Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, December 16, 2022

To Live And Die In Tijuana - Part 1 of 3

“Mica/DrivingMSSQL” for Enjoy! 

Three worlds overlap in Mexico’s new fentanyl capital, where violence and synthetic drugs are bound dangerously together. Addicts, journalists, and police navigate a city in disarray.

A dried-up canal slices through the heart of Tijuana, a streak of negative space in a city where every other square foot appears to be claimed. The canalización, as people call it, is a place now emblematic of the city’s ills, an underworld in plain sight.

The Canalización

The chaos has spilled outward across Tijuana. There have been 1,900 homicides here this year so far, making it the deadliest city in Mexico. It is a place where language has adapted to new forms of violence, macabre and hyper-specific. The word “encobijado,” for instance: a murder victim wrapped in a blanket.

Propelling that violence is a shift in the drug trade. Tijuana has long been a major transit point for illicit goods into the United States: alcohol during Prohibition, waves of marijuana and cocaine after that. Now, it is a city of fentanyl. It is the most prolific trafficking hub into the United States for the drug and, increasingly, a city of users.

It is their lifeless bodies that paramedics find on the streets. They are just as frequently victims of overdoses as violence. The turf war between local drug dealers has provoked a nightly shock of killings.

The Washington Post followed the fentanyl epidemic from Mexican labs to U.S. streets.

The crisis has penetrated unlikely parts of Tijuana. Fentanyl labs have been disguised as piñata shops. Traffickers have turned modern townhouses into drug warehouses.

Men emerge, zombielike, between downtown restaurants, seeking available drugs wherever they can find them.

Chapter 1

He woke up next to a pile of trash two blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border, on a patch of sidewalk that has been claimed by this city’s fentanyl addicts, almost all of them deportees from the United States.

José González folded his blanket on the concrete and checked to see whether anything had been stolen from him while he slept. Most of the men around him — he’s careful not to call them friends — had already taken their first hit of the day. They stared blankly ahead or at the ground, oblivious while José inventoried his things.

“This goddamn place,” he said.

José had been the starting right tackle at Redlands High School outside of San Bernardino, Calif., a teenager who had passed as all-American until his friends learned that he was undocumented, brought to the United States as a 4-year-old. By the time he was deported at 23 for selling drugs, he had a girlfriend and a daughter in San Bernardino. His English was far better than his Spanish.

Not that anyone in Tijuana cared about his biography. Not the cops, who had arrested him 12 times for violations as minor as loitering, sending him to jail for a day or two at a time. Not his junkie neighbors, who had once again, it seemed, stolen his stuff while he slept.

He had remained here after being deported in 2013 to be close to his daughter in California. He kicked his drug habit. He got a job at a call center. He bought a closet full of button-down shirts.

But after a few months — alone and depressed — he began using again. At first, it was a few hits of heroin every few days before work. By 2020, though, fentanyl had displaced almost every other drug in Tijuana.

The first time he tried fentanyl had been a revelation; a shimmering crack in the universe into which he tumbled. Since then, addiction had reordered his life. He sometimes spoke of his own descent as if it were happening to someone else, a vortex of bad decisions that at 32 he couldn’t pull himself out of.

“Why would my daughter want to visit her drug addict father?” he asked. She had visited him once and never came back. “What the hell am I doing here?”

It was a Friday morning. Children in their school uniforms walked by José’s encampment on their way to school. He had just enough fentanyl to avoid the ache of withdrawal. Because he’d run out of visible veins, he asked a friend to inject the needle in his neck. He bent down to receive it and put his hands on his knees while the high rushed in.


In another five hours, he would be strung out, hurting for another hit. He needed to make 100 pesos (about $5) to buy enough drugs to fill another syringe. He started loading his backpack full of scavenged items to sell in downtown Tijuana: iPhone cases, a calculator, a dictionary, a used pair of shorts.

Every day was the same cycle, a hustle he had regimented. Make enough cash to buy drugs; do the drugs; maybe find some food; start over again. This day was no different.

Except it happened to be a particularly hot one, and the smell of trash wafted over José’s patch of sidewalk.

Except he was losing weight, his pants slipping off his waist.

Except for a more immediate problem: what José had for sale — much of it was garbage.

He threw on his black backpack, its zipper broken, and walked past the row of encampments that have sprung up on the outskirts of downtown Tijuana. A block of strip clubs and bars glittered in the distance.

His best chance at earning the 100 pesos, he thought, was a Victoria’s Secret pouch he had found with some skin-care products. The words “Love Made Me Do It” were scrawled below the zipper. He headed to a block lined with prostitutes and presented it to the women, who fanned themselves in the shade. Most of them shook their heads at José’s attempt. Some just stared ahead blankly.

