The China-Mexico Fentanyl Pipeline: Increasingly Sophisticated and Deadly (2023)

For several days in April, the Latin American media showed photos of the glamorous blonde on Instagram enjoying her travels around the world.

There were photos of Ana Gabriela Rubio Zea, 32, posing in a blue Yves Saint Laurent dress and carrying a bag on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende, skating in a miniskirt in Central Park and laughing in the Forbidden City.

The social media photos were followed by more recent photos: Rubio, in a sweatshirt and jeans, surrounded by officers from the Guatemalan National Civil Police, where she was arrested on March 17 for her alleged role in sourcing the precursor chemicals. of fentanyl ofPorcelainfor the Sinaloa cartel.

US drug king warns fentanyl-laced sedative xylazine an 'emerging threat'Read More

According to the arresting agency and Afederal indictmentLaunched on April 14, for nearly 10 years Rubio organized the illegal importation of controlled substances to produce drugs, sometimes hiding them in food containers and using corruption to supply chemicals to the cartel.

"We are the greatest ofMexicoso we can buy a lot,” Rubio's indictment quoted Wu Yonghao, a sales representative for chemical supplier Wuhan Shuokang Biological Technology Co Ltd, in a coded message before his arrest.

(Video) #Fentanyl Being Sent by #Chinese Criminals to #Mexican #Cartels #border #shorts

a new dissertation

US Attorney General Merrick Garland called the Mexican Sinaloa cartel "the world's largest, most violent and most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation" in a statement accompanying the far-reaching allegations involving the bosses, enforcers and purveyors of the cartel, such as Rubio and Wu.

The two are just two links in the chain linking the Sinaloa Cartel to Chinese companies and criminal organizations that are attracting increasing US government attention after years of investigation by law enforcement.

On May 9, three weeks after the US Department of Justice issued sweeping indictments that trapped Rubio and Wu in their web, the US Treasury sanctioned Joaquín Guzmán López, 36, a of the four sons of the founder of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquín "El Chapo". Guzmán Loera, who has amassed power and led the cartel in trafficking fentanyl since his father was last arrested.

The sanctions notice identified the younger Guzmán as the head of the cartel's "super labs" that convert precursors bought in China and elsewhere into fentanyl.

Chinese officials have repeatedly denied any link between China and illegal fentanyl, often touting their country's leaders as first planning the opioid as a drug. In April, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Mexico had not yet notified China about the seizure of illegal shipments of precursors.

However, the evidence of a link between the cartel and the Chinese entities is not new. US government and law enforcement agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the military, traced the cartel's supply chains and money laundering networks to as they expanded into China nearly a decade ago.

Now the growing antipathy between Washington and Beijing, fueled by allegations of espionage and intellectual property theft, as well as geopolitical tensions over issues such as Taiwan and the war in Ukraine, appears poised for action on Capitol Hill.

It's a progression that former DEA Assistant Special Agent Christopher Urben is looking forward to.

(Video) The Challenge of Fentanyl: The China-Mexico Connection

"We've talked a lot over the last 10, 15, 20 years about the 'whole-of-government approach.' There are various authorities in our agencies and expertise. If you synchronize these efforts against Chinese organized crime and money laundering, you can have a dramatic impact," said Urben, now managing director of the research firm Nardello & Co. "It's expanding these resources and it has to happen now."

Provide the "driving force" of the poster

According to Channing Mavrellis, director of illicit trade at Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based think tank, when fentanyl first started showing up in street drugs, it came almost entirely from China and arrived in the United States by "postal mail." ".

"At first, it was just a way [to stretch things out] when they ran out of product," Mavrellis said. "Now it's 'Hey, people are responding really well to this,' for better or worse."

The China-Mexico Fentanyl Pipeline: Increasingly Sophisticated and Deadly (1)

According to the DEA and the Department of Justice, since at least 2019, most of the illicit fentanyl entering the US is manufactured in Mexico using Chinese precursor chemicals.

But the cartel's ties to China don't end there. On April 26, Mavrellis and Urben testified at a US House of Representatives subcommittee hearing titled China in Our Backyard: How Chinese Money Laundering Organizations Are Enriching Cartels.

