Fentanyl, a strong synthetic opioid begins as a white powder in Chinese chemical factories.
Sometimes disguised as soap, the drug journeys across oceans and massive container ships bound for Mexican ports.
From there, Mexican drug cartel workers press the fentanyl powder into small blue pills, which are then smuggled across the border – headed toward markets in Texas and beyond.
We know this because several recent court cases and detention hearings in North Texas provided new details about the path this drug takes into the country.
Kevin Krause, who covers federal courts at the Dallas Morning News, said the original indictment for these cases was handed down in 2019.
“It all began with a 2019 indictment that was filed in the Eastern District of Texas. And it pretty much just grew, like the number of defendants that spawned other related cases,” he said. “These case files contained detention hearings. When defendants are arrested, they have an opportunity to try to get out on what’s known as pre-trial release. And so the prosecutor will basically throw out to the judge all the reasons why they think they should remain in custody, such as being a danger to the community or a flight risk. And these were incredibly detailed about the operation.”
Krause said fentanyl is an attractive product for drug traffickers because it’s inexpensive and easy to order.
“They typically will order it online from China in bulk and in a white powder. And they very easily then just stamp that into tiny little pills,” he said. “They’re highly potent and they’re very popular because they resemble prescription medications. So people think maybe they’re getting Xanax or they’re getting Oxy, and it’s actually fentanyl. And also they’re so small, they’re very easy to smuggle. The costs are very low, so the profits are high for the cartel.”
The Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico is the main group profiting off of fentanyl, Krause said.
“The Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico is responsible for most of the fentanyl here in North Texas,” he said. “The profits can be as much as $6 million in just a year and a half.”
The strategy for getting the drug into the United States involves flooding the ports of entry.
“(The pills are) smuggled by vehicle, essentially, and in multiple hidden compartments. So a certain amount they understand will be seized at the border. But most of it gets through,” Krause said. “And so they write off the product that gets seized as the cost of doing business. And the rest of it is driven north on the various interstates to the Dallas area.”
North Texas is an ideal first stop for the drug because, from there, it’s easy to move it nationwide, according to Krause.
“It’s not that far from the border. And we’re a perfect distribution point,” he said. “Very centrally located for the fentanyl to make its way all across the country – north to Chicago, east to New York, and then west to L.A. and other parts.”