Mexican cartels adjusted to restrictions imposed by the global pandemic last year to smuggle huge amounts of narcotics into the U.S. and remain the greatest criminal drug threat to the country, expanding the market as methamphetamine deaths skyrocket. The government classifies them as Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCO) and in 2020 they flooded the nation with illicit drugs though a staggering 28,000 pounds of methamphetamine and millions of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl were seized by law enforcement agents. Bigger loads reached communities around the nation as deaths and seizures involving meth rise sharply and Mexican TCO’s increase the drug’s availability, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA).
The annual publication outlines the threats posed to the U.S. by domestic and international drug trafficking and the abuse of illicit drugs, which is at an all-time high. The document also addresses money laundering of drug proceeds and the role of domestic groups, such as violent street gangs, that traffic drugs. “While the COVID-19 pandemic plagues this nation, so, too, do transnational criminal organizations and violent street gangs, adjusting to pandemic restrictions to flood our communities with dangerous drugs,” said DEA acting Administrator D. Christopher Evans in a statement announcing the report’s release. Evans was the agency’s chief of operations before taking over and last year was appointed by then Attorney General William Barr to a presidential commission charged with exploring issues affecting law enforcement. The DEA chief added that this year’s NDTA “shows the harsh reality of the drug threats facing communities across the United States.”
The U.S. saw a record number of drug overdose deaths last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which put the figure at more than 81,000. The agency says that synthetic opioids, primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl, appear to be the primary driver of the increases in overdose deaths. The DEA discloses that Mexican TCOs have established clandestine laboratories in Mexico for the synthesis of fentanyl, and Mexican authorities have encountered a rise in illegal fentanyl pill press and tableting operations. Mexican TCOs are also responsible for the production and trafficking across the Southwest Border (SWB) of the overwhelming majority of heroin available in the United States. Additionally, Mexican TCOs control most of the U.S. drug market and have established varied transportation routes, possess advanced communications capabilities, and hold strong affiliations with criminal groups and gangs in the U.S., the NDTA reveals.
The DEA names nine Mexican TCOs as having the greatest drug trafficking impact on the United States. Among them are the infamous Sinaloa and Juárez cartels, Los Zetas, La Familia Michoacána, Los Rojos and Guerreros Unidos. The TCOs maintain drug distribution cells in cities across the U.S. that report to leaders in Mexico and dominate the nation’s drug market. “The criminal activities of these organizations operating in the United States extend well beyond drug trafficking and have a profoundly negative impact on the safety and security of U.S. citizens,” the NDTA report states. “Their involvement in alien smuggling, firearms trafficking, and public corruption, coupled with the high levels of violence that result from these criminal endeavors, poses serious homeland security threats and public safety concerns.” Though they were temporarily challenged by disruptions associated with COVID-19, the Mexican criminal enterprises found new methods and used existing techniques to continue operating during the pandemic.
In a Homeland Threat Assessment issued just a few months ago, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) divulges that Mexican cartels pose the greatest threat to the U.S. because of their ability to control territory and co-opt parts of government, particularly at a state and local level. “They represent an acute and devastating threat to public health and safety in the Homeland and a significant threat to U.S. national security interests,” the DHS writes in the document.