“Money is the lifeblood of the cartels, and the methods used by Chinese [organized crime] have enriched them and allowed them to smuggle even more fentanyl and other deadly drugs into the United States,” Urben told lawmakers at the hearing. .

Digitally connected criminals

In a post-trial interview, Urben discussed changes in the New York City drug trade around 2016, when couriers from Chinese money-laundering organizations began showing up to deliver money in his area. Business was booming for drug cartels in his jurisdiction and in other parts of the United States as more people became addicted to fentanyl and overdose deaths soared.

(Video) Confessions of a Chinese Fentanyl Trafficker: ‘I’m Really Afraid of Hurting People’

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fewer than 6,000 people in the United States died from synthetic opioid overdoses in 2014. By 2021, the last full year of available data, that number had exceeded 71,000, an average of almost 200 people per day.

In the years before the Covid-19 pandemic, Urben said his team could hardly track down one drug deal without stumbling across another.

"You would be in Flushing, Queens ... targeting a group," Urben said. "The street activity associated with these organizations was so significant that I ended up watching broadcasts on the street itself."

The transfer itself changed when Chinese money laundering organizations took over. Previously, both the drug dealers and the money brokers they had partnered with to launder their proceeds had treated the exchanges as high-risk events, prone to theft or attacks by law enforcement, implementing counter-surveillance and trying to remain anonymous when planning and executing airdrops.

They now have WeChat and other encrypted apps abroad that are beyond the reach of US court orders.

“We cannot eavesdrop on this,” Urben said. "There's nothing we can do about it."

WeChat's website says the company shares "non-public customer information in response to law enforcement requests where required by law."

Getting information is only part of the battle, according to Tom Cindric, a veteran of the DEA's Special Operations Division, who echoed Urben's frustrations in calling for greater interagency cooperation to help agents deal with the application challenges.

(Video) China working with Mexican cartels to push fentanyl across border: Report

"There is no one to interpret it," he said.

According to Urben, by providing a private line between the cartel and its money brokers, the app also introduced a new level of trust. Gone are the days of torch phones that were constantly changing and meant you never knew who was on the other end of the call.

"WeChat identifiers remain constant over time," he said, giving cartel agents "a certain level of comfort." Furthermore, this technology allows criminals to arrange meetings and money transfers instantly. “This has not happened in the past,” Urben emphasized.

A new business model

Unlike their predecessors, Chinese money laundering organizations are not interested in charging the cartel for their services. Instead, it deals with cash. By advertising dollars on WeChat or other platforms, they sell cash to Chinese citizens at a premium.

Laws introduced by China in 2015 to stop the flow of money out of the country created a huge market for Chinese citizens who want to spend money in the US, money outside of China.

The way criminal organizations operate ensures that no yuan leaves China. Instead, the person buying the dollars sends the payment to the merchant's Chinese account and collects the purchased cash personally in the US.

Revealed: How the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel Created a Global Network to Control the Fentanyl Trade Read More
(Video) How China Is Fuelling America's Drug Epidemic | News on Drugs

The cartel also gets paid instantly, rather than waiting weeks as in the past, while middlemen convert dollars to pesos by physically exporting goods from the US and turning over the proceeds to the cartel when those goods are sold in Mexico.

While Mavrellis and Urben left the hearing buoyed that the representatives seemed interested in removing fentanyl revenue from the US financial system, Cindric said he was skeptical that lawmakers were motivated to avenge the people most affected by the fentanyl crisis.

"Congress doesn't care. I think they [view] people dying as a bunch of addicts, and I think they're marginalized," he said. "I don't think Congress cares at all."


How does fentanyl get from China to USA? ›

Chinese chemical and shipping companies began instead selling precursor chemicals for manufacturing fentanyl to Mexican drug cartels, which subsequently smuggled the illicit material into the United States.

Does illegal fentanyl production occur in Mexico and China? ›

The majority of fentanyl is mass-produced in Mexico using chemicals from China before being pressed into pills or mixed with other counterfeit pills made to look like Xanax, Adderall, or oxycodone. The counterfeit drugs are then sold to unaware buyers.

