As far back as the early 2010s, his cartel began spiking Mexican-produced heroin with fentanyl to boost its potency so it could compete with heroin from other regions, Donovan said.
But the cartel is not good at mixing and measuring, and the amount of fentanyl in counterfeit pills can vary from 0.03 to 1.99 milligrams per tablet — in other words, from almost none to a lethal dose.
“The drugs keep flowing,” he said, “and the business goes on.” A soldier keeps watch outside the house where five people were shot dead during an operation to recapture the world's top drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in Mexico on Jan.
There’s a side to the war on drugs that most Americans never see.
Zambada has proven more elusive, simply by staying in his rural stronghold where the cartel holds sway.
If Guzman had done like Zambada “and just stayed up in the mountains, perhaps he would still be a free man,” said Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the DEA.
Although they aren’t always in the American public eye, drug interdiction programs that go after international trafficking can promise much greater payoffs than street-level enforcement at home. The demands of American drug interdiction can strain the law enforcement and military resources of countries that aren’t always willing or eager to support our drugs-and-prohibition habit.
Stop the drugs before they ever reach the United States, and there will be fewer drug dealers on American streets. Standing up to the United States isn’t easy, either, and even America’s friends can’t necessarily persuade it to change policies.
Today the cartel is seen as firmly under the command of Zambada in partnership with Guzman’s sons Ivan, Archivaldo and Alfredo, known collectively as “los Chapitos,” or “the little Chapos.” Ismael Bojorquez, director of the Riodoce newspaper in the Sinaloa state capital of Culiacan, said the Chapitos “control street-level drug dealing, especially in Culiacan, and the defense operations, the weapons,” while “El Mayo takes care of the big deals.” Guzman, whose conviction Tuesday in New York likely means he will spend decades behind bars in the United States, is famous for twice pulling off brazen escapes from maximum-security prisons, earning him international notoriety perhaps rivaled only by the late Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
He is said to have a voracious appetite for luxury goods and women, marrying multiple times, including to an 18-year-old beauty queen in 2007.