Chicago — Just after sunrise on Chicago's West Side, CBS News watched the morning rush for drugs. Brian McKnight with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) showed what was going on in broad daylight.
Last year in Chicago, almost 800 people died from drug overdoses. McKnight said "probably 90%" of the drugs in Chicago are coming from Mexico. The DEA is focused on a Mexican drug lord named Nemesio Cervantes, known simply as El Mencho.
"He is the number one priority for DEA and frankly for federal law enforcement in the United States," said Matthew Donahue, the DEA's top agent in Mexico. He has helped uncover dozens of El Mencho drug labs in the jungle. El Mencho's Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion, or CJNG, is responsible for at least a third of the drugs entering the U.S. by land and sea. According to the Department of Justice, the cartel has trafficked "tons" of cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl-laced heroin.
El Mencho has a $10 million bounty on his head. Ironically, he lived in California some 30 years ago, where he was arrested on drug charges and eventually deported back to Mexico. That's where he started the violent cartel.
"He has got an enormous amount of weapons, RPGs, 50 caliber weapons. He basically has his own SWAT teams," Donahue said.
From shooting down a Mexican Army helicopter, killing six, to being implicated in a public hanging this summer, El Mencho protects his empire with impunity.
Cartel violence has led to thousands of murders in recent years. According to statistics from the Mexican government, there are approximately 94 homicides per day.
Back in Chicago, the Mexican drugs seized are so toxic, they can't be handled without protective gear. At the lab, packs of cocaine are stamped with trafficker brands. More than a third can be traced back to El Mencho's cartel.
"He is the one that is responsible for sending the poison that is actually killing innocent women and kids," Donahue said.
So, when someone's child dies, Donahue said there's "a good chance" those drugs came from El Mencho's organization. Last year, more than 67,000 Americans died from an overdose.