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Drug Enforcement Administration

New York

Raymond P. Donovan, Special Agent in Charge

January 26, 2021

Contact: Erin Mulvey

Phone Number: (212) 337-2906

DEA warns of methamphetamine and fentanyl drug market built by aftermath of COVID-19 in New York

Shadowing Covid-19-related deaths, fatal drug overdoses continue to climb

NEW YORK CITY – The New York Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized an alarming amount of methamphetamine and fentanyl during 2020.  In Fiscal Year 2020, there was a 214% increase in methamphetamine and 59% rise in fentanyl seized in New York, in comparison to 2019.  These two increases indicate an alarming trend in street drugs and cause concern because methamphetamine and fentanyl are dangerously potent, are mass produced by Mexican cartels, and are two top contributors to overdose deaths in the United States between May 2019 and May 2020, according to the Center of Disease Control (CDC) Health Alert Network.  

“Last month, the CDC Health Alert Network issued an advisory warning that drug overdose deaths significantly increased across the United States, especially deaths involving psychostimulants (methamphetamine) and synthetic opioids (fentanyl),” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan.  “There were an estimated 81,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States from May 2019 to May 2020 justifying a need to alert New Yorkers that drug overdose deaths lurk behind the public health crisis caused by COVID-19.”  

Over the past year, DEA New York identified that COVID-19 affected drug trafficking organizations operations’ production, packaging, transportation, distribution, and money laundering tactics. The DEA New York Division seized nearly $170 million of drug proceeds and assets, and over $603 million dollars’ worth of illicit drugs.  Of particular significance is the upsurge in methamphetamine and fentanyl seizures in New York which parallel CDC’s overdose death data. 

“When drug traffickers introduced fentanyl to the illicit drug market, they created a monster,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan.  “Fentanyl has been a public health nuisance for several years and has taken too many lives too often.   We have seen fentanyl mixed with heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and even marijuana; and it is estimated that 60%+ of all drug overdose deaths in New York City involve fentanyl.  Like methamphetamine, fentanyl is produced in ‘Super Labs’ by Mexican trafficking organizations, packaged, and pushed through the border for distribution across the nation.”    

DEA intelligence and investigations identified that Mexican cartels’ ability to transport their illicit drugs across the border was interrupted by increased security during COVID-19, but they adapted.  During that time, New York saw trafficking organizations employ mail services to send smaller and more frequent loads of highly potent drugs like fentanyl to criminal networks in New York.  Mexican cartels took advantage of their ability to process fentanyl into pill forms for easier transport, concealment, and ultimate user popularity.  Their trafficking foundation facilitated methamphetamine loads to New York.  New York has not been a major methamphetamine market in the past, but the increase in seizures indicates the Mexican cartels continue to push it into the Northeast.  DEA New York investigations have revealed that traffickers have packed methamphetamine within ordinary products, such as baby wipe containers, to conceal it when shipping via parcel delivery.  Meth has also been found secreted in shipments of produce from tractor trailers originating from cities along the Southwest border and in hidden compartments inside vehicles.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported methamphetamine seizures increased 27% from FY 2019 to 2020 on the Southwest Border.

Through our investigations, there leaves little doubt that drug trafficking and violence go hand in hand. There was a significant increase of 137% of guns seized as part of our investigations from 2019 to 2020.  DEA task forces throughout New York State work diligently with our partners to make our cities, towns, home, neighborhoods safe from drug trafficking and gun violence.  Operation Project Safeguard is a national initiative focused on reducing violent crime in communities, and the New York Division has worked with our law enforcement partners to identify and prioritize ongoing drug trafficking investigations with a nexus to violent crime.  

DEA Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan stated, “Approximately 90% of all the illicit drugs in the United States come from Mexico and the majority go to major transportation hubs like New York for further distribution.  Since the initial disruption of COVID-19, Mexican Cartels have reinforced supplies of precursor materials, increased production and are sending larger fentanyl and methamphetamine loads into the US.  Now, more than ever, is the time for collaborative law enforcement efforts to target drug trafficking networks and decrease drug-related violence in our cities.  In addition to enforcement, it is a time for increased public awareness of the dangers of high-potency street drugs causing overdoses and drug-related deaths.  DEA and our law enforcement partners are committed to saving lives through our investigations into drug traffickers at all levels; from investigating the local drug distribution networks to the most violent and prolific drug traffickers in the world.”

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