Mexico says fentanyl seizures up almost six-fold in 2020

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Seizures of fentanyl in Mexico rose almost six-fold this year, the government said on Thursday, amid more production of the dangerous synthetic opioid that has been blamed for causing thousands of overdose deaths in the United States.

Mexican authorities seized 1,301 kilograms (2,868 lbs)of the drug in 2020, up from 222 kilograms (489 lbs)last year, Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval told a regular government news conference.

Mexican security officials also raided 175 fentanyl laboratories, almost double the number from last year.

In the United States, fentanyl has helped to fuel a worsening epidemic of overdose deaths, which hit a record 81,000 in the 12 months through May 2020, U.S. official data show.

The seizures coincided with growth in demand, despite government-backed efforts in both the United States and Mexico to disrupt illegal distribution and to treat addicts.

"These drugs are much more profitable for criminal organizations, there's a high addictive capacity for consumers... and they easily lend themselves to illegal trafficking," Sandoval said.

Seizures of other drugs also increased.

Authorities confiscated 27,584 kilograms (60,812 lb)of cocaine, 45% more than last year; 244,112 kilograms (538,175 lbs)of marijuana, up 8%; and 34,555 kilograms (76,180.73 lbs)of methamphetamine, also up 8%.

Earlier this year, the government ordered the armed forces to manage the ports in an effort to curb the entry of materials from Asia used to make synthetic drugs.

(Reporting by Raul Cortes; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Dan Grebler)