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United States and Mexico Step Up Data Sharing to Combat Fentanyl Trafficking

‘We all agreed that this is a shared threat not only for us countries in North America, but around the globe,’ one official said.

Mexico and the United States will increase data sharing to better curb the flow of synthetic drugs including fentanyl.

The two nations have also committed to a suite of actions that will enhance their ability to jointly track and counter the trafficking of drugs, firearms, and human beings, according to senior Biden administration officials.

The agreements are part of a wider effort “to facilitate action against criminal organizations that traffic people, guns, and illicit drugs, including fentanyl into our communities,” the officials said during a Feb. 8 press call.

“We all agreed that this is a shared threat not only for us countries in North America but around the globe,” one official said.

The bilateral engagement came on the sidelines of the fourth meeting of the Trilateral Fentanyl Committee, a forum established by Canada, Mexico, and the United States to guide priority actions to address the illicit fentanyl trade in North America.

There, Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall led a security delegation that met with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and members of the Mexican security cabinet.

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“It was a long and substantive discussion on a range of topics and incredibly productive and constructive from our perspective,” one official said.

“We agreed to two concrete steps to increase information and data sharing between United States and Mexico.”

More than 100,000 Americans die every year due to the opioid epidemic that has ravaged the United States for years now.

Opioid-related overdose deaths have skyrocketed over the past decade.

Deaths due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl have seen the largest spike, increasing more than 580 percent annually from 2012 to 2017, and remain elevated, according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics.
Mexico and the United States are most hard-pressed to combat the illicit flow of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid primarily manufactured in Latin America with precursor chemicals imported from communist China.

One official acknowledged that approximately 110,000 Americans were killed by drug overdose in the past year, with about 70 percent of those deaths stemming from synthetic drugs including fentanyl.

Those numbers appear to have peaked, the official said, but are not yet coming down.

“We have seen the numbers flatten, I would say, so we are hoping that will lead to a decline,” the official said.

“It’s still way too high.”

US, Mexico a Tense Relationship

To that end, the official highlighted the importance of international data sharing, which has led to the recent discovery that medical-grade liquid fentanyl is being released into the market by drug cartels.

One official said that this newer, equally addictive but less lethal version of the drug, “is being introduced into the illicit market in the hopes of trying to hook additional people.”

Relatedly, they said, Canada, Mexico, and the United States had committed to “develop and implement a common drug synthesis analysis protocol, which will allow toxicologists from all three countries to improve our understanding of regional drug trends.”

The nations also committed to increasing cooperation on a range of interlocking issues including illicit drug production, hemispheric migration, firearms trafficking, and increased joint investigations.

Notably, agents from both Canada and Mexico will be sent to the United States to help U.S. border operations better track and understand criminal trends.

“Both Mexico and Canada committed to embed personnel at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, national targeting center to increase and expedite information sharing on criminals and illicit activities associated with the trafficking of both fentanyl and firearms,” one official said.

Mexico and the United States have developed a tense relationship in recent years over myriad issues related to migration, crime, and politics.

American leadership is particularly concerned about drugs flowing through Mexico from South America, while Mexico is busy battling the illegal flow of firearms coming from the United States.

The decline of democratic norms in Mexico, as well as unverified allegations of connections between the drug trade and cabinet members of Mr. Lopez Obrador’s cabinet, have also added moments of tension to the bilateral relationship.

Earlier this month, Mr. Lopez Obrador said continued cooperation on migration and drug trafficking could suffer due to U.S. media reports that suggested his first presidential campaign received contributions stemming from drug money.

“How are we going to sit down at a table and talk about fighting drugs if one of their agencies is leaking information and damaging me?” Mr. Lopez Obrador said.

“How are we going to talk about migration, how are we going to talk about fighting drugs or fentanyl?”

Mr. Lopez Obrador has also complained about the actions of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in Mexico and worked to limit their visas following the arrest of a former Mexican defense secretary by the DEA last year. The United States ultimately dropped the charges and released the former official back to Mexico.

The Biden administration relies heavily on Mr. Lopez Obrador’s cabinet to turn away migrants in Mexico who are headed for the U.S. border.

If Mexico were to stop such efforts, the flow of drugs and illegal immigration into the United States could dramatically increase.

The officials said that the issue of democracy in Mexico “wasn’t the subject of the meeting” and “was never raised.”

They also underscored that the two nations maintained a “very strong foundation of cooperation” and were engaged in “consistent, constructive and candid dialogue.”

“We know that our Mexican colleagues work very hard against this threat on a daily basis, that they make great sacrifices in this fight, you know, the loss of their soldiers and policemen in this fight. And we recognize that and appreciate that.”

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