The Mexican government just seized what it claims is the biggest fentanyl pills manufacturing lab in history on the outskirts of Culiacán, Sinaloa. The laboratory, found on Feb.14, was most likely operated by the Sinaloa Cartel.
The drugs seized were enough to make more than 130 million doses of fentanyl. Some 600,300 pressed fentanyl pills were also discovered, according to the authorities. Around 500kg of precursors to produce heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine, along with a pill pressing machine, were found.
“This is no longer what we knew before—the small kitchens. This laboratory had a value of over 1,500 million pesos [around $80 million],” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said during his regular morning press conference on Feb.15.
“This is the biggest capacity laboratory in history, given the quantity of precursors found at the site,” the Mexican military commented in a press release.
The bust was made in the town of Pueblos Unidos, a few miles south of the city of Culiacán, Sinaloa’s capital and cradle of the eponymous cartel.
Whether it is the largest seizure in history, as the authorities claim, is debatable.
Last year, government forces seized a warehouse containing a declared $200 million dollars worth of synthetic drugs, also in Sinaloa.
The administration of President López Obrador is under increasing pressure from the U.S to crack down on fentanyl production in Mexico.
“We believe Mexico needs to do more to stop the harm that we’re seeing.” said the U.S’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) director Anne Milgram during a U.S Senate hearing this week.
“The Sinaloa and Jalisco Cartels pose the greatest criminal drug threat the United States has ever faced. These ruthless, violent, criminal organizations have associates, facilitators, and brokers in all 50 states in the United States,” she added.
Fentanyl is the most recent business boom for the Mexican cartels, which have embraced the production and trafficking of the deadly opioid in response to demand in the U.S. It’s some 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin, according to US authorities, and an important source of new profits.
Mexico’s authorities didn’t disclose details about who the laboratory belonged to and made no arrests during the bust. The Sinaloa Cartel, particularly the factions controlled by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s sons, known as ‘Los Chapitos” [Little Chapos], and that run by Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, are known to be major controllers of drug production in the state and surrounding areas.
Overdoses in the U.S. surpassed 100,000 during 2022, according to figures from the DEA, more than two thirds of them due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
During the same morning press conference, Mexico’s president also announced a new intention to share the number of overdoses registered in Mexico every two weeks, in an attempt to bring awareness to a spike in drug overdoses deaths.
Fentanyl use has been slowly growing in Mexico, particularly in border cities like Tijuana and Mexicali. The trend has led to a spike in overdoses, according to official figures and harm reduction NGOs.
“The goal of this biweekly count is to know where we are seeing more overdoses and put special attention there,” President López Obrador said.
Currently, Mexico has a database of drug overdose deaths that is updated annually, but the data is backlogged for over three years and only runs up until 2019. Last year fentanyl seizures at the United States-Mexico border more than doubled compared to 2020.
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