JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Juarez is in the middle of a fierce drug war, as cartels not only are fighting for control of smuggling routes to the U.S. but also in-house drug sales and other criminal activities, a high-ranking law enforcement official says.

This war has claimed hundreds of lives so far this year, as more than 90% of the 441 homicides on record through Friday have been drug-related, according to Chihuahua Deputy Attorney General Carlos Manuel Salas.

“These groups are very violent when it comes to their places of distribution. They kill each other not just for control of a neighborhood or a street, but for a house or street corner,” Salas told Border Report. “These groups – Aztecas, Mexicles, La Linea, La Empresa, Doblados – have turned more violent, and any dispute can lead to death.”

The drug war is being fueled lately by the proliferation of crystal meth and methamphetamine pill sales, which are being peddled by gangs to young adults 18 to 28 years old. Salas said nine out of 10 murder victims this year are in that age range and almost all of them were either part of a gang or recruited to sell drugs or were attempting to consume drugs when they were attacked.

“Crystal is an inexpensive drug. It is cheap to produce, it is cheap to buy, and it is easy to distribute. […] And the recruiting among the gangs is ferocious. Every day more and more people get involved, including young women, who are exposed to a brutal level of violence among the gangs” they knowingly or unknowingly work for, the deputy AG said.

City and state officials, as well as church-based organizations, are stepping up prevention talks at schools and community centers to keep minors from being sucked in by drug pushers.

Fentanyl is occasionally showing up in places where drugs are consumed in Juarez, but mostly it remains an export commodity that generates many millions in profits for the cartels and kills tens of thousands of Americans every year. But seizures of the potentially deadly drugs are increasing, as evidenced by this week’s arrest of a Sinaloa cartel operator arrested while allegedly transporting 66 pounds of fentanyl, heroin and crystal meth.

Salas said no fentanyl labs have been detected in the state of Chihuahua and Juarez Municipal Police Chief Cesar Omar Muñoz on Friday said all major fentanyl seizures in the city have been traced to three places: Sinaloa, Guadalajara and Michoacan. Sinaloa is the base of the Sinaloa cartel, Guadalajara is a stronghold of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and Michoacan is a war zone disputed by groups like La Familia, Templarios and other regional groups.

While Juarez again last year made the Top 10 of most major listings of the Most Violent cities in the world, Salas and other government officials and members of business groups say that reputation is undeserved. The reason is that violent crime not related to drugs is rare and people who are neither involved in the drug trade nor consume drugs are rarely touched.

“We cannot say innocents are dying” in Juarez, Salas said. “I would tell our visitors to enjoy Juarez. The hotels are full, the workplaces are full, the restaurants, discos and bars are full, people are coming to the doctor, to dentists, to buy medicines and shop and nothing happens.”

But in a city where reading between the lines can be the difference between life and death, Salas has some advice for foreign visitors.

“I would warn them, though, not to get involved with people who sell drugs. When you buy, when you consume or when you sell drugs, things are not going to end up well for you,” he said.