Who in the political class isn’t talking about the fentanyl epidemic in the US? Given its gravity, politicians have every reason to talk about it. Based on available data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2019 alone, there were over 36,500 overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, in the United States. In 2021, that number nearly doubled as Fentanyl accounted for 71,238 deaths in 2021. That represented a 23% increase from 2020.
It’s clear that this problem has gone completely out of control. But has anyone taken the time to understand its deeper causes? Politicians and media personalities, including 2024 presidential hopefuls, Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy, have jumped on the crisis to draw attention to their standard agendas, whether it’s the immigration problem and border control or the growing trend to place all the blame on foreign actors for America’s problems.
What no one likes to talk about are the deeper systemic issues such as the role of Drug Enforcement agencies, major banking institutions and titans of industry in maintaining and exacerbating the crisis.
Like Father, Like Sons
At the heart of this crisis lies the insidious role played by the sons of notorious drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who have emerged as key players in perpetuating America’s drug crisis. Adding another layer of intrigue and corruption, allegations of collusion between Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials and drug cartels have further muddied the waters.
The capture and subsequent extradition of El Chapo in 2017 created a power vacuum within his Sinaloa Cartel. It was during this transition that two of El Chapo’s sons, Iván Archivaldo Guzmán and Jesús Alfredo Guzmán, stepped into leadership roles. Leveraging their family name and established connections, the Guzmán brothers have seized the opportunity to expand their influence over the drug trade, particularly regarding fentanyl.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has emerged as the primary driver of the current drug crisis in America. With potency up to 50 times stronger than heroin, even minuscule amounts can be fatal. Fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs, such as cocaine or counterfeit prescription pills, without the user’s knowledge, making it a lethal and unpredictable threat. The Guzmán brothers saw an opportunity in fentanyl, a synthetic opioid capable of taking down an elephant with a single dose. With ruthless ambition, they unleashed this lethal force on American soil, maximizing profits while leaving a trail of devastation in their wake.
In a shocking turn of events, allegations of collusion between DEA officials and the Sinaloa Cartel have surfaced, raising serious questions about the integrity and efficacy of America’s drug enforcement efforts. Whistleblowers within the DEA have claimed that certain officials, motivated by financial gain or misguided notions of intelligence gathering, turned a blind eye to the Guzmán brothers’ activities. These alleged collusions allowed the Sinaloa Cartel to operate with relative impunity, perpetuating the flow of fentanyl into the United States.
If the allegations of DEA collusion hold true, it represents a staggering betrayal of the American public’s trust. The very agency tasked with combating drug trafficking and protecting communities from the perils of addiction would have compromised its mission for personal gain or misguided strategic goals. The death toll continues to climb as unsuspecting victims fall prey to the potent grips of this synthetic demon.
U.S Citizens, Not Illegals, Are Smuggling Fentanyl Across Borders
The majority of illicit fentanyl found in the U.S. is believed to originate from illicit drug labs in China, and it is often smuggled into the United States through various means, including mail services and the postal system. However, in most cases, it is United States citizens that are implicated in smuggling fentanyl across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Some individuals may be enticed by the potential for significant financial gains or become involved due to coercion, threats, or other criminal activities. U.S citizens accounted for 86% of fentanyl trafficking convictions in 2021. 1,322 of the 1,533 charged fentanyl trafficking offenders were US citizens. Even the CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank, acknowledges this point.
According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, approximately 19.4 percent of Americans have experimented with illegal substances at least once. Out of the total population of 280 million individuals aged 12 and above, 31.9 million are classified as drug users. Among these, 11.7 percent are specifically using illegal substances, while 19.4 percent are either consuming illicit drugs or misusing prescription medications as of 2020.
As it turns out, America’s monstrous appetite for addictive drugs may have been fueled by predatory elements within our own capitalist ecosystem.
