Mexico's Sinaloa cartel bans fentanyl, reportedly under pain of death

The top exporter of fentanyl to the U.S. is apparently looking to diversify as law enforcement turns up the heat

Fentanyl seized in Mexico
Fentanyl seized in Mexico
(Image credit: Salwan Georges / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, the top exporter of fentanyl to the U.S., has banned the production and trafficking of the illegal opioid, killing several suppliers who refused to stop, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing cartel members. 

The shift, handed down in June from the "Chapitos" — four of jailed Sinaloa kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán's sons — and underscored by three bodies found covered with blue pills, is reportedly in response to increasing heat from U.S. law enforcement. Fentanyl overdose deaths have risen sharply in the U.S., adding political pressure to regular drug interdiction efforts. 

More than a dozen banners appeared in trafficking hubs this month announcing the ban, signed by the Chapitos and their allies, the Journal reported. A midlevel Sinaloa cartel operative told the Journal he's now "destroying" the 25 fentanyl labs he oversaw. "Some stopped producing. Others kept producing, and we are killing them," he said. 

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About a dozen people involved in the recalcitrant Sinaloa fentanyl underworld have gone missing in the past 10 days, a local human rights advocate told the Journal. 

Mexican security consultant Edwardo Guerrero said the Chapitos are worried about getting arrested and extradited to the U.S., like El Chapo and his son Ovidio. Ovidio Guzmán was arrested for a second time in January and extradited to the U.S. in September.

The Sinaloa operative said the cartel leaders want U.S. law enforcement to focus anti-fentanyl crackdown efforts on the rival Jalisco New Generation Cartel. Mexican and U.S. officials were skeptical the ban was more than short-term PR.

In the meantime, the Sinaloa operative "hopes an upsurge in the demand for Mexican brown heroin or a more refined product known as China White will tide him over the end of fentanyl," the Journal reported. "And he said trafficking in guns from the U.S. is another option" if that doesn't work. 

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