“They think they’re too good for me,” he said. “But I’m offering them a really good deal.”

He walked across the street and carefully arranged his wares on a black tarp. He pulled out used medical goggles, an extension cord, watch bands, an array of used phone cases. Around him, other people had set up their own items for sale.

A young man came up to him.

“You know where I can score?” he asked.

José could tell he was a meth user, so he told the man where the meth dealers worked.

He had come to know the city’s panorama of addicts: where different kinds of junkies scored their drugs, how to treat them if they overdosed. It happened all the time.

He had saved four people from fentanyl overdoses by using naloxone, a medication that reverses the effect of opioids. It is regulated asa controlled substance by the Mexican government and is almost impossible to find legally outside of several hospitals. But American nongovernmental organizations began smuggling it into Tijuana as overdoses mounted.

José usually kept a bottle in his pocket. Even though he had built up a tolerance to fentanyl, he knew one day he might be the one who needed to be revived.

Hours passed with barely any customer interest. He could feel his body asking for another hit. He decided to return to his encampment for a few items he had left behind, hoping they would improve his sale. He packed everything up. Walking back, he started to feel worse.

José paused at an intersection, his forehead dotted with sweat.

“I don’t know what the f--- to do,” he said.

“Sometimes I just want to turn myself into a rehab. I’m getting tired of this.”

He scratched his left forearm, with the tattoo of his daughter’s face as a 4-year-old, when he last saw her. She was 12 now. A different person, he thought. 

He kept walking, now a little slower, trying to sell a few things on the way back to his block. A woman stopped him, introduced herself and asked a question.

“Why do you need the money?”

“To be honest,” he said, “for a cure,” referring to the fentanyl hit.

“You’re too young to be using,” she said. “You know, they have meetings to help people with problems like that, three times a week.”

José thanked her and started walking away. It was the kind of intervention that rarely occurred in this part of Tijuana.

He said her name out loud: “Beatriz.”

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said, “even meeting her.”

He had tried twice to get clean, but maybe, he thought, it was time to try again.

Or he could work the streets again, trying to sell more stuff. He could let the universe decide if he deserved another hit.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said again, even though it was rarely clear what the reason was.

Source: Washington Post


  1. Is actually sad what addicts go through. It all is fun and games till you lose your job life and everything you ever had then you run around like this guy. That’s is someone’s son or brother. He may even be a father. Drugs are destroying life on both sides of the border. It was fine when they only sent it north. But now the cartels have started selling in communities the violence is unbearable. Welcome to the word of drugs. It only gets worse before it will get better.

    1. 6:44 Bro it's is not fine, that's drugs make it to North America as you say, especially Fentanyl, people have overdosed, at it seems your not aware 107,000 died in the US, due to drugs coming from Mexico.

    2. “It was fine when they only sent it north.”

      Fuck that. It was absolutely never fine. If you’re gonna send opioids up north send some decent ones. Not this shit.

    3. It was only fine in the eyes of envious people who were only concerned about themselves because of the selfishness instilled in them from clown ass parents. Which is why they always tend to magnify the problems of others instead of looking at themselves and realizing how backwards their ways are.

    4. Drugs coming from Mexico are ruining many lives (death), family members going through a mourning of a loved one, wonder what the total will be for 2022 of drug related deaths.
      The 2 High school girls that took half a pill of fentanyl laced drug, after school at a rest room, one was about to to die, the other Malanie Rios died. It did make the news. The parents are now suing the school district, apparently for letting them do drugs in the restroom.
      Better yet the youngster that sold the drugs got arrested.

    5. 9:06 And they’re still technically counting the deaths from 2021

    6. 11:14
      It was stated in the Washington Post, 107,000 died in USA to drugs, for year 2021. The tally for 2022 it not complete, since 2022 has not ended yet.

    7. 12:06 That article said they’re still counting from last year. 107k is just the current number for last year. It’s still going up.

    8. 5:13 so you're saying the odometer is stuck at 107,000 overdose deaths in 2021. When we are near the ending of 2022. Your on Meth.

    9. 6:49 Yes because it takes a while to count and confirm some cases especially cases that happened late last year. You say I’m on meth but maybe you should be blaming the writers because that same article is exactly who said this.. I’m just repeating what the article said.

      Also for what it’s worth it’s not stuck at “exactly” at 107,000.

