mexico with little capacity to face a new drug is cooking. Slowly, but without stopping, the US government literature linking fentanyl to Mexican drug cartels and the failed drug war in the country has accumulated over the past few months. Also, the claims.

In the US Congress at least three resolutions have been filed so far in 2017, demanding action from the Mexican government. A new law, which has united Democrats and Republicans, is under study in the Senate. Sponsored, among others, by Senator Marco Rubio, can not be more clear in his statement of reasons: "most of the fentanyl that enters our country illegally comes from Mexico."

And although there is no national response strategy, the risk of Washington giving a blow has not gone unnoticed in some areas of security of the Mexican government. Deputy Fernandez assures that the Bicameral Commission of National Security keeps under analysis a reserved law initiative, which could be presented during the next period of sessions to toughen the sanctions against those who traffic with fentanyl, even more strictly than it is done with other drugs

"We are doing an analysis to determine what is legislated. But given the seriousness of this drug we have to understand that practically whoever sells it is committing a homicide, "he said.

That summer of 2005, along with Chicago, other cities in the northeast of the American Union had the same problem. In New Jersey emergency recommendations were issued for heroin users, who were asked to be careful with the drug they were acquiring. In Detroit, emergency rooms were asked to be alert to the avalanche of patients seeking help. In New York, non-governmental organizations distributed among addicts extra doses of naloxone, a chemical that can counteract, if applied in time, the effects of an overdose of opiates such as heroin.

Popular culture and the language related to the drug changed. The new heroin, supercharged and commanded high prices in the market for its power, was renamed. "White China". "TNT". "Apache". "Dance Fever". "He-Man." "King of Ivory". The street names followed one another as the bodies were piled up in the forensic rooms, with doctors perplexed at the scale of what they saw.

In Chicago, the State Police tested the syringes recovered along with the bodies to try to determine the reasons behind the surge in overdoses. The heroin showed signs of having been altered with fentanyl. The DEA and the PGR discovered that the chemical found in the Chicago syringes originated from the Talios SA de CV laboratory in Lerma, State of Mexico, where a drug gang produced the lot that caused what was then one of the most important overdose crisis in the United States in decades.

With intelligence collected by the US Embassy's anti-narcotics section, Mexican federal agents stormed the chemical store in May 2006, a year after the death statistics had alerted Cook's doctors. In the operation, half a dozen people were arrested, including chemists. Four years later, the responsible Mexicans - Ricardo Valdez Torres, Óscar Jacobo Rivera Peralta and Alfredo Molina - were extradited by the government of Felipe Calderón to the United States and turned into an example of binational cooperation and how Washington was prepared to punish the responsible for more than a thousand deaths.

In 2016, according to records from the US Bureau of Prisons, all detainees were released. They served only 8 years in prison and, later, they were deported to Mexico, where they finally lost track of them.

Today, the number of fentanyl laboratories in Mexico is going up and the fight against that chemical, on both sides of the border, seems destined to the same failure as the fight against other drugs.

With a difference: this time the bet is much higher
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Re: Fentanyl, the new treasure of the cartels in Mexico

This I think is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.The traffickers are NOT going to stop cutting with fentanyl!The only thing that's going to slow it down and it's only a matter of time is when,is people are actually going to stop experimental drug use because it's not worth the risk but it's going to take a lot more deaths for that to happen.The addicts, well that won't happen at all.They will keep using until they are ready to quit or keep doing it using until their number comes up and they OD or luck of the draw and nothing happens because they got lucky.I have heard at some of these safe injection sites that some of the same people are ODing over and over but keep getting saved from naloxone.(1 guy ODed 12 times in 1 year and still keeps using so this fentanyl thing will not slow down addicts a bit.They will take that risk).My 2 cents worth.