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Mexican soldiers seize nearly 630,000 fentanyl pills inside "highest-capacity synthetic drug production lab on record"

Ernst on the spy balloon, China's role in fentanyl crisis
Sen. Joni Ernst says China is "intentionally poisoning" Americans amid fentanyl crisis 05:33

Mexican soldiers seized more than a half million fentanyl pills in a raid on the largest synthetic drug lab found to date, the country's army announced Wednesday.

The army said the outdoor lab was discovered in Culiacan, the capital of the northern state of Sinaloa. Sinaloa is home to the drug cartel of the same name.

Soldiers raided the lab Tuesday and found almost 630,000 pills that appear to contain the synthetic opioid fentanyl. They also reported seizing 282 pounds of powdered fentanyl and about 220 pounds of suspected methamphetamines.

"This is the highest-capacity synthetic drug production lab on record during this administration," the army said in a statement.

Mexican drug cartels produce the opioid from precursor chemicals shipped from China, and then press it into pills counterfeited to look like Xanax, Percocet or Oxycodone. People often take the pills without knowing they contain fentanyl and can suffer deadly overdoses.

"There's a relationship between these Chinese chemical companies and the criminal cartels in Mexico," DEA Administrator Anne Milgram told CBS News last year.

DEA administrator on record fentanyl overdose deaths and how cartels target Americans 07:31

In 2022, the Drug Enforcement Administration seized enough fentanyl to kill every American — more than 50 million fentanyl-laced pills and over 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder. 

The bust came on the same day that the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the huge number of U.S. fentanyl overdoses that occur annually, currently around 70,000.

The committee's chair, Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, called on Mexico to do more.

"This means asking Mexico to do more to disrupt the criminal organizations from producing and trafficking fentanyl, although a politicized judiciary and incidents of Mexican security forces colluding with drug cartels will make that difficult," he said.

Last week, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst accused China of "intentionally poisoning" Americans by not stopping the supply chain networks that produce fentanyl.

"The Chinese are selling these precursor chemicals into Mexico. Then the Mexican cartels are working on making the fentanyl and distributing up into the United States," the Iowa senator told CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge in an interview last Friday.

Ernst, who recently traveled to Mexico and the southern border as part of a congressional delegation, said she believes the flow of the precursor chemicals into Mexico is happening with the tacit approval of the Chinese Communist Party.

Caitlin Yilek contributed to this report.

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