While Americans were celebrating the fourth of July this year with fireworks and barbecues, the sparks were flying south of the U.S. border. Mexico’s Ministry of National Defense announced that “personnel from the Mexican Army, the National Guard and the Attorney General’s Office carried out a historic seizure of fentanyl and other drugs in the state of Sinaloa.”
Among the items seized were 555.59 kilograms of methamphetamine, 31.02 kilograms of cocaine, 19 kilograms of opium gum, 6.97 kilograms of heroin, and over 71,000 kilograms of chemical precursors. More importantly, 542.72 kilograms – over half a ton — of fentanyl were seized. Valued at around $230 million it is considered the largest confiscation that has been registered in that country.
Why is fentanyl a more important bust? As noted in a CBS News report, “Synthetic opioids like fentanyl have been behind a major increase in overdose deaths in the United States; as little as two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal. The drug is 100 times more potent than morphine.”
That 1,200 pounds of fentanyl could have produced millions of counterfeit Xanax, Adderall, and Oxycodone pills, or be mixed into other drugs.
We previously wrote about the US Drug Enforcement Administration issuing a safety alert concerning the problem of International and domestic criminal drug networks flooding the United States with lethal counterfeit pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine. According to the alert, these pills – over 10 million seized last year — are “mass-produced by criminal drug networks in labs, deceptively marketed as legitimate prescription pills, and are killing unsuspecting Americans at an unprecedented rate.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has seen its own fair share of drug busts with the help of advanced technology that can quickly identify deadly narcotics, like fentanyl, entering the U.S. from other countries. CBP officers at many international mail facilities are using handheld narcotics analyzers, and crediting the technology for keeping CBP agents safe from exposure to deadly substances and helping ensure that such substances don’t reach the streets.
The handheld chemical analyzers that are often used by these agencies integrate dual technologies – Raman and FTIR – for orthogonal analysis of a broad range of potentially dangerous solid and liquid chemicals.
Raman and FTIR are highly specific and reliable identification methods, each with strengths and limitations. By integrating both Raman and FTIR into a single analyzer, operators harness the power of each technology while enabling a broader range of chemical identification, providing presumptive-complementary and confirmatory testing in a single, field-portable device. (Read how airports are using spectroscopy instruments for incoming drugs.)
The CBS news report also noted that “Almost all of the fentanyl smuggled into the United States comes from Mexico, where it is produced with precursor chemicals smuggled from China…. Last month, Mexican prosecutors said they found an illicit facility with a pill press used to manufacture fentanyl pills in the border town of San Luis Rio Colorado, across from Yuma, Arizona.”
The report noted that there’s a relationship between Chinese chemical companies and the criminal cartels in Mexico and quoted an official who said that “the criminal drug cartels in Mexico will stop at nothing to get fentanyl into the United States.”
San Diego, California, county officials recently declared a public health emergency over illegal fentanyl. Supervisors say it will help the county raise awareness about the issue and secure the necessary resources. 66% of powder fentanyl seized along the southwest border happened in San Diego county.”
Let’s hope that these chemical analysis technologies can help ensure that one day, at a future Independence Day fireworks show, we’ll be celebrating folks’ non-dependence on drugs.