Presumed illegal drug consumers on the streets of Tijuana, Mexico, on July 26, 2023. EFE/ Joebeth Terriquez

Fentanyl deaths spark alerts along Mexico’s northern border

Tijuana, Mexico, July 27 (EFE).- Although President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador denies that Mexico has a problem with the production and consumption of fentanyl, authorities in the northwestern state of Baja California, on the border with the United States, are on alert due to the dozens of recent deaths from overdoses of the synthetic drug.

Presumed illegal drug consumers on the streets of Tijuana, Mexico, on July 26, 2023.  EFE/ Joebeth Terriquez

The head of the state’s Forensic Medical Service (Semefo), Cesar Vaca, said in a report released earlier in July that of the 200 people who died from drug overdoses in 2022, at least 60 of those deaths were due to fentanyl overdoses.

Presumed illegal drug consumers on the streets of Tijuana, Mexico, on July 26, 2023.  EFE/ Joebeth Terriquez

“Here, we don’t deny that it is a potential problem. Addiction is a public health problem in Baja California and we’re concerned about the access and availability of fentanyl on the streets,” said Adrian Medina Amarillas, the head of the state’s Health Secretariat, in an interview with reporters.

“Here, we’ve never hidden or denied the risk we have for being a border state and a neighbor to the US state that has the most problems – California,” he added.

But Medina also said that the problem generally exists because people don’t know what they are consuming, as well as the fact that the drug “is contaminating other substances such as methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, given that they are prepared in the same (containers) as the fentanyl”.

“This is what has caused a significant number of deaths in our state, because they don’t know what it contains and it generally comes in doses greater than two grams. … We know that it’s lethal when that amount is exceeded,” he said.

In July 2022, Semefo launched a pilot program in Mexicali, the capital of Baja California, to conduct testing to determine what drugs are consumed most among the people who die of drug overdoses in the city, and that study will be replicated in Tijuana in the coming months.

Regarding the results, Medina said that about 30 percent of the people who died of drug overdoses in Mexicali had traces of fentanyl in their bodies and in 50 percent of the cases other types of psychoactive substances were identified, such as crystal meth and heroin.

Medina noted that “this percentage … is very high and it doesn’t mean that all these people … died from fentanyl intoxication.”

However, he added that “this alerts us because we know that usage is increasing.”

The Baja California state Human Rights Commission (CEDHBC) confirmed to EFE in a statement that, for the past month they have been investigating the deaths of inmates from fentanyl overdoses in state prisons although the number of those deaths was not specified.

In an investigation carried out in vulnerable areas of Tijuana, EFE determined that use and consumption of fentanyl is quite prevalent among the homeless.

In a Tuesday meeting of the Trilateral Fentanyl Committee, Mexican Security Secretary Rosa Icela Rodriguez told the United States and Canada that so far during Lopez Obrador’s 2018-2024 presidential term, Mexican authorities have destroyed 1,788 synthetic drug laboratories.

This, she claimed, has negatively impacted organized crime by some $95 billion.

But the official position of the Lopez Obrador administration is that in Mexico there is no fentanyl consumption problem and that the drug is not being produced on Mexican territory.

Fentanyl is a highly potent synthetic “piperidine opioid” drug that is mainly used as an analgesic, most frequently for cancer patients and those recovering from very painful surgery since it is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, although it is also used as a sedative. The drug is very fast acting and ingesting only a relatively small quantity can result in overdose.

EFE –/bp