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

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

The Deadly Mix: Fentanyl and Extreme Heat in Mexicali

"Morogris" for Borderland Beat

The patterns of drug consumption in Mexicali have been significantly shaped by its close proximity to the United States (image credit: Milenio)

The combination of an opioid overdose, such as fentanyl, and temperatures ranging from 45 °C (113 °F) to 52 °C (126 °F) is proving to be lethal. Under these conditions, the Valley of Mexicali in Baja California has become a perfect storm for drug users.

This year, the state government has documented 35 heat stroke deaths in Mexicali alone. In more than half of these cases, evidence of drug use was found.

Fentanyl, a synthetic drug that depresses the nervous system and induces a sense of euphoria, can cause individuals to enter a relaxed state, making them unaware that they are suffering from heat stroke.

At the Red Cross, the frequency of ambulance sirens has noticeably increased. Disturbingly, patients are often discovered on the streets, exposed to the harsh sun, some still with syringes in their necks or arms. Their condition is one of apparent numbness, seemingly paralyzed by an unseen force.

Mexicali, though a relatively small city, grapples with an unfortunate reality where a considerable number of patients succumb to their condition even before receiving proper medical care. However, for those fortunate enough to retain vital signs upon the arrival of a paramedic, the critical lifeline rests on naloxone—the sole available antidote to counter the grave effects that opioids inflict on the human body.

"Naloxone is the only antidote or medicine that can help a person who is suffering from an overdose by helping reverse it or prevent the person from dying," emphasized Lourdes Angulo, co-founder of Verter, a civil association dedicated to reducing risks for heroin users in Mexicali.

Due to its controlled status, naloxone cannot be obtained without a prescription and is typically restricted to hospital settings. Verter, however, plays a crucial role by procuring and distributing some doses to the Red Cross and certain users, effectively preventing fatalities resulting from overdoses.

Nevertheless, this lifesaving intervention is not always readily available, and the consequences can be tragically fatal.

The Mexicali Municipal Police has taken significant measures to address the critical issue of overdoses combined with high temperatures. As part of their comprehensive approach, they have established a dedicated squad through their transit area, patrols, crime prevention, and citizen proximity units. Equipped with essential supplies like water and serums, the units are closely monitoring the city's activities.

However, civil associations like Verter think otherwise.

Almost all of the drugs circulating in Mexicali contain some traces of fentanyl (image credit: Milenio)

In an interview with Milenio, Said Slim, co-founder of Verter, expressed concerns about the approach taken by authorities, emphasizing that they are perpetuating a policy reminiscent of decades ago.

He said that the government's policy relies on "prohibition, stigma, and discrimination", primarily targeting individuals who use substances with the intention of stopping their consumption, rather than adopting a comprehensive approach to address the issue effectively.

The pungent odor of death is immediately noticeable even before stepping foot inside the Mexicali Forensic Medical Service building. With the rising temperatures, the stale, oddly sweet aroma becomes even more pronounced. Each day, groups of families gather at the facility, anxiously searching for their missing loved ones.

However, the overpowering smell often compels them to wait outside the building or a few meters away, where it becomes less noticeable.

Within the building, a man donning a purple jumpsuit and a doctor's coat is engrossed in his office, facing a daunting task. His primary objective is to study the prevalence of citizens arriving at Semefo with fentanyl detected in their bloodstream.

Dr. César Gonzalez, coordinator of the Baja California Forensic Medical Service, shed light on the grim reality faced by individuals on the streets. In an interview with Milenio, he explained that the fentanyl takes away their hunger and sleep, making it an appealing escape for those who have nowhere to seek refuge, especially during scorching temperatures of 45 °C (113 °F) to 52 °C (126 °F) in Mexicali.

Dr. González further emphasized that this drug's allure lies in its enveloping effects, which prove to be highly addictive, surpassing the addictive nature of other drugs.

César Raúl González Vaca, the head of the state's Semefo, took the initiative to launch a project just over a year ago. The objective was to identify the presence of fentanyl in the blood of individuals brought to the coroner, thus laying the foundation for collecting reliable statistics on the regional drug crisis. Semefo handles cases of violent deaths, incidents on public roads, and cases requested by the Public Ministry.

Many of those affected by the fentanyl problem in Mexicali are homeless (image credit: Milenio)

Over the course of a year, with more than 1,200 studies conducted, approximately 600 cases showed the presence of drugs. Out of these, around 33 percent, or about 200 cases, were found to involve fentanyl.

Moreover, in the majority of these cases, around 80 or 90 percent, there is also the presence of other drugs. This raises concerns about potential contamination or deliberate mixing of substances.

Nonetheless, researchers have also observed distinct patterns among fentanyl users.

"This is not the stereotypical drug addict that we typically envision ... These individuals are different; they might have just started using fentanyl and tragically lost their lives ... We have documented with photographs the discoveries of those who have succumbed to fentanyl, and a significant percentage of them were found with syringes still in their necks or arms, indicating that they died seconds after injection," Gonzalez Vaca said.

Sources: Milenio (direct translation)

Note: The death toll was updated to reflect the latest numeric at the time the story was posted.


  1. Very sad story. I feel like many of these homeless people may be deportees? They may not even be from Mexicali and don't have the means to go anywhere else. 52 C / 126 F is incredibly hot too. I don't think I've ever been in a place that hot in my life...

    1. Ive been in 124 in death valley and its unbearable. You cannot sleep at all. This is beyond awful for all the homeless.

  2. It’s spreading around South America too

    The Colombian Anti-Narcotics Directorate warned of the increase in the illegal consumption of fentanyl in the country, a substance that is used as an analgesic to treat pain problems but that can cause death if used improperly, and that is growing 'for economic reasons', since 'the acquisition is cheap and can be sold at high prices'.

    Sinaloans are setting up labs there now too allegedly.

  3. A good percentage are deportees most are homegrown addicts and another good sized segment is American users primarily from Imperial County who have chosen to reside in Mexicali or cross daily to buy and consume their drugs in Mexico. Spent a good chink of my life doing this. Saludos pa Calecia y Chicali.

  4. I’ve been in Mexicali, spent months and months in El Centro, CA we would go party in Mexicali a club called molcajetes none the less it is very hot but not sad story it is a choice to do drugs and if they are deportees well they comités a crime and now find themselves at home, como Mexico no hay dos, look at it this way one less posible sicario, homeless, drug addict, narco victim, just depends on how you look at things … more oxygen for those of us that DO want to live… good day ….

    1. Dude either you either have compassion for humanity or you are completely delusional.

  5. You should see Phoenix

    1. Sinaloas spreading their poison and ignorance

  6. Is it illegal in Mexico for people to donate Naloxone coming from an American to the Red Cross of Mexico?

    1. 1:14
      It's illegal to transport drugs to USA.
      It's illegal to carry weapons.
      It's illegal to murder innocent people in Mexico.
      A lot of things are illegal 😭, you think Mexico is going to inforce Naloxone.

    2. I don't know if I would want to be the one to see if the state of Mexico, who has zero regard for those with drug addiction, would just turn a blind eye to a gringo willfully turning a blind eye to their laws just because their own people, who by the way make those politicians and cops money, get away with murder. Don't think that the powers that be give two shits about some poor drug addict losing their life because of the heat, because they don't care.

  7. The border is flooded with drugs. Can’t get them across as easily anymore so let’s just distribute them here on the border. The cartels going to make their money one way or another…junkies are junkies in Mexico or America


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