TIJUANA (Border Report) — The main streets of Tijuana’s Zona Norte are lined with bars, strip joints and cheap hotels.

It’s an area some refer to the area as the city’s “tolerance zone,” because authorities allow prostitution and other illicit activities to take place.

It’s less than a mile from the San Ysidro Port of Entry and is widely visited by Americans, including teenagers and members of the U.S. military.

Lately, Zona Norte has been gaining notoriety for fentanyl, says investigative journalist Manuel Ayala with the EFE News Agency.

When compared to 2021, Ayala found a 333 percent increase in the distribution of fentanyl — a powerful opioid that has killed thousands of people on both sides of the border — in the area.

Manuel Ayala is a journalist based in Tijuana. (Jorge Nieto/Special for Border Report)

He told Border Report he largely based the figure on drug seizures reported in the Zona Norte.

As part of his research, Ayala interviewed Baja California’s Attorney General, the state’s Secretary of Health, Tijuana police and the head of Baja’s Citizens’ Security Force.

Ayala said his sources agree the increase in fentanyl distribution and consumption is due in part to the drug’s low price, just 50 pesos or about $2.50 per hit.

Fentanyl is also said to give users a stronger and longer-lasting high.

Ivan Carpio Sanchez, Baja’s Attorney General, told Ayala his office has noticed an increase of fentanyl on the streets.

“We’re even working with the government of the United States, which is where this substance commonly ends up,” said Carpio Sanchez.

Ayala’s investigation, published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, shows fentanyl and other drugs are being sold on the streets of Tijuana’s Zona Norte and inside its clubs and bars.

The investigation also quotes Adrian Medina Amarillas, Baja California’s health secretary, saying his office has noticed “an increase in the consumption of fentanyl and methamphetamine, triggering higher rates of addictions and overdoses.”

David Amaury Salas Sanchez, head of Baja’s Citizens’ Security Force, told Ayala that higher drug sales and consumption in the Zona Norte is leading to daily overdoes.

Said Medina Amarillas: “Many of the overdose deaths are occurring on the street,” making it difficult to have an exact count.”

According to the Baja Health Department, only victims who die at hospitals or health centers are counted in official statistics.