Contraband included drugs, tobacco, phones, chargers, and SIM cards.
(Ministry of Justice)
  • China's coronavirus lockdown is hurting Mexican drug cartels, which rely on chemicals from China to make synthetic opioids before selling them in the US.
  • With the growing difficulty in making the drugs, the street cost has risen in some places. For instance, in Los Angeles, the cost of methamphetamine has doubled to about $1,800 (R34,000) per pound.
  • Phil Jordan, a former director of the DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center, told the Associated Press: "The godfathers of the cartels are scrambling."
  • For mores stories go to

The coronavirus pandemic is hurting Mexico's drug cartels and pushing up prices.

According to a new report by the Associated Press, based off interviews with almost two dozen law enforcement officials and drug trafficking experts, China's coronavirus lockdown is being felt acutely by Mexico's drug cartels, who rely on cheap chemicals from China to make synthetic opioids, which are smuggled into the US.

In recent years, cartels have focused production on synthetics like methamphetamine, because they can be made all year around, rather than plant-based drugs like heroin and marijuana. To produce heroin requires fields of poppy that need to be harvested by farmers who require payment, Vice Reported.

In comparison, synthetic opioids are 50 times stronger than heroin, go for a higher market rate, and until recently were cheap and easy to get hold of. But with China going on lockdown - in particular Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic - the supply of chemicals has dried up, and synthetic drugs like methamphetamine and fentanyl have become difficult to make.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in 2019, found that in 2017 more than two-thirds of America's 70,000 overdose deaths involved opioids.

According to the Associated Press report, methamphetamine now costs about $1,800 (R34,000) a pound in Los Angeles - double its normal rate.

Last month almost $30 million (R572 million) worth of drugs were seized by law enforcement in a tunnel connecting Tijuana to San Diego. In the bundle of drugs, there were only about two pounds of fentanyl, which was much lower than normal, according to the Associated Press report.

Phil Jordan, a former director of the DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center, told the Associated Press: "The godfathers of the cartels are scrambling."

Ben Westhoff, author of "Fentanyl, Inc." told the Associated Press: "The main reason China has been the main supplier is the main reason China is the supplier of everything - it does it so cheaply. There was really no cost incentive for the cartels to develop this themselves."

Since the pandemic hit, labs have been popping up in Mexico, but the cartels still rely on China to get the base chemicals.

It's not just China's supply that's been hit by the coronavirus. Drug smuggling across the US border has become more difficult since there's no heavy traffic to slip through in, and with the closure of bars and nightclubs, demand has changed.

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