U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy joined a bipartisan delegation of U.S. lawmakers that met with Mexican president Andrés Miguel López Obrador over the weekend. Even though there have been many disagreements between López Obrador and the United States, Murphy said the two countries met to discuss issues like gun trafficking, migration, trade and fentanyl production.
“Reducing the amount of deadly fentanyl that is getting into the United States has to be a higher priority in our relationship with Mexico,” said Murphy, D-Connecticut, in a statement.
As a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Murphy has highlighted the importance of improving collaboration with Mexico to stem the flow of fentanyl into the United States.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine, but about 100 times more potent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain, especially after surgery and for advanced-stage cancer. However, in recent years, illicitly manufactured fentanyl has circulated in illegal drug markets.
Producing fentanyl costs about 1% of the cost of a morphine-equivalent dose, said Dr. Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon University. He specializes in systems analysis of problems pertaining to drugs, crime, terror, violence and prevention and explained that fentanyl is relatively inexpensive to create because it’s so strong.
“It’s just like any other industry, If you got a chance to do something that costs only 1% as much as it used to, you're going to shift to that,“ he said. “It's really hard to stop people from producing things that can make them lots and lots of money.”
Caulkins said that fentanyl precursors usually travel from China to Mexico, where they get processed into powder. In the early days, Fentanyl powder got mixed into other illegal substances like methamphetamine and cocaine. This meant that unintentional overdose deaths rose among users of opioids who already had built some tolerance. However, he explained there was a sharp uptick in deaths when fentanyl began getting pressed into prescription pill lookalikes.
“It is psychologically easier for somebody who's not yet a really heavy user to swallow a pill than it is to inject a powder. And so, whereas initially a lot of the deaths were happening amongst people who were already dependent, now the pill form is touching more people because it sort of lowers the barriers to use,” he said.
Nationwide, the CDC reported over 107,000 fatal drug overdoses in 2021, 67% of which involved a synthetic opioid like fentanyl. In Connecticut, the Department of Public Health reported 1,462 fatal drug overdoses in 2022, 85% of which involved fentanyl.
Even though stopping fentanyl production has been a high priority for U.S. legislators like Sen. Murphy, fentanyl production has been a point of contention between the United States and Mexico.
An unclassified intelligence report from the Drug Enforcement Administration said that the Sinaloa Cartel and the New Generation Cartel of Jalisco are responsible for smuggling fentanyl into the United States from Mexico through California and Arizona.
However, Lopez Obrador, the Mexican president, has said that fentanyl is not produced in Mexico or smuggled by cartels. Instead, he blamed the fentanyl crisis on the disintegration of famllies in the U.S. and a “lack of hugs,” coupled with a lack of programs and resources to address the opioids crisis.
“There is a lot of disintegration of families, there is a lot of individualism, there is a lack of love, of brotherhood, of hugs and embraces,” López Obrador said of the U.S. crisis during one of his morning press conferences. “That is why (U.S. officials) should be dedicating funds to address the causes.”
He asked the U.S. government to join him in an initiative to ban pharmaceutical fentanyl, even though the CDC has said that most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdoses are linked to illicitly manufactured fentanyl distributed through illegal drug markets.
In a “Who is who?” segment of the weekly press conference by López Obrador, presidential spokesperson Ana Elizabeth García Vilchis dedicated a segment to correcting alleged misinformation about the fentanyl crisis in the U.S.
She said that the fentanyl crisis was started by U.S. pharmaceutical companies that misled the public with FDA consent and said that most of the traffickers were U.S. citizens.
“In these past few weeks, U.S. politicians from the Republican and Democrat parties are using the topic of fentanyl for electoral reasons,” she said, “and they blame Mexico for its crisis and for making illegal fentanyl that arrives in their country.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting.
Latino Communities Reporter Lau Guzmán is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at https://bit.ly/3Pdb0re, To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.