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Cartels Increasingly Moving Illicit Fentanyl Manufacturing Onto US Soil, Former DEA Official Says

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Jennie Taer Investigative Reporter
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Cartels are moving more of their drug manufacturing operations onto U.S. soil, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Special Operations Division Derek Maltz told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Authorities making recent fentanyl seizures have found pill press operations associated with the drug, meaning that counterfeit pills killing thousands of Americans each year are being increasingly created in the U.S., according to Maltz. U.S. authorities have also recently confiscated alarming amounts of liquid forms of the drug, signaling that the pills are being made in Americans’ backyards. (RELATED: ‘The Littlest Victims’: The Fentanyl Epidemic Has Left Children Without Parents Across America)

The cartels are bringing in both the powder and liquid forms of drugs into the U.S. to be pressed into counterfeit pills, according to Maltz, rather than bringing already-made pills across the southern border from Mexico, which is how they’ve traditionally operated, according to the DEA’s 2020 national drug threat assessment. Liquid forms of drugs can be made into powder in what are known as conversion labs.

Drugs killed over 100,000 Americans in 2021, with fentanyl from Mexico and the cartels a chief contributor. The U.S. could surpass the record numbers of drug deaths as more illicit manufacturing activity takes place inside the country, according to Maltz.

“We are seeing fentanyl pill processing operations in America since the powder is getting in at record levels. Recently in South Carolina they seized 7 pill presses in one location in York,” Maltz said, referring to a South Carolina October seizure that also saw the confiscation of more than 30,000 grams of fentanyl.

The seizure was the result of a years-long investigation by the York County Sheriff’s office into a drug trafficking organization, according to FOX Carolina.

YouTube//NBC News

YouTube//NBC News

With the use of pill presses, cartels and their operatives can produce 10,000 pills per hour that can be sold for $10 to $20 per pill, according to Maltz.

“The profits are enormous, $100,000-$200,000 per hour in sales, which could yield $800,000 to $1,600,000 in sales per day from using a pill press in residences in America,” Maltz said.

“It only cost the cartels 15 cents to make a pill in Mexico, so the profit margin is huge by selling the fake pills,” Maltz said.

Border agents in Texas seized December 8 more than 3,000 pounds of liquid methamphetamine in one vehicle checkpoint stop where the smuggler attempted to conceal the drugs in bottles meant for cleaning products. Authorities in another area of south Texas seized 25 pounds of liquid fentanyl, the largest amount of the drug in that form ever seen before.

The seizures further indicate that the cartels are moving their businesses across the border, Maltz explained.

“This demonstrates that the cartels have massive meth and fentanyl conversion labs set up in the USA to convert the drugs from liquid to powder. The reason they can set these labs up in our country is there are so many cartel operatives getting into the country freely. It’s easier to smuggle liquid than powder and this also shows how much demand there is for the deadly drugs in the country,” Maltz said.

The DEA didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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