What is the opioid problem in the US? ›

Nearly 75% of the 91,799 drug overdose deaths in 2020 involved an opioid. From 2019 to 2020, there were significant changes in opioid-involved death rates: Opioid-involved death rates increased by 38%. Prescription opioid-involved death rates increased by 17%.

Does 90% of fentanyl come from China? ›

It's estimated China is responsible for over 90 percent of illicit fentanyl found in the United States. We simply cannot allow the lethal fentanyl engine in China to run while communities across America's heartland are being torn apart.

Is fentanyl in China or Mexico? ›

According to the DEA and the justice department, since at least 2019 the bulk of the illegal fentanyl entering the US has been produced in Mexico using Chinese precursor chemicals.

How did Mexico get fentanyl? ›

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, however, insists that the main source of the synthetic drug is Asia. Mexican criminals, he says, merely stamp fentanyl powder into pills as it transits the country.

Who invented fentanyl? ›

Fentanyl was created in 1959 by Dr. Paul Janssen as an intravenous surgical analgesic. The drug is 50–100 times more potent than morphine. Because of its strength, the drug was rarely used except in hospital operating rooms or on large animals.

How many people have died from fentanyl? ›

Based on preliminary 2021 data, there were 6,843 opioid-related overdose deaths in California; 5,722 of these deaths were related to fentanyl. In 2021, there were 224 fentanyl-related overdose deaths among teens, ages 15–19 years old, in California. Knowledge can save lives and stop drug overdose.

What is the opioid capital of the United States? ›

Montgomery County, Ohio, was recently given a title that no community wants to receive: the overdose capital of the United States. According to a June 19 article on the website of Columbus news station WCMH-TV, Montgomery County experienced 365 overdose deaths in the first five months of 2017.

Why are so many Americans addicted to opioids? ›

Why do people become addicted to opioids? Opioids can make your brain and body believe the drug is necessary for survival. As you learn to tolerate the dose you've been prescribed, you may find that you need even more medication to relieve the pain or achieve well-being, which can lead to dependency.

Is Dopesick Based on a true story? ›

But is the show Dopesick true? Does it provide a factual overview of the impact of Oxycontin on Appalachian communities? According to sources like National Public Radio (NPR), the show is “mostly true.” The show's producers fictionalized some of the characters to reflect the stories of several actual people who did.

Is fentanyl illegal in India? ›

In 2018, both China and India banned the popular fentanyl precursors NPP and ANPP (62, 63).

Are Mexico and China allies? ›

Diplomatic relation were established in 1972. Both nations are members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, G-20 major economies and the United Nations.

Does Mexico sell fentanyl? ›

Mexican pharmacies are selling pills to U.S. travelers laced with deadly fentanyl. “Mexican pharmacies that cater to U.S. tourists are selling medications that appear safe but are frequently laced with deadly fentanyl and methamphetamine.

What country was fentanyl discovered in? ›

Fentanyl was first synthesised in 1960, by Dr Paul Janssen, a Belgian chemist and the founder of Janssen Pharmaceutica. He had spent the previous few years working on new painkillers, with a view to finding molecules that were more powerful and specific than those currently available.

What is the main cartel in Mexico? ›

The Sinaloa Cartel is a violent, transnational drug trafficking organization based in Mexico that engaged in the manufacture, distribution, and importation of ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana from Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras to Mexico and into the United States.

What is the fentanyl crisis in the US? ›

In 2022, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized more than fifty million fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills, more than double the amount seized the prior year. Over half of these fake pills contained potentially lethal amounts of fentanyl, the DEA says.

What is love in the time of fentanyl? ›

Love in the Time of Fentanyl is an intimate, observational look beyond the stigma of people who use drugs, revealing the courage of those facing tragedy in a neighborhood often referred to as ground zero of the overdose crisis.

Is OxyContin still prescribed? ›

What is OxyContin? OxyContin, a trade name for the narcotic oxycodone hydrochloride, is a painkiller available in the United States only by prescription.

