Authorities in Mexico said they will look into the mass-scale diversion of chemicals from US companies to produce drugs that are trafficked over the border to feed consumers in the United States, further evidence crime groups are not reliant on Chinese precursors.
“It doesn’t matter if these are US companies. They can be from any part of the world, but we will not permit this,” Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced during his morning press conference September 7.
The comments followed a Bloomberg investigation published August 26 that uncovered how Mexico’s organized crime groups are sourcing precursor chemicals used to make heroin and the synthetic drug methamphetamine from US companies that supply the country’s legal market.
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A lack of oversight facilitates the problem. While drug-making chemicals are regulated by US and international law, “their reach often ends at the Mexican border for local subsidiaries of American companies,” Bloomberg found.
In one roughly two-year period, Bloomberg reported that thieves thought to be working for the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) stole at least 30,000 liters of monomethylamine -- a central component in methamphetamine production -- from the Mexican subsidiary of the Dallas-based Celanese Corp.
The Bloomberg report also linked one large May 2019 seizure of acetic anhydride -- required alongside the sap from opium poppies to produce heroin -- used by the Sinaloa Cartel for heroin production to Avantor Inc., a billion-dollar chemical manufacturing and distribution company headquartered in Pennsylvania.
Under US law, any significant losses must be reported to the Justice Department. Failing to do so is a federal crime. However, those requirements don’t apply to the Mexican subsidiaries of US companies. The supervision of chemicals often diverted for drug production is “effectively unregulated” in Mexico, according to Bloomberg.
Between 2010 and 2018, more than 142,000 people in the United States died from overdoses of both heroin and methamphetamine sourced primarily from Mexico.
InSight Crime Analysis
The United States has sought to thwart the flow of precursor chemicals from China used for drug production in Mexico. The east Asian country is the primary source for the majority of chemicals used to make synthetic drugs, especially fentanyl.
But in response to restrictions brought on by the coronavirus and increased regulations in China, Mexico’s crime groups have sought out alternative routes to obtain the chemicals and invented new chemical compounds entirely to skirt restrictions.
However, the role of US companies in facilitating drug production in Mexico complicates the situation. The Bloomberg report suggests that criminal groups have been able to count, at least partially, on domestic sourcing for precursor chemicals for years.
In addition to local manufacturers and Chinese and US companies, Mexican authorities have in years past also seized shipments of precursor chemicals sent to the country from South Korea, at times disguised among legal shipments of fertilizer.