EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Greg Millard has been tracking the illicit drug trade for more than two decades. He’s seen trends come and go but what’s happening now in the U.S.-Mexico border disturbs him.

“We’ve really seen a transition in the last few years,” he says. “Years ago, it would’ve been cocaine, heroin, marijuana – all those take a plant to grow somewhere […] What we’ve seen in the past couple of years is the transition to synthetic drugs: methamphetamines, fentanyl. These synthetic drugs are really dangerous, extremely profitable and (the cartels) are able to control the supply.”

Drug overdose deaths in the United States topped 100,000 last year led by increased abuse of synthetic opioids like fentanyl and psychostimulants such as methamphetamines. Cocaine deaths also increased, as did deaths from prescription pain medication, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The newly appointed special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s El Paso Field Office is making the fight against meth trafficking and fentanyl smuggling from Mexico his top priority. But the strategy also includes public education components to decrease the demand that keeps the cartels in business.

“I look forward to the challenge of leading the division in countering the significant drug threats we see in the region, and we will do that through vigorous enforcement actions, robust community outreach, and prevention education programs,” Millard said.

Millard arrived in El Paso in late 2020 as assistant special agent in charge. He previously served in DEA offices in Austin, Tallahassee and Miami and was the resident agent in charge of the Chiang Mai, Thailand office.

He’s been the acting SAC since last September though he remains active as an adjunct instructor in the Office of the Chief Counsel’s Use of Force Unit that trains federal officers in the use of deadly and non-lethal force.

The University of Florida Law School graduate recently talked to Border Report about the challenges posed by drug cartels utilizing the El Paso-Juarez, Mexico drug corridor.

These organizations are smaller but much more efficient than they’ve been in the past.

El Paso DEA Special Agent in Charge Greg Millard (Border Report photo)

“The Mexican organizations are not relying on a cartel in Colombia or Lima, Peru, or a plant grown in Bolivia anymore,” he said. “They get precursor chemicals – often from China, from Southeast Asia – and they’re able to manufacture the drugs in Mexico and smuggle them to the United States,” he said.

To do that, the cartels are now relying on smaller criminal groups and even a network of “freelancers” attracted by the lure of easy money or who need to feed their addiction.

“There’s multiple cartels operating in Juarez and affiliates of the cartels. And there’s freelancers, too. People on both sides of the border aligned with the cartels,” Millard said. “They use their different partnerships and affiliates to get their drugs across.”

Though some contraband comes over the border wall, the cartels send most of their illicit drugs straight through the Southern ports of entry. It’s a game of chance that’s worked for them for many years and is based on the odds that not every passenger vehicle, cargo truck or pedestrian will be searched.

So, while the DEA works on the intelligence portion, drug interdiction at the border is a joint endeavor.  

“Our primary goal is enforcing the criminal drug statutes. We work very closely with our partners – U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations, FBI, Border Patrol. But our goal is to investigate the biggest threat in your area and here, in El Paso, it’s obviously the criminal drug networks in Mexico,” he said.

The El Paso Office of the DEA has 69 criminals on its Most Wanted list, many of them Mexican nationals. The list includes high-profile drug lords that are in Mexican jails, such as Vicente Carrillo Fuentes and Adan Salazar Zamorano. It also includes alleged leaders of La Linea, the Sinaloa cartel and criminal cell operators in Palomas and Ojinaga, Mexico.

The list and photographs of the fugitives can be found here.