Written by Joanna Button
What’s happening: The fentanyl trade has exploded over the past decade, creating an epidemic of overdoses in the U.S. and increasing violent crime in Mexico as cartels fight for control over the illicit market. Tiny amounts of fentanyl precursors are shipped from China to Mexico, where the drug is produced and then smuggled across the border, often by American women.
- Getting rich: Synthetic drugs like fentanyl are highly profitable; they have low production costs and require fewer workers, and their production is harder to trace, which has made cartels richer.
The numbers: Synthetic opioid overdoses have risen drastically and were claimed to be the leading cause of death among young U.S. adults in 2021, killing over 70,000 people. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin; only small amounts are needed to meet U.S. demand.
The politics: The Biden administration's efforts to crack down on the trade, including attempts to obtain China’s cooperation in blocking the flow of precursors, have been unsuccessful so far. Seizures of the drug have increaseddrastically, but overdoses are still rising. Mexico’s president falsely claims fentanyl isn’t produced in his country and blames U.S. demand for the crisis, souring the countries’ relations.
2024 elections: Republicans have introduced numerous bills to strengthen border security and crack down on the drug trade, and the issue has become a 2024 talking point. Several Republican presidential candidates say Mexico is no longer a U.S. ally and that they would even consider using military force to suppress Mexican cartels and the fentanyl trade.