The Role of Big Pharma
The Sackler family, known for their connection to opioids, owned and ran Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company that developed and marketed OxyContin. OxyContin, a powerful prescription painkiller, played a significant role in the opioid crisis in the United States. Purdue Pharma aggressively promoted OxyContin to doctors, downplaying its addictive potential and encouraging widespread use for chronic pain. The Sackler family, particularly Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler, accumulated vast wealth through the success of Purdue Pharma. Cynics suggest the family’s motto was, “America’s pain is our profit.”
However, as evidence of OxyContin’s addictive nature and widespread abuse emerged, Purdue Pharma faced lawsuits and allegations of deceptive marketing practices. In 2007, the company pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid a settlement of $634.5 million. The Sacklers’ role in fueling the opioid crisis while amassing enormous wealth drew significant criticism.
Purdue Pharma subsequently filed for bankruptcy, aiming to resolve thousands of lawsuits. The proposed settlement involves the dissolution of the company, a financial contribution of $6 billion from the Sackler family, and the transfer of Purdue’s assets to a public trust addressing the opioid crisis.
Banks helping cartels launder illicit funds
If it wasn’t for major international banks turning a blind eye or in some cases actively aiding and abetting drug cartels, the drug crisis wouldn’t be nearly as acute. One prominent example is the case of the Wachovia Bank (now Wells Fargo) in the United States.
In 2010, Wachovia reached a settlement with the U.S. government for allowing at least $378 billion in illicit funds to pass through its accounts, primarily linked to Mexican drug cartels. It was revealed that the bank had failed to implement adequate anti-money laundering controls, thereby facilitating the laundering of drug proceeds.
Another notable case involves the Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB), which was accused by the U.S. government in 2011 of laundering money for international drug trafficking organizations, including Hezbollah. The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated LCB as a “primary money laundering concern” and shut it down.
It doesn’t stop there. In 2012 the British bank HSBC agreed to pay a $1.9 billion fine to settle allegations that it had knowingly allowed Mexican and Colombian drug cartels to launder money through its accounts. The bank was accused of having weak money laundering controls that enabled illicit funds to be moved across borders undetected.
Chinese Money Laundering Operations
Chinese actors have increasingly assumed a prominent role in facilitating the illicit money laundering operations of Mexican drug cartels, specifically the Sinaloa Cartel and Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), which are the primary distributors of fentanyl to the United States. These Chinese money laundering brokers have demonstrated a remarkable ability to evade detection by both the formal banking systems of the United States and Mexico. Their methods encompass a wide range of illicit activities and value transfers that exploit various channels.
One notable avenue employed by these criminal networks is trade-based laundering. They exploit legitimate trade transactions to obscure the origin and movement of funds. For instance, they may utilize shell companies to manipulate import and export invoices, falsely inflating the value of goods to disguise illicit proceeds as legitimate business profits.
Additionally, the use of wildlife products as a medium for value transfer has been observed in the nefarious collaboration between Mexican and Chinese criminal networks. Protected and unprotected marine products, as well as timber, serve as vehicles for moving illicit funds. These criminal actors exploit the high demand for such commodities in China, exploiting loopholes and lax regulations to launder money through the sale and transport of these goods.
Real estate transactions also feature prominently in the web of money laundering operations between Mexican and Chinese criminal elements. They frequently invest Illicit funds in properties, disguising illegal proceeds as legitimate assets. This strategy not only conceals the origin of the funds but also provides a means of preserving and growing their illicit wealth.
As we navigate this surreal landscape, the task before us will be to break free from the vicious cycle of madness. First and foremost, rigorous investigations must be launched to uncover the depths of DEA corruption. Those responsible, whether cartels or corrupt officials, must face swift and severe consequences, sparing no one.
Additionally, efforts should focus on enhancing border security, expanding access to addiction treatment and harm reduction services. Raising public awareness about the dangers of fentanyl and the tactics employed by drug cartels is imperative. Most importantly, the crisis should not be politicized and a bipartisan consensus must be reached to save our country from this creeping menace.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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