The U.S. is preparing to announce a deal with Mexico to counter fentanyl coming across the southern border, with Mexico cracking down on labs and smuggling while the U.S. does more to stop the flow of U.S. guns into Mexico, two sources familiar with the strategy told NBC News.
Mexican military and police, with the help of U.S. law enforcement, will focus on tracking raw materials for fentanyl being shipped to Mexico, finding and shutting down labs that make the deadly synthetic opioid and going after key players in the illicit fentanyl trade, the sources said.
In return, the Biden administration has agreed to more tightly control and track firearms crossing from the U.S. into Mexico.
The tentative agreement is the result of months of tense discussions between top Biden administration officials and the Mexican government, the sources said.
The White House and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Previously, NBC News reported that current and former U.S. officials said the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico in the war to fight drugs had reached a low point.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in a speech this month that fentanyl is America’s problem and that none of the drug is produced in his country.
“Here, we do not produce fentanyl, and we do not have consumption of fentanyl,” López Obrador said, suggesting that the U.S. instead take care of its problem of “social decay.”
In fiscal year 2022, Customs and Border Protection found and confiscated over 50,000 pounds of fentanyl crossing the southern border. Mexican cartels often use the powerful drug to cheaply and deceptively boost the impact of other, less lethal drugs, such as cocaine or Adderall. Many users don’t know they’re using fentanyl until the drug has ended their lives.
According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 70,000 people in the U.S. died from synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, in 2021, the latest year for which its data is available.
During the conversations between U.S. and Mexican officials, the sources said, the Mexicans routinely said that U.S. guns were taking Mexican lives and that any conversation about fentanyl’s taking U.S. lives should also address that problem.
As a result, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has agreed to more tightly monitor the flow of guns from the U.S. to Mexico, the sources said.
Another part of the agreement will include giving each country access to the other’s data about where fentanyl turns up to better track distribution routes.
Part of the struggle to curb the flow of fentanyl from Mexico is that Mexico is experiencing high levels of violence, absorbing the attention of its police and military. Four Americans were kidnapped and two were killed this month in Mexico.
U.S. federal law enforcement entities work closely with the Mexican government to root out drug smuggling. Now the Mexican government has agreed to provide more staffing, while the U.S. is ready to commit more money, toward operations targeting drugs, the sources said.
Depending on how much money the U.S. commits — and how much Mexico accepts — the new strategy could be the most robust agreement on drugs and firearms flowing between Mexico and the U.S. since the George W. Bush administration’s Merida initiative in 2004. In that initiative, the U.S. provided more than $1.5 billion to Mexico. It has yet to be determined how much financial assistance the U.S. will give Mexico as a part of the latest plan, the sources said.