What is the fentanyl crisis in California? ›

The issue of fentanyl getting into the hands of people and ultimately leading to their death is one seen time and time again. According to the Overdose Dashboard on the Riverside County website, there were 505 fentanyl overdose deaths in 2022. This number was measured from January 1, 2022, to December 30, 2022.

How much does Narcan cost? ›

The below-$50 price tag for Narcan announced by Emergent BioSolutions is less than the current list price for the medication, which is around $130 for a two-dose box, according to GoodRx, a group that tracks prescription drug prices.

What states use the most opioids? ›

Alabama. Alabama has the highest rate of opioid prescribing in the country.

What country is the leading producer of opiates? ›

Afghanistan is the world's biggest opium producer and a major source for heroin in Europe and Asia.

Why are the opioids in Appalachia? ›

Many socioeconomic factors have aggravated the opioid epidemic in Appalachian counties, such as poverty, poor health, low educational attainment and changes to the labor force.

What wellness drink works like opioids? ›

Highlights. “Kratom” commonly refers to an herbal substance that can produce opioid- and stimulant-like effects.

What is the root of the opioid epidemic? ›

The roots of the opioid epidemic can be traced back to the over-prescribing of these drugs to treat pain by doctors rather than seeking alternative treatments.

Who is most likely to have an opioid addiction? ›

Known risk factors of opioid misuse and addiction include:
  • Poverty.
  • Unemployment.
  • Family history of substance abuse.
  • Personal history of substance abuse.
  • Young age.
  • History of criminal activity or legal problems including DUIs.
  • Regular contact with high-risk people or high-risk environments.

Does Purdue Pharma still exist? ›

In March 2021, the United States House of Representatives introduced a bill that would stop the bankruptcy judge in the case from granting members of the Sackler family legal immunity during the bankruptcy proceedings. In September 2021, Purdue Pharma announced that it would rebrand itself as Knoa Pharma.

What's the difference between OxyContin and oxycodone? ›

OxyContin and oxycodone are the same drug; the main difference is that OxyContin is a long-acting version of oxycodone. As such, they have a lot in common: Both drugs are opioids that people take to relieve and manage severe pain.

Where is Richard Sackler now? ›

' Richard currently lives in another Boca Raton home, which he purchased for $1.71million in June 2021. Sackler holds a stake where the mansion is located, as he helped developed the property.

Was fentanyl seized at the border? ›

CBP officers seize fentanyl and methamphetamine at the Paso Del Norte border crossing. EL PASO, Texas – U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers working at the Paso Del Norte Border Crossing, intercepted a combined 17 pounds of fentanyl and methamphetamine in a single smuggling attempt.

What is the fentanyl Sanction Act? ›

The legislation would direct the President to publicly identify foreign traffickers of opioids on an annual basis and use a number of precision economic and financial sanctions policy tools to cripple their operations, including denying access to U.S. markets, freezing their assets and blocking transactions with U.S. ...

How is fentanyl smuggled into the US from Mexico? ›

Fentanyl precursors are transported from China to Mexico, where cartels produce fentanyl in labs and then typically traffic it to the United States through ports of entry at the border.

How long can you go to jail for fentanyl in California? ›

According to legislative documents, California's current laws relating to fentanyl distribution punish convicted dealers with prison time between two to nine years, depending on the exact crime.

What is the penalty for fentanyl in California? ›

The penalties for felony fentanyl possession charges can include: Up to three years in state prison. A fine of up to $10,000. Mandatory drug treatment program.

What is the punishment for manufacturing fentanyl in Texas? ›

Penalties for manufacturing fentanyl and other Penalty Group 1 drugs range from as few as 180 days in a state jail facility for less than one gram to up to life in prison for 200 grams or more.


1. Vittert: Cartels working with China to poison America | On Balance
2. Inside the Sinaloa Cartel’s fentanyl pipeline | Nightline
(ABC News)
3. How the Mexican cartels are making profits now
(The Economist)
4. Inside the Sinaloa Cartel’s Fentanyl Smuggling Operations
(VICE News)
5. Inside the fentanyl cartel: Mexico crime lords feeding US addiction
(Channel 4 News)
6. A secret look at a Mexican cartel's low-tech, multimillion-dollar fentanyl operation
(PBS NewsHour)


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