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Cities far from the border say they’re dealing with cartel drugs

  • Drugs with links to Mexican cartels are present in many U.S. cities
  • Some officials say that's to be expected and part of a more complex issue
  • Today's fentanyl crisis is part of an ongoing figth against opioids

An used syringe is discarded while prescription medication is strewn about haphazardly.

(NewsNation) — As a national fentanyl crisis continues to take its toll, officials in cities across the U.S. are working to stem the flow of drugs into their area.

More than 1,000 miles away from the border, the newly appointed special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Chicago division is making Mexican cartels a priority in her office.

Special Agent Shelia Lyons said the cartels have an influence on the city’s drug activity, telling the Chicago Sun-Times her goal was to fight the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels that supply the city with a multitude of drugs, including fentanyl, heroin and cocaine.

In an interview with NBC’s Chicago affiliate, Lyons said, “the tentacles of the cartels from Mexico have associates and logistical ties to all of the cities in the United States.”

“Specifically, Chicago because of the many transportation hubs that Chicago houses,” Lyons told NBC. “These cartels are ruthless. Expansion is all they care about because if you expand the people who are addicted, your profits go up.”

Lyons, an expert on Mexican drug trafficking organizations, Russian organized crime and undercover operations, stepped into her new role this month. Her career has spanned more than 30 years and includes work on one of the teams that identified Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s networks throughout Illinois, according to a DEA news release.

According to a 2017 DEA report, Mexican cartels often move their drug shipments to Chicago by employing a series of intermediaries.

Those individuals oversee the shipment of drugs across the southwest border and arrange sales to wholesale and mid-level customers.  

Although those intermediary employees are usually based in the U.S., they maintain close relationships with cartel figures in Mexico, according to the report.

Chicago isn’t alone in its fight against drugs, however, and Mexican drug cartels aren’t the only ones responsible for the United States addiction crisis.

Last December, authorities arrested 22 people in Butte, Montana, three of whom were associates of the Sinaloa Cartel — the violent group once run by Guzman.

NewsNation also learned drugs found in tourist towns such as Seaside, Oregon, several years ago could be linked to Mexico’s Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Kansas has also reported suspected cartel-affiliated activity. DEA Public Information Officer Andree Swanson, however, told NewsNation affiliate KSNT that drug trafficking involves a complex system.

“All drug trafficking in the United States can be traced through a distribution network that will go back to Mexico,” Swanson told KSNT. “It is simplifying it to say there are cartels in Topeka.”

The U.S. has faced three notable waves of epidemic-level opioid overdose deaths. The first began in 1999 with overdose deaths involving prescription opioids. That phase shifted to heroin-related overdoses in 2010, and a spike in fentanyl-related deaths followed shortly after in 2013.

Nearly 190 people die each day in the U.S. from an overdose of either prescription or illicit opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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