Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen started her two-day trip to Mexico Wednesday to promote her agency’s new task force to help combat fentanyl trafficking to the U.S., in her first visit since being elected.
The Counter-Fentanyl Strike Force, which was announced on Monday, consists of personnel and intelligence from throughout the Treasury Department to more effectively collaborate on stopping drugs from entering the country.
One of Yellen’s missions on this trip is to disrupt the Beltran Leyva Organization, which the Treasury calls “one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in the world,” and a major supplier of cocaine and now fentanyl, to the U.S.
In Mexico City, Yellen began communication with government and private sector leaders about ending finance that funds the drug trade and boosting supply chains through her “friend-shoring” initiative. A focal point of the trip will be on preventing fentanyl financing.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Mexico and China are the primary sources for fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked directly into the U.S. Most of the chemicals that are needed to make fentanyl come from China.
“Combating the flow of deadly fentanyl into communities across the United States is a top priority for President Biden as well as the Treasury Department,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. She said that the task force will “allow us to bring the department’s unrivaled expertise in fighting financial crime to bear against this deadly epidemic.”
Treasury officials, including Brian Nelson, the department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, have been traveling to the southern border this year to work alongside local authorities on ending drug trafficking through sanction efforts.
Nelson is the co-chair of the strike force with IRS Criminal Investigations Chief Jim Lee.
Nelson stated that the strike force “will act quickly and decisively with the top specialists from across the department to nimbly respond to the newest threats.”
Yellen also stated that the task force will allow the government to go after individuals who are involved with the drug trade.
“We have authorities now that I think make it easier for us to go after middlemen who are not actually trading fentanyl itself but goods like pill presses and pharmaceuticals that aren’t export controlled,” Yellen said.
“But when used as part of a cartel to facilitate the drug trade, we can now come down and put sanctions on those entities,” she added.
Today, I met with Secretary of Finance and Public Credit Rogelio Ramirez de la O of Mexico to discuss our collaborative efforts to combat fentanyl and illicit finance and to deepen the ties between our two economies, which benefits both our nations. pic.twitter.com/K5a4oJ1MLz
— Secretary Janet Yellen (@SecYellen) December 7, 2023
Fentanyl is the deadliest drug in the U.S. today. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 71,000 people have died from overdosing on synthetic opioids in 2021, up from almost 58,000 in 2020.
The death toll is more than 10 times as many drug deaths as in 1988, at the height of the crack epidemic.