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Mexico's efforts to seize US-bound fentanyl drop sharply, while seizures of meth soar


MEXICO CITY (AP) — Even as Mexican-made fentanyl continues to flood into the United States, Mexico’s efforts to seize the drug have declined dramatically, according to figures released Tuesday by the Defense Department.

Figures for the first half of 2024 show that Mexican federal forces seized only 286 pounds (130 kilograms) of fentanyl nationwide between January and June, down 94% from the 5,135 pounds (2,329 kilograms) seized in 2023.

The synthetic opioid has been blamed for about 70,000 overdose deaths annually in the United States, and U.S. officials have tried to step up efforts to seize it as it comes over the border, often in the form of counterfeit pills made in Mexico.

But rather than join in the effort, Mexico’s Army and National Guard appeared to have refocused their attention far more toward seizing methamphetamines, which are much more widely consumed domestically in Mexico than fentanyl.

Mexico seized a record of over 400 tons of meth in 2023, more than 12 times what it seized in 2022. That pace appeared to continue in the first half of 2024, with 168 tons of methamphetamines seized.

While Mexican meth is exported widely to the United States — and also causes huge addiction problems there — unlike fentanyl, a huge amount of meth is also sold inside Mexico.

Mexico’s Defense Department did not explain why seizures of the two drugs have changed so dramatically. Some observers say the uptick in meth seizures may be the result of increasing internal disputes between the “Mayitos” and “Chapitos” factions of the Sinaloa cartel, the largest producer of meth in Mexico.

Because they belonged to the same drug trafficking networks, analysts say the two factions may have become willing and able to “drop a dime” and inform authorities about the location of their rivals’ meth labs and shipments.

But the sharp drop in fentanyl seizures appears to be harder to explain. After all, there is pressure from the United States to stem the smuggling.

The U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mexican security analyst David Saucedo said the ongoing battles between the two Sinaloa cartel factions may have also affected fentanyl shipments.

“The war within the Sinaloa cartel between Mayo Zambada and the “Chapitos” may also be playing a role in reducing the number of shipments of fentanyl,” said Saucedo. “The war between those groups is occurring in cities and on routes that are used for shipping drugs to the border. The violence (between the two factions) inhibits shipments, for fear of losing them along the route to the border.”

The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has always had a somewhat equivocal view on Mexico’s role in fighting fentanyl, which is largely produced by Mexican cartels using precursor chemicals imported from China and India.

López Obrador has long denied, for example, that fentanyl is even produced in Mexico, though experts — and even members of his own administration — acknowledge that it is.

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