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DEA doubtful of cartel order to stop fentanyl production

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DEA officials remain skeptical of reports that Mexican cartel leaders have ordered their producers to stop making fentanyl.

In early 2023, the leaders of the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels reportedly ordered subordinates to stop the production of fentanyl. In October 2023, Los Chapitos, the group led by the four sons of imprisoned boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, hung banners in prominent locations in Sinaloa, Sonora, and Baja California ordering the fentanyl ban.

DEA officials made it clear in the latest National Drug Threat Assessment that they are doubtful.

“The ban is probably a public relations stunt, however, or an attempt by the cartels to consolidate production among a smaller number of trusted manufacturers and punish others,” according to the report.

Furthermore, DEA officials have seen no indication of a reduction in the illicit fentanyl supply.

“Throughout 2023, fentanyl was seized at the border in equal or higher quantities as in previous years, and no DEA field office reported that fentanyl is less available or more expensive, either of which would point to a decrease in the supply,” according to the report.

Illicit fentanyl killed nearly 38,000 Americans in the first six months of 2023, according to the DEA report. Synthetic opioids were involved in 74,225 deaths in 2022 – 68% of the total 111,036 deaths that year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

DEA officials said the cartels use precursor chemicals from China along with pill presses to press fentanyl into pills that resemble prescription medication. Cartels and street dealers also mix illicit fentanyl with other drugs including heroin and cocaine, increasing the risk of overdose or death.

The report also noted that the purity level of illicit fentanyl in the U.S. drug market has increased and the amount of fentanyl found in counterfeit prescription pills has increased, making the nation’s top drug threat even more dangerous.

Seizures of fentanyl are at record levels, according to the report. Over the past two years seizures of fentanyl powder nearly doubled. DEA seized 29,048 pounds of fentanyl in 2023. And the more than 79 million fentanyl pills seized by DEA in 2023 was almost triple what was seized in 2021.