The global pandemic coronavirus is putting a dent to the illegal drug trade with borders closed and economies paralyzed in many countries. The ongoing quarantine measures severed the supply chain in China. Traffickers rely on Chinese companies for chemicals used to make methamphetamine and fentanyl.

Authorities and trafficking experts still report cartel drug sales in Mexico and Colombia. However, the isolation policies have effectively disrupted much of the production, transport, and sales of illicit drugs. 

Drug cartels often used the bustling traffic along the U.S.- Mexico border as cover. The vehicles have been reduced to a trickle after state governments imposed lockdown measures. Marketplaces such as bars, nightclubs, and motels have also closed doors. Prices for drugs in short supply have also seen a massive surge in recent weeks. 

Virtually every illegal drug was affected by the coronavirus crisis. Traffickers are stockpiling drugs and cash. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, also reported a decrease in drug sales on the dark web.

Price Hike

According to Phil Jordan, a former director of the DEA, cocaine prices rose by 20 percent in some cities. Heroin has become a rare find, while supplies of fentanyl are running out. In Los Angeles, a pound of methamphetamine fetches for $1,800.

Cartels reportedly shift their attention to synthetic opioids that can be cooked throughout the year. The synthetic drugs are 50 times more potent than heroin and marijuana. They can produce a higher profit margin for the traffickers. 

Some clandestine labs have set up camp in Mexico, making fentanyl from scratch. However, most cartels still rely on mail-order components from a state-subsidized company in Wuhan, which shut down after the outbreak. 

Prices for the components have also increased between 25 to 400 percent in late February, leading cartels to hire scientists to develop their own chemicals. Some Chinese companies have begun selling "coronavirus drugs" like hydroxychloroquine.

Some cartels have given orders to stop selling methamphetamine to manipulate the market. Anyone caught selling them will be due for punishment. 

Kidnap for Ransom

With drug sales plummetting, numerous cartels, especially those along the border, have made asylum seekers the new commodity. Residents living in border towns such as Ciudad Juarez have fallen victim to the new money-making tactics developed by drug traffickers in the area. 

U.S. asylum seekers are fighting to survive both the virus and violence in the hands of cartel members. With the borders closed, many are forced to stay in nearby cities---places overrun by powerful cartels battling over territory. 

In March 2020, a 41-year-old woman and her daughter were kidnapped in Ciudad Juarez and brought to an empty house in the desert. The woman, Elizabeth, suffered sexual assault in the hands of the men suspected to be drug cartel members. 

The abductors reportedly called her relatives, asking for a sum of $10,000 to $20,000 for her freedom. Elizabeth's family was unable to give the money after a few days. 

The perpetrators threw a chemical solution at her legs, which burned a hole in her ankle so deep her bone showed. 

A nonprofit organization found 816 more incidents of violence on asylum seekers. While not all victims are subjected to acid burns, most still face terrifying torture. 

Elizabeth's case is only one in the hundreds, possibly thousands, of cases of violence on people waiting at the border. Some victims are set free after the kidnappers receive the money. Many end up in unmarked mass graves.

Want to read more?