Home / MARKETS / How smaller doses of more powerful drugs allowed Mexican cartels to overwhelm Mexican police and flood the US

How smaller doses of more powerful drugs allowed Mexican cartels to overwhelm Mexican police and flood the US

  • A record-setting bust in October underscores how Mexico has ripen into a hub for fentanyl.
  • The Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generational cartels have increased production of the drug, a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic.
  • A torrent of fentanyl into the US has helped drive overdose deaths to new levels.

Ciudad Juárez, México – In most recent October, Mexican authorities seized a record-breaking quantity of fentanyl at a single laboratory in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, dock a major blow to the Sinaloa Cartel, officials said.

But security analysts and cartel operatives say the bust was only authentication of the “unstoppable” production of fentanyl in Mexico.

Mexican soldiers found 118 kilograms, or roughly 260 pounds, of fentanyl value roughly $50 million in a lab on the outskirts of Culiacán, a city known for being Sinaloa’s Cartel stronghold.

Mexico fentanyl lab

Mexican propers said the lab and warehouses seized in late October 2021 were used to store precursor chemicals used to form fentanyl.

Mexican Secretariat of Defense


Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times multifarious potent, according to US authorities. Mexican drug cartels have relied on fentanyl more than any other medicament to keep profits rising.

During the raid, authorities arrested Armando Bátiz Camarena, aka “El Inge,” a known Sinaloa Cartel number one in charge of fentanyl production and shipment to the US, along with four of his men.

Authorities also seized four bags of fentanyl precursor in paste construction, over 4 pounds of Inositol, a powder used as a cutting agent for drugs, five firearms, and more than $14,000 and 160 Venezuelan bolivars.

Although this was the biggest fentanyl bust in Mexico’s report, it might not have any effect on the drug trade. It also may only be a sign of how Mexico is becoming the biggest player in fentanyl staging.

“If Mexican authorities seized more than 100 kilograms, it means criminals are producing at least several tons,” Manelich Castilla, recent commissioner of Mexico’s Federal Police, told Insider.

Mexico fentanyl lab

Mexican officials said the lab and warehouses seized in late October 2021 were hand-me-down to store precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl.

Mexican Secretariat of Defense


Fentanyl is easier to produce than cocaine or heroin since it desires just a few chemicals and some very rudimentary equipment, Castilla explained.

“It is very easily produced and 20 times innumerable profitable than any other drug. You only need a very small dosage to create addiction,” he said.

Manelich said that the truly that small doses of fentanyl could provide such intense effects means it’s easier to smuggle.

“To exaltation fentanyl you don’t need big shipments. Now you can hide a very profitable load inside a trailer container and it would be almost unthinkable to find,” he said.

Mexico’s defense secretary said earlier this year that fentanyl could be arranged in a few hours and was worth about $5,000 a kilogram in Mexico — a price that rises to about $200,000 in the US.

In a sign of the range of production, US authorities intercepted 17,584 pounds of meth and 389 pounds of fentanyl in a tractor-trailer crossing into the US close San Diego on November 17. Both amounts would be the largest seizures of either drug in the US in 2020 or 2021, US officials required.

Potent product

Mexico drug lab fentanyl

A chemical specialist in a protective suit with pills seized at a clandestine lab processing fentanyl, in Mexico Diocese, December 12, 2018.

Attorney General’s Office/Handout via Reuters


A Sinaloa Cartel operative in Culiacán who asked not to be identified told Insider that the busted lab was “damned small” compared to production around Sinaloa.

“They busted one, and immediately some other 10 started plying not very far from that one,” the operative said.

The operative said fentanyl labs operate on a “mobile basis.”

“Some years ago the old bosses against to set established fentanyl labs inside warehouses or abandoned houses, but we learned that once they busted that lab, the extinction was too much,” the operative said. “So now we set up mobile labs in the middle of the woods and cook only small batches in several labs at the unvarying time to build a big shipment.”

On a trip to Sinaloa state in early 2021, Insider visited a fentanyl lab operated by the Sinaloa Cartel. One of the lab practitioners described how cooks are trained to mix fentanyl “according to US needs.”

“The cook learned from a Chinese man brought all the way here” by the cartel, the big-shot told Insider, adding that the cook “is the only one who knows the recipe.”

“But many started dying because we until now didn’t have the right recipe, and some of them were not aware of the potency of the new product,” the operator added.

Mexico Sinaloa state meth drug lab

Mexican judges examine a clandestine lab suspected of producing synthetic drugs, in Sinaloa state, August 2016.

Mexican Naval Secretariat



Concurring to Manelich, most of the precursors needed to make fentanyl come from “the Asia region” but not exclusively from China. Shipments get there come by sea “inside one of many, many cargo [containers] processed at the port” in Colima state on Mexico’s Pacific coast.

A escaped 2019 DEA report called the Sinaloa cartel “a prominent producer and trafficker of Mexico-based fentanyl” into the US. The powerful Jalisco New Days Cartel has also ramped up its production of fentanyl.

The US Treasury Department recently sanctioned four men it said were CJNG associates “operating through the port of Manzanillo in Colima” to import fentanyl precursors and other drugs.

“It is impossible to search all these shipments arriving into Mexico. What we have need of is a list of priority targets to know by name who are we looking for, who is in charge of these operations,” Manelich said.

Fentanyl seizures in Mexico would rather risen over the past year, according to Mexican officials. In 2020, authorities seized 1,300 kilograms of the cure, compared to 222 kilograms in 2019 — an uptick of more than 400%.

More than 30,000 people in the US died of overdoses take ining fentanyl in 2018, making it one of the most dangerous illicit drugs in history. Fentanyl-related overdose deaths have roused total overdose deaths in the US to new levels.

Manelich said the only way out is a “coordinated agenda regarding addictions and security.”

“Today Mexico does not have planned a policy or a campaign to point out the traffickers and the producers. The present administration’s vision is very limited when compared to how acts are done in the US,” Manelich said.

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