Yearlong DEA operation cracks down on cartel associates distributing drugs in the US

In one year, the DEA has arrested thousands.

May 5, 2023, 5:55 PM

The Drug Enforcement Administration on Friday announced a crackdown on Mexican drug cartel operations in the United States over the span of one year.

From May 1, 2022, to May 1, 2023, the DEA arrested 3,337 people and seized nearly 44 million fentanyl pills, more than 6,500 pounds of fentanyl powder, more than 91,000 pounds of methamphetamine, 8,497 firearms, and more than $100 million, according to a statement from the department. The fentanyl powder and pill seizures equate to nearly 193 million deadly doses of fentanyl removed from communities across the United States, which have prevented "countless potential drug poisoning deaths," the statement added.

Dubbed "Operation Last Mile," the DEA targeted associates of the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels who, according to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, contribute heavily to the fentanyl problem in America.

"We're targeting every part of these criminal networks," Milgram said in an interview with ABC News.

PHOTO: DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, left, speaks as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams, right, listens during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., April 14, 2023.
DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, left, speaks as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams, right, listens during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., April 14, 2023.
Susan Walsh/AP

"Sinaola is in 45 countries around the world, so these are global operations," she said.

Mexican drug cartels add the deadly drug, which has killed over 100,000 in the United States over the past year, to everything from Adderall sold on the street to cocaine, officials said. In cases where fentanyl isn't deadly, it becomes highly addictive, Milgram added.

"[The drug is] cheap to make. It is 50 times more addictive than heroin," Milgram said. "So many Americans are dying of fentanyl and they never knew that they were taking it."

As part of Friday's announcement, Milgram said the DEA is targeting the precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl, which originate in China. Milgram said that in 2019, China stopped shipping fentanyl to the United States, and instead shipped the chemicals.

"It shows us that if China wanted to stop this, they could," she said. "They could, if they wanted to stop these chemical companies from exporting. They could."

"And it's a vital part of this conversation because unlike plant based drugs, like cocaine or heroin, with synthetic man made drugs like fentanyl, or methamphetamine, the only limit on how how much fentanyl the cartel can make is how many chemicals they can get their hands on," she continued.

She said the DEA hasn't gotten cooperation from China.

"We've asked the Chinese government for assistance with stopping the precursors. We've not had cooperation on narcotics in many months at this point in time, but absolutely we think China can do more and needs to do more to stop it," she continued.

The Justice Department last month charged more than two dozen members of the Sinaloa Cartel's Chapitos network and detailed shocking acts of violence allegedly perpetrated by the Chapitos network to protect their fentanyl trafficking operations.

Xylazine, also known as "tranq", is a powerful sedative that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved for veterinary use that is being mixed with fentanyl -- a combination the DEA Administrator says is the deadliest drug in America. Milgram said it is in 7% of the pills the agency is seizing and is in 48 states.

"It's a significant threat to our community."

Since 2020, drug overdoses have been linked to more than 100,000 deaths annually in the U.S., about two-thirds of which are fentanyl-related.