Mexico's rival Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels have become the dominant suppliers to the U.S. of fentanyl, the scourge of an overdose crisis that claimed more than 108,000 American lives over the past year, the Wall Street Journal reports. The cartels “don’t just fill a void, they create a market,” said Uttam Dhillon, who served as acting chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration in the Trump administration, citing the cartels' practice of pushing the drug in pill form to drive prescription drug users toward the illicit product.
Fentanyl production is simpler than heroin, because it is entirely synthetic and doesn’t require cultivating the poppies needed for heroin. Mexican lab busts or large seizures at the border can be quickly offset by new batches without having to wait to harvest crops or pay farmers. Some Mexican poppy farmers in the mountains of Sinaloa say they have lost income as cartels shift away from heroin, and have abandoned their fields. A DEA operation in 2020 led to the arrest of more than 600 alleged Jalisco cartel members in the U.S. That cartel is Mexico’s fastest-growing and most violent. It is fighting with Sinaloa for control of seaports where fentanyl’s chemical ingredients arrive from China as well as routes through the country and border crossings into the U.S. A longtime Sinaloa cartel employee said he makes up to $2,500 a week running his one-man lab and in a six-day workweek, he can make enough fentanyl for hundreds of thousands of doses.