    10. @10.51- It's true that thousands are dying in the US from overdoses, but you can't blame those deaths on the provider alone in this case. I'm not making excuses for the trade, and pretending it was all ''fine'' because the victims were up north, or giving that bullshit excuse that its the greedy American consumers who are responsible for Mexico's situation. But Mexicans aren't responsible for the ''epidemic''. That word sprung up in the US media when the middle class started dying, and ''Bad Hambres'' were responsible. The corrupt flogging of Opiate prescriptions for minor pain which opened a new market, coupled with how cheap Fent is to make and how easy it is to move, made the current situation inevitable.

  2. Fantastic report. Meanwhile, in Mexico City -

  3. Is the Ciro Gómez Leyva atentado real ? I thought he was cool with 4T ??? Was he not cool w the report he gave recently 😖 what a shameless president if so. He did speak on him en la mañanera. Thoughts ?????

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. 7:22 curco Gomez leyva, a former CISEN agent has never been ok with the 4th, but he used to be friendly with AMLO when he was running and mayor of México City, TO SEE WHAT HE COULD GET, $$$, then Circo sold out to salinas, zedillo, fox, fecal, epn, ggl, for millions of peisos...
      Now that he has seen there is no Chayote, Circo sincerely hates AMLO, and synchronizes with all the other rightista narco-chayoteros to attack AMLO, and to stage attacks on himself, Lilly Tellez did the same about 20 years ago...

  4. Call up Tia Juana an order up bucana it's Christmas movimiento y Don Sana.

  5. Fiction from Wokeshington Post.

    1. probably right dude, his junkie friends stole his stuff but not his fent? ok

    2. @8.18- Fiction? You see a photo of a man pufferfishing his neck vein while somebody injects him, and a story from that mans point of view, and all you can do is cry WOKE? You have a lazy mind dude.

    3. @10.16. Yes. You have no idea what you are talking about. It's easy to steal peoples belongings while they sleep, or nod, but little pills stashed on the body? Even if he was lying, like junkies do, it doesn't make the story ''fiction''.

  6. Mexico about to see how bad fentanyl really is. North America is so fucked.

  7. If you think America's big rash of thefts from walmarts, home depots, CVS etc, is a black problem, think again- it's a fentanyl problem. Thank you china & mex

    1. Peaceful protest is what they call theft

    2. I don't blame anybody for stealing steaks from wherever, but trading them for fentanyl, that is fucked up, fuck walmart.

  8. We need to pray 🙏 to our Aztec God Xipe Totec to help our brothers out of addiction. Only our Aztec Gods have the answers and cure for this problems.

    1. Unless those gods have ibogaine then I doubt it. We could learn a thing or two from Gabon. Btw Tijuana and/or Ensenada does have ibogaine clinics already so it might work out. They just need to be more normalized and commonplace.

  9. Tijuana number one again worldwide

  10. The Mexican Cartels makes Colombians and Ndrangheta looks like naive kids

  11. @“Mica/DrivingMSSQL:" Excellent article. Looking forward to the next two installments. Powerful cautionary parable. I could hear Lou Reed's "Endless Cycle" in the background while reading about Jose's hand-to-mouth existence in Tijuana.


  12. Such a sad story. Wish there was a better way for addicts to get clean and not relapse. Great story BB

  13. Thanks captain obvious

  14. Everybody has a choice, and a lot of em choose to use drugs .... It destroys their lives .... Now they all have a choice to get clean, and if they want it bad enough they gotta reach way way down deep in em and have the will to get clean ... It can happen .... Just gotta focus

    1. It’s not easy for people with hard street lives and trauma to stay clean. Also without formal or professional treatment.

      Drug use also does not mean addiction. Just people who abuse it get that outcome.

  15. U just gotta say fu-k this I'm not gonna let it beat me

    1. What about withdrawal

    2. 5:17 lo aguantas, esta culero pero al fin del dia esta mejor que seguir metiendote mierda

    3. 6:54 Anybody who’s ever been dependent on a drug knows that the life-ruining effects of withdrawal is even worse than the life-ruining effects of using the drug itself. It’s not just as easy as “just put up with it”. There’s certain treatments and drugs which can counteract withdrawal and they need to be available ready services for these people.

  16. Half my clients are addicted to this shit and people die every few days in our housing projects because of it.

  17. meanwhile narcos be buying nice cars clothes hoes and living a beautiful life even behind bars... and these people keep being zombies of a chinese drug or korean meth!!! also crooked politicians and gov workers be getting bribes to let people operate with impunity richer getting richer and druggies being druggies!

  18. Cops and politicians on both sides of the border are getting Rich on Blood Money.


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