The new DEA boss wants to disrupt the distribution of synthetic drugs from the cartels

Imported chemicals allow Mexican organizations to eliminate middlemen and increase production of methamphetamine and fentanyl in exported quantities

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Greg Millard has been tracking the drug trade for more than two decades. He’s seen the trends come and go, but what’s happening right now on the US-Mexico border bothers him.

“We’ve really seen a transition over the past few years,” he says. “Years ago it would have been cocaine, heroin, marijuana – anyone who takes a plant to grow somewhere […] What we’ve seen in the last two years is the shift to synthetic drugs: crystal meth, fentanyl. These synthetic drugs are really dangerous, extremely profitable and (the cartels) are able to control the supply.

Drug overdose deaths in the United States topped 100,000 last year, due to increased abuse of synthetic opioids like fentanyl and psychostimulants like methamphetamines. Cocaine-related deaths have also increased, as have deaths from prescription painkillers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The new special agent in charge of the El Paso local office of the Drug Enforcement Administration has made combating crystal meth trafficking and the smuggling of fentanyl from Mexico his top priority. But the strategy also includes elements of public education to reduce the demand that keeps the cartels in business.

“I look forward to the challenge of leading the division in combating the significant drug threats we see in the region, and we will do so through strong enforcement action, strong community outreach and prevention education programs,” Millard said.

Millard arrived in El Paso in late 2020 as Deputy Special Agent in Charge. He previously worked at DEA offices in Austin, Tallahassee and Miami and was the resident agent in charge of the office in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

He has been the acting SAC since last September, although he remains active as an assistant instructor with the Office of the Chief Counsel’s Use of Force Unit which trains federal agents in the use lethal and non-lethal force.

The University of Florida Law School graduate recently spoke to Border Report about the challenges posed by drug cartels using the El Paso-Juarez, Mexico drug corridor.

These organizations are smaller but much more efficient than they have been in the past.

El Paso DEA Special Agent in Charge Greg Millard (Border Report photo)

“Mexican organizations no longer rely on a cartel in Colombia or Lima, Peru, or a plant grown in Bolivia,” he said. “They get precursor chemicals – often from China, Southeast Asia – and they are able to manufacture the drugs in Mexico and smuggle them into the United States,” he said.

To do this, the cartels now rely on smaller criminal groups and even on a network of “freelancers” attracted by the lure of easy gain or who need to fuel their addiction.

“There are several cartels operating in Juarez and affiliated with the cartels. And there are also freelancers. People on both sides of the border have aligned themselves with the cartels,” Millard said. “They use their various partnerships and affiliates to get their drugs across.”

Although some contraband crosses the border wall, the cartels send most of their illicit drugs directly through southern ports of entry. It’s a game of chance that has worked for them for many years and is based on the probability that all passenger vehicles, trucks or pedestrians will not be searched.

So while the DEA works on the intelligence side, border drug interdiction is a joint venture.

“Our main goal is to enforce criminal drug laws. We work closely with our partners – US Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations, FBI, Border Patrol. But our goal is to investigate the biggest threat in your area and here in El Paso is obviously the criminal drug networks in Mexico,” he said.

The DEA’s El Paso office has 69 criminals on its most wanted list, many of whom are Mexican nationals. The list includes high profile drug lords who are in Mexican prisons, such as Vicente Carrillo Fuentes and Adan Salazar Zamorano. It also includes suspected leaders of La Linea, the Sinaloa Cartel, and crime cell operators in Palomas and Ojinaga, Mexico.

The list and photographs of the fugitives can be found here.

Alvin J. Chase