Are Cartels Ramping Up Fentanyl Production?

There’s a New Fentanyl Supplier in Town

There have been a few multi kilo fentanyl arrests happening in the west in the past month and the source for the fentanyl isn’t from the usual sources. These huge fentanyl busts have all involved well established Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO’s).

I outlined how Chinese labs were the main supplier of the drug into the US and Canada. But, there is a new player in town and we should all be concerned. One specific DTO in Mexico has realized the benefits of re-tooling their drug dealing efforts to this powerful drug and away from heroin.

What these large drug busts tell us is that it is more beneficial to traffic fentanyl than heroin. Here’s why.

Over 16 kilos of fentanyl seized by narcs in the Southwest US.

The Logistics of Trafficking Heroin

Addicts soon learned that heroin was cheaper than continuing their pill addiction. As heroin satiated America’s appetite after the pharmaceutical crisis, Mexican DTO’s stepped up their production of heroin. But, the production and trafficking of heroin is hard on any logistics chain. To traffic heroin, you’ll need to grow opium poppies and hide that field from law enforcement. Then you’ll need people to process the opium poppy. Then you’ll take that opium and process it into heroin, which requires a clandestine laboratory, all the while keep this whole process from competitors and law enforcement. Then you need to bring it to your customers in another country.

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Fentanyl Logistics

But, with Carfentanil and other analogs you have a logistics chain that is much more manageable. By producing the drug instead of heroin, you can cut out the poppy field and the logistics of protecting it and transporting it to the lab. The DTO will produce the drug in the lab and transport it directly to customers. The drug is also much more powerful than heroin, so less of the drug needs to be transported than you would if you were transporting heroin. Look at how powerful fentanyl is compared to other drugs:


The column on the left represents a specific opioid. The column on the right represents the number of oral doses of oral morphine as a comparison.

As an example, the photo below is of a 16.75 kilo seizure of fentnayl from a Mexican DTO in the Southwest US. Fentanyl is often cut one part fentanyl to 100 parts cutting agent. So, that could conceivably make over 1,675 kilos of the drug for end users. The drug dealer that received this fentanyl could not take it straight from the DTO and sell it to the end user. Think about it… 2 mg of pure fentanyl is a lethal dose.

What Our Future Holds

Other DTO’s will undoubtedly jump on board and do away with heroin and switch to fentanyl. It’s easier on the supply chain and you can transport much less of the drug than you would heroin. The other factor is the user in the United States. Our users are demanding fentanyl. They’ve been chasing their first heroin high since they started using heroin. They found that in fentanyl. This also means that police officers will encounter more fentanyl in the future and it will be a safety hazard for us. As an example, in the photo below, a narcotics detective is handling a kilo of fentanyl with only a tactical glove on. Take my course on fentanyl safety so that you know how to handle these types of cases, or even how to handle a simple possession or overdose case.

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Learn how to properly handle fentanyl. You can’t handle it like you would other street drugs. Touching it like this can lead to the death of the officer. Learn more in my online fentanyl safety course.

Author: Keith Graves
Keith is a retired Police Sergeant and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for 29 years. Keith was named as California’s Narcotics Officer of the Year and is a prior winner of MADD’s California Hero Award. He has years of experience as a Narcotics Detective and a Narcotics Unit Supervisor and is a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor (IACP #3292). Keith teaches both the DRE course and the Drug Abuse Recognition Course and has taught at the Police Academy. He has developed several drug courses for the California Narcotics Officers Association, California POST and California Colleges and currently consults POST on drug investigation procedures. Keith has held other assignments besides narcotics including Training Sergeant, Patrol Sergeant, COPPS Officer, Traffic Officer, and 20 years as a SWAT Team member and Sniper Team Leader. Keith has taught thousands of officers and businesses around the world about drug use, drug trends, compliance training and drug investigations. He is recognized as an international drug expert and has testified as an expert in court proceedings on drug cases, homicide cases and rape prosecutions. Keith earned a BA in Business Management from Saint Mary's College of California and a MA in Criminal Justice. Keith is the Founder and President of Graves & Associates, a company dedicated to providing drug training to law enforcement and private industry.

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