By “El Huaso” for Borderland Beat

The Mexican army seized a large methamphetamine and fentanyl producing drug lab in Pueblos Unidos, a small town near Culiacán, Sinaloa, on February 14, 2023.  The state of Sinaloa, controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel, is the epicenter of synthetic drug production in Mexico, reveals government data.

According to the Secretary of Defense press release, the lab was found in the countryside outside Pueblos Unidos by the army while investigating organized crime in the region.

“It is the second largest laboratory we have found and destroyed ever”, said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the daily briefing on Monday.

A video shown at the daily briefing shows several tables set up inside a building with what appears to be piles of granulated fentanyl in the middle of the production process.

Drugs Seized

128.03 kg granulated fentanyl

629,138 likely fentanyl pills, weighing 68.576 kg

100 kg of meth

Precursor chemicals used to create drugs

750 kg Tartaric acid

275 kg Mannitol

225 kg Caustic Soda

28 Chemical Synthesis Reactors (lab equipment)

Based on the quantity of Chemical Synthesis Reactors, the Secretary of Defense press release claims this is the clandestine laboratory with the largest production capability found in the current administration. 

Borderland Beat Analysis 

Decreasing fentanyl production and traffic into the United States is a top priority for the US government. Just yesterday in a Senate hearing, DEA director Anne Milgram said that the DEA is unhappy with Mexico’s cooperation in stopping the flow of fentanyl. In addition, the US is struggling to engage with China, the source nation for many precursor chemicals used to produce meth and fentanyl, said Todd Robinson, the Assistant Secretary to the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

According to Mexico’s Secretariat of Defense, 1,164 clandestine laboratories have been found by the Military in Mexico since the beginning of the López Obrador administration. 

There is no official breakdown by state, but a Military press release on drug labs in Sinaloa reported that there were 780 clandestine labs found in the state since the start of the López Obrador administration up until July 2022, meaning that even lacking 8 months of drub lab seizure data from Sinaloa, this one state counts for at least 67% of all drug labs found nationally. Again, this percentage would increase drastically if these months would be added.

The state of Sinaloa is firmly under control of the Sinaloa Cartel, which is split into two factions, one led by the sons of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, commonly called “Los Chapitos”, and the other led by Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada. This particular area, around the town of Pueblos Unidos, is controlled by El Mayo’s faction.

The data showing a heavy concentration of drug labs in the territory of the Sinaloa Cartel lends credence to what many journalists and experts say; the Sinaloa Cartel are the main producers of synthetic drugs in Mexico for transport into the United States. Facilitated by both easy access to precursor chemicals from Asia by sea, and extensive control over the Sinaloa countryside, both factions are able to construct hundreds of low cost clandestine labs.

This fentanyl is entirely for the international market. As journalist Ioan Grillo writes, the sale of fentanyl inside the state of Sinaloa is banned by the Sinaloa Cartel, due to the immense harm it causes. 


SEDENA Press Release

PBS Newshour

SEDENA Operaciones contra el Narcotráfico

SEDENA July 16, 2022 Press Release

Ioan Grillo Substack

Images: InfoBae

Tovar Manuel Twitter