Alarming news comes from Mexico:

Those are tunnels running under the US/Mexico border. They have been there for many years and are used to smuggle drugs.

On April 19, the Associated Press (AP) reported that Mexican cartels have diversified into deadlier drugs in the coronavirus crisis. Raw materials come from China, but cartels now want to be able to produce them in-house (emphases mine):

Cartels are increasingly shifting away from drugs that require planting and growing seasons, like heroin and marijuana, in favor of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which can be cooked 24/7 throughout the year, are up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and produce a greater profit margin.

Though some clandestine labs that make fentanyl from scratch have popped up sporadically in Mexico, cartels are still very much reliant upon Chinese companies to get the precursor drugs.

Huge amounts of these mail-order components can be traced to a single, state-subsidized company in Wuhan that shut down after the outbreak earlier this year, said Louise Shelley, director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University, which monitors Chinese websites selling fentanyl.

The quarantine of Wuhan and all the chaos there definitely affected the fentanyl trade, particularly between China and Mexico,” said Ben Westhoff, author of “Fentanyl, Inc.”

The main reason China has been the main supplier is the main reason China is the supplier of everything — it does it so cheaply,” Westhoff said. “There was really no cost incentive for the cartels to develop this themselves.”

But costs have been rising and, as in many legitimate industries, the coronavirus is bringing about changes.

Advertised prices across China for precursors of fentanyl, methamphetamine and cutting agents have risen between 25% and 400% since late February, said Logan Pauley, an analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, a Washington-based security research nonprofit. So even as drug precursor plants in China are slowly reopening after the worst of the coronavirus crisis there, some cartels have been taking steps to decrease their reliance on overseas suppliers by enlisting scientists to make their own precursor chemicals.

Because of the coronavirus they’re starting to do it in house,” added Westhoff.

In the meantime, the good news is that the Mexico-to-US supply chain has been ‘gummed up’:

Meanwhile, the gummed up situation on the U.S.-Mexico border resembles a stalled chess match where nobody, especially the traffickers, wants to make a wrong move, said Kyle Williamson, special agent in charge of the DEA’s El Paso field division.

They’re in a pause right now,” Williamson said. “They don’t want to get sloppy and take a lot of risks.”

Nonetheless, illicit drugs are still being smuggled across the border, and in some places, such as Los Angeles County, there is vulnerability as law enforcement officers have been reassigned to patrol duties:

… the pandemic also has limited law enforcement’s effectiveness, as departments cope with drug investigators working remotely, falling ill and navigating a new landscape in which their own activities have become more conspicuous. In Los Angeles County, half of the narcotics detectives have been put on patrol duty, potentially imperiling long-term investigations.

In Texas, it’s a different story:

Capt. Chris Sandoval, who oversees special investigations for the Houston-based Harris County Sheriff’s Office, said there’s a new saying among his detectives: “Not even the dope dealers can hide from the coronavirus.”

One can but hope.

The move towards deadlier drugs, however, could pose a much more serious long term problem.