DEA chief warns Mexican cartel opioids single biggest criminal threat to America

Uttam Dhillon, the acting director of the Drug Enforcement Administration, warns that Mexican drug cartels pose the “biggest” threat to the national security and health of U.S. citizens.

“Mexican drug trafficking organizations are the biggest criminal threat the United States faces today,” Dhillon, told Hill.TV co-hosts Krystal Ball and Buck Sexton on "Rising" during an interview that aired on Monday.

The DEA official said Mexican cartels are responsible for distributing a vast majority of deadly synthetic drugs like methamphetamines and fentanyl that are coming across the southern U.S. border.

“What they’re doing is they're mixing fentanyl with heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine so every time someone takes an illegal drug, they’re literally taking their lives into their own hands,” he said.

Dhillon joined the DEA in July and previously served as the Director of the Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security.

He said federal and local officials are continuing to work with their Mexican counterparts to better disrupt drug networks throughout the two nations.

He cited a recent bust of a “lab” in Mexicali, Mexico, where he said officials seized more than 20,000 carfentanil pills.

Originally designed as a tranquilizer for elephants, carfentanil is not approved for human use. The synthetic opioid is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which is noted for being 50 times more potent than heroin.

Dhillon also emphasized China’s growing influence on the opioid epidemic due to its production of fentanyl.

A year-long congressional report found that the deadly substance could be bought online from Chinese labs and mailed through the U.S. Postal Service.

But the DEA official told Hill.TV that federal officials have made progress with China, citing good law enforcement contacts and plans to open a second foreign office there next year. 

Chinese fentanyl has ushered in a new era of drug kingpins and the way synthetic drugs are trafficked around the world.

China argues that it’s not entirely to blame for the fentanyl epidemic.

China’s drug control agency, the National Narcotics Commission, said in June that the U.S. could do more to cut its demand for opioids to tackle the use of fentanyl, and vowed to step up cooperation with U.S. officials after President TrumpDonald John TrumpProsecutors investigating Trump inaugural fund, pro-Trump super PAC for possible illegal foreign donations: NY Times George Conway: Why take Trump's word over prosecutors' if he 'lies about virtually everything' Federal judge says lawsuit over Trump travel ban waivers will proceed MORE blamed the country for fueling the U.S. opioid crisis.

Last year, 72,000 Americans died of a result of drug overdoses — more than 50,000 of those deaths were related to opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

The House on Friday overwhelmingly passed legislation meant to fight the opioid epidemic, a moment of bipartisanship amid a series of fierce partisan battles.

The bill, which passed 393-8, is expected to soon be sent to President Trump’s desk.

— Tess Bonn

Updated at 5:38 p.m.