Sons of ‘El Chapo’ allegedly smuggled cheap fentanyl into the US


MEXICO CITY (AP) With Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán serving a life sentence, his sons steered the family business into fentanyl, establishing a network of labs churning out massive quantities of the cheap, deadly drug that they smuggled into the U.S., prosecutors revealed in a recent indictment.

Although Guzmán’s trial revolved around cocaine shipments, the case against his sons exposes the inner workings of a cartel undergoing a generational shift as it worked “to manufacture the most potent fentanyl and to sell it in the United States at the lowest price,” according to the indictment unsealed April 14 in Manhattan.

Synthetic opioids mostly fentanyl now kill more Americans every year than died in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined, feeding an argument among some politicians that the cartels should be branded terrorist organizations and prompting once-unthinkable calls for U.S. military intervention across the border.

“The problem with fentanyl, as some people at the State Department told me, has to be repositioned. It’s not a drug problem; it’s a poisoning problem,” said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst in Mexico, who died Friday. “Few people go on quests on purpose.

The foundation of the fentanyl epidemic in the United States was laid over 20 years ago by aggressive overprescription of the synthetic opioid oxycodone. After U.S. authorities cracked down on his prescriptions, the user switched to heroin, which the Sinaloa cartel gladly supplied.

But creating your own fentanyl, much more potent and versatile than heroin, in a small, easily concealed lab was a game changer. In less than a decade, the cartel grew from its first makeshift fentanyl lab to a network of labs centered in northern Sinaloa.

“These aren’t superlabs because they give people the illusion that they’re like very sophisticated pharmaceutical laboratories,” said Mike Vigil, the former head of international affairs for the United States. “These are just metal basins and use wooden paddles (even shovels) to mix the chemicals.”

One cartel “cook” can squeeze fentanyl into 100,000 counterfeit pills every day and trick Americans into thinking they’re taking Xanax, Percocet, or Oxycodone. According to the indictment, the pills were smuggled across the border and fed to what his son, Ivan Archibald Guzman Salazar, described as “a city of junkies.”

Prosecutors said fentanyl is so cheap to produce that the cartels make huge profits even though it sells for 50 cents a tablet.

The potency of the drug makes it particularly dangerous. Fentanyl’s narcotic doses are so close to lethal that a pill designed to get a regular user high could easily kill an inexperienced person taking something they didn’t know fentanyl had. I can. Between August 2021 and August last year, more than 107,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, mostly from synthetic opioids. The DEA seized more than 57 million counterfeit fentanyl-laced prescription drugs last year, according to the New York indictment.

To protect and grow the business, prosecutors said the sons, known as “Chapitos,” have resorted to grotesque violence.