This investigative series looks at the role that Mexico and its cartels have played in making the lethal opioid fentanyl a growing threat in the United States. While China accounts for the overwhelming majority of fentanyl production, Mexican gangs have also become key links in this chain, transporting, selling, and even producing the drug. Here we examine the rise of fentanyl, from production facilities in China and Mexico, to the potential role of the Sinaloa Cartel and numerous subcontractors.

Investigation Chapters

Fentanyl: Summary and Major Findings

Since surging into the market in 2013, fentanyl has become the most lethal category of opioid in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that more than 47,000 people died from an opioid overdose in 2017 in the United States—28,000 of those deaths were due to synthetic opioids, which the…

Fentanyl Case Shows China’s Scary Ability to Adapt

In October 2017, two Chinese men—Xiaobing Yan and Jian Zhang—were indicted for conspiring to manufacture and distribute “large quantities” of fentanyl and fentanyl analogs in the United States. Although they used multiple names and company identities over a period of six years, investigators were able to trace the fentanyl shipments back to four clandestine labs…

A Sinaloa Connection in Buffalo, New York?

The sea cucumber arrived. Then more arrived. Then more. It was a lot, investigators noted—too much for that northwestern corner of New York state.

The shipments were, US prosecutors would declare later in an indictment, more than the small delectable culled from ocean reefs, and often prized in Asia for being both tasty and sexually…

End of Heroin is Bad News for US Fentanyl Hotbeds

On October 22, 2018, authorities pulled over a Dominican national identifying himself as Angel Javier Morell-Oneill as he drove in Methuen, Massachusetts. They had been investigating him since June 2018, according to a Justice Department press release. They searched his car and found two kilograms of fentanyl in the passenger seat.

The Fentanyl Trade Through Mexico, Explained in 8 Graphs

Fentanyl use is booming in the United States. With support from the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, InSight Crime mapped the distribution chain, and the role of Mexico’s criminal organizations in the trade in our series about fentanyl. Below are our graphic illustrations of the trade.