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2023: The year the DEA seized the greatest amount of fentanyl in history

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2023 marks the year that the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized the greatest amount of fentanyl in history.  Agents seized more than 77 million fentanyl pills and roughly 12,000 pounds of fentanyl powder. The quantity translates to more than 386 million deadly doses; more than enough to kill everyone in the United States.

The largest amount of fentanyl ever seized in a single year was also the same year that the federal agency celebrated its 50th anniversary. The agency was also forced to transform its strategy, saying, “to meet this extraordinary moment in time as the United States confronts the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced – fentanyl.”

The DEA also said “the fentanyl we see today is even deadlier than before. Fentanyl pills today are more potent.” The Center Square reports the DEA also updated a previous statistic: DEA laboratory testing in 2023 found seven out of 10 pills tested contained a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl. This is an increase from six out of 10 pills in 2022, up from four out of 10 pills in 2021.

“The dedicated women and men of DEA are doing everything in our power to battle the fentanyl scourge that is destroying our communities, but we’re essentially drinking water from a firehose,” Special Agent in Charge J. Todd Scott, head of DEA’s Louisville Field Division, said in a statement. “This is not a problem that can be solved by law enforcement alone.”

The DEA says the unprecedented threat of fentanyl “that is flooding our country” is largely being created by two Mexican drug cartels: the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels. In response, the DEA created a new “strategic layer of Counter Threat Teams to focus on each cartel and the illicit finance networks that fund them both.” The teams use intelligence gathered from 334 DEA offices worldwide “to map the cartels’ global networks and to identify targets for investigation and prosecution,” it said.

The Center Square also reports on the statistics that are beyond the data from the DEA:

The DEA’s efforts are in addition to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents seizing enough lethal drugs to kill more than 6 billion people in 2023, including 27,000 pounds of fentanyl at ports of entry nationwide.

It’s also in addition to state law enforcement officials also seizing record amounts of fentanyl, The Center Square has reported. Last year, in Arizona, one multiagency effort led to seizing enough illicit drugs, including fentanyl, to kill over 40 million people. In one single Arizona Department of Public Safety bust, enough fentanyl was seized to kill over 800,000 people.

In one single bust in Los Angeles, enough fentanyl was seized to kill over 600,000 people.

In two multiagency drug busts in Florida, enough fentanyl was seized to kill nearly double the state’s population.

In Texas, officials have seized more than 453 million lethal doses of fentanyl, enough to kill more than the populations of Canada and the United States.

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War on Drugs

Report: U.S. investigated ties between drug cartel and Mexican President’s allies

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U.S. investigators have been looking into ties between drug cartels and allies of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, The New York Times reported. The investigation, which spanned several years, looked into allegations that drug cartels had met and provided Obrador’s allies with millions of dollars after he assumed office in 2018, according to NYT. The investigation was ultimately closed, in part because of the sensitive diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico.

Drug cartels have had a known hold on Mexico and its government for decades by paying off and manipulating officials, police and politicians, according to the NYT. Obrador decried the allegations as “completely false.” He said it would not affect the U.S.-Mexico relationship “in any way” but said he wanted a response from the U.S. government.

The Daily Caller News Foundation writes that the recent decision to close the inquiry into Obrador’s allies came in part because sensitivities surrounding of the arrest of Zepeda, which Obrador and his allies were angered by and felt was based on “fabricated” charges, according to NYT. The Department of Justice reversed the indictment and released Zepeda after facing pressure from Obrador’s administration.

“The investigation found no direct ties between Obrador, himself, and the cartels, and some of the information was collected by informants who are often incorrect, according to NYT.” Some informant accounts suggested that Obrador’s allies met with the leader of the Sinaloa cartel prior to his election in 2018.

The Daily Caller News Foundation notes of the Times’ report:

Prior investigations into Mexican officials tied to the cartel have resulted in criminal charges by the U.S. before, such as in the 2020 case of Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda and the 2023 case of former Public Security Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna.

Another account suggested that the leader of the infamously violent Zetas cartel paid out $4 million to two of Obrador’s confidants as an attempted bribe to get released from prison, according to NYT. One account claimed that the cartels possessed video evidence of Obrador’s son picking up drug money.

U.S. investigators also tracked payments made by suspected cartel members to intermediaries of Obrador, according to NYT. One payment was made while Obrador was in Sinaloa visiting the mother of notorious drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera – informally known as El Chapo – who is currently serving a life sentence in U.S. federal prison.

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