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Mexican cartels are killing Americans with fentanyl at "catastrophic" rates, DEA chief says

Anne Milgram
Posted at 1:46 PM, Aug 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-19 16:00:48-04

The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration said two Mexican cartels are behind the influx of fentanyl in the U.S. that's killing tens of thousands of Americans.

"What we see happening at DEA is essentially that there are two cartels in Mexico, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, that are killing Americans with fentanyl at catastrophic and record rates like we have never seen before," DEA Administrator Anne Milgram told "CBS Mornings" on Friday ahead of National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day. "Those cartels are acting with calculated, deliberate treachery to get fentanyl to the United States and to get people to buy it through fake pills, by hiding it in other drugs, any means that they can take in order to drive addiction and to make money."

Developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients, fentanyl is up to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the DEA. The potent drug was behind approximately 66% of the 107,622 drug overdose deaths between December 2020 and December 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And since 2018, fentanyl-laced pill seizures by law enforcement has increased nearly 50-fold.

"Fentanyl is the most deadly widespread drug we've ever seen," Milgram said. "If it does not kill someone, the likelihood of them becoming addicted and buying more and more is very high."

She attributed the recent uptick in part to how the drug is created.

"It's man-made," she said. "So it's important to know that there is an unlimited amount that these two cartels can make. All they need are precursor chemicals that they are buying from China, from these Chinese chemical companies, bringing them to Mexico and synthesizing massive quantities."

She also said the accessibility of how users are buying fentanyl is behind the influx.

"We live in a world now where technology, a digital age, where social media has become a superhighway," Milgram said. "... Someone doesn't have to walk to a street corner to buy drugs. You have kids sitting in their bedroom. Anyone with a smartphone has a drug dealer with them."

Fentanyl, she said, is marketed to children and teens as OxyContin, Adderall or Percocet in the form of counterfeit pills, oftentimes through social media platforms.

"There's no more dangerous place in the United States of America for a young person, 18 to 45 right now, than social media," Milgram said.

In response to warnings from officials, Snapchat said it is cracking down on illegal drug sales on its platform and educating users.

"Over the last year we have significantly strengthened our tools for proactively detecting drug-dealing activity and shutting down dealers, improved our support for law enforcement, and educated Snapchatters about the fatal dangers of counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl," the company said in a statement.

Milgram said the DEA is "actively investigating every single possible lead" the agency can take in combatting the availability of fentanyl nationwide.

"We have to stop it before it comes from China to Mexico to the U.S.," she said. "... We have to be aggressive on this."

Milgram said the agency's work has endangered employees.

"Our agents are in harm's way," she said. "We take loaded guns off the street virtually every single day across America and across the world, so threats against law enforcement concern me, and my top priority as the administrator is the health and safety of our workforce."