EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The federal government is bringing to El Paso the fight against Mexican drug cartels mass-producing fentanyl and smuggling it into the United States.
A new joint lab led by the Drug Enforcement Administration is set up at the El Paso Intelligence Center in Fort Bliss. Its purpose is to track drugs seized all along the U.S.-Mexico border to individual cartels, and to be on the lookout for novel illicit and potentially deadly synthetic drugs, DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said this week.
“We asked the Federal Drug Administration and Customs and Border Protection and the Border Patrol to join us. It is a fentanyl profiling lab to test fentanyl quickly as it gets seized at the border so we can determine who is responsible for making that fentanyl, what it is made up of so we can have an early warning system for future drugs,” Milgram told members of a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Thursday.
The El Paso Intelligence Center, or EPIC, is a DEA-led multi-agency intelligence clearinghouse involving more than 20 federal agencies that support law enforcement all over the country with threat analysis, particularly at the Southern border.
More than 110,000 Americans died last year of drug overdoses, many of them involving fentanyl, federal officials said. The substance, which is being splashed into other illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine and pressed into pills made to resemble brand-name legal drugs, is now the number one killer of Americans ages 18 to 45, Milgram said.
“Americans are experiencing the most devastating drug crisis in our nation’s history. It is like nothing that we have seen before. This one drug, fentanyl, has transformed the criminal landscape: It is cheap to make, easy to disguise, and deadly to those who take it,” the DEA administrator told the subcommittee.
She said two transnational criminal organizations – the Sinaloa cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) – are mass producing the drug in Mexico with chemicals imported from China. She said these groups employ an army of smugglers at the border and associates in virtually every state of the union to bring the drug to communities.
“What we are seeing now is these two cartels are acting with calculated, deliberate treachery to put that fentanyl in other products,” Milgram said. “They are marketing and branding (pills) as the real thing (Oxycodone, Xanax, Percoset). They are cutting powder (fentanyl) into cocaine and heroin and selling those drugs as if they were (only) heroin and cocaine.”
The purpose is to make the product stronger and more addictive so people buy more of it, regardless of how dangerous it is.
The administrator fielded questions from lawmakers on why the DEA is not going after more drug lords. The U.S. government in 2017 extradited Sinaloa cartel drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, but his sons — known as the Chapitos — have since taken over the Sinaloa cartel and, according to the DEA, transformed it into a gigantic fentanyl manufacturing and exporting operation.
Milgram said the DEA is pursuing a comprehensive strategy that involves going after chemical suppliers, money launderers, and “enablers” of the cartels in more than 40 countries, not just the drug lords.
US Rep. Andrew Biggs, R-Arizona, chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance, called the Mexican drug cartels “narco-terrorists” and claims they control much of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“One of our biggest national threats is control of our southern border by transnational narco-terrorist cartels,” he said.