Secretary Statements & Remarks

Remarks by Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen on New Treasury Actions to Counter Illicit Financing Tied to Fentanyl in Mexico City, Mexico

As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning everyone. I’m glad to have the opportunity to speak about our cooperation with Mexico to counter the illicit drug trade, particularly fentanyl trafficking. This is a key Biden Administration priority and an area where the Treasury Department is taking decisive action, in close collaboration with the Mexican government. In my remarks, I’ll explain the importance of this work and lay out our actions. I’m also here to announce a specific action: Today, we are designating 15 individuals and two entities in a network that has been involved in importing fentanyl into the United States.           

Let me start with the stakes. More than one million people in the United States have died of drug overdoses since 2000. Opioids, including synthetic opioids such as illicitly manufactured fentanyl, are the most deadly, killing more than 1,500 people per week and harming many more. And deaths from opioids have risen rapidly over the past decade, with a particularly sharp increase during the pandemic. Today, more people in the United States aged 18 to 49 die from fentanyl than from any other cause. The cost for families, individuals, and communities is devastating. While we are focused on the immense human impact, the epidemic also takes a significant toll on our economy. The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee estimates that in 2020, the opioid epidemic cost America nearly $1.5 trillion. 

The opioid crisis has deep roots. The so-called first wave of opioid-related deaths was driven in part by prescription sales in the United States. A second wave was driven by heroin. But this shifted in 2016, when fentanyl and other synthetic opioids became the leading driver of drug-related deaths. Today, the majority of precursor chemicals for illicitly manufactured fentanyl come from China and are synthesized into fentanyl in Mexico. Fentanyl is then smuggled across the border into the United States. This means fentanyl is not just a public health emergency with devastating human and substantial economic costs. The illicit drug trade is also a significant threat to our national security. And it is of course a threat to public safety in Mexico as well.

Drug trafficking organizations generate billions of dollars in illicit proceeds every year. They hold some in cash; some in investments, such as in real estate; and, increasingly, though still in small amounts, in digital assets. U.S. financial institutions are vulnerable, such as through exposure to drug trafficking organizations using shell companies.

Within the United States, the Biden Administration is working to reduce demand through raising public awareness and expanding access to treatment. U.S. law enforcement is also seizing significant quantities of fentanyl: Over 410 million deadly doses have been seized to date this year. But the nature of the illicit drug trade means we cannot end the U.S. opioid crisis and achieve greater security without looking beyond our borders. This July, the Administration launched the Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats, bringing together more than 100 countries and 11 international organizations. And in their November meeting, President Biden and President Xi agreed to resume bilateral cooperation on counternarcotics, including a focus on the precursor chemicals used for fentanyl. China is now taking enforcement action against illicit suppliers, issuing a notice to its domestic industry, and committing to restart law enforcement cooperation on this issue. We appreciate this step and are hopeful further cooperation will help stem the flow of precursor chemicals. 

Treasury’s own work is powered by an Executive Order that strengthened our ability to deploy sanctions, one of the most powerful tools we have, to target drug trafficking organizations, their enablers, and financial facilitators. This is one of Treasury’s top sanctions priorities, and countering the trafficking of fentanyl, synthetic opioids, and precursor chemicals is especially key. Over the past two years, OFAC has designated more than 250 targets for involvement in drug trafficking activities, including individuals and entities contributing to the production of precursors used to manufacture fentanyl and Mexican drug trafficking organizations that bring it illegally to the United States.

Just last week, and thanks to collaboration with Mexican government counterparts, OFAC designated three Mexican individuals and 13 Mexican entities linked to CJNG, which traffics a large portion of the illicit fentanyl and other deadly drugs that enter the United States. These individuals and entities had engaged, directly or indirectly, in timeshare fraud, in which elderly Americans can be robbed of their life savings.  These funds are then used to fuel an expansive criminal enterprise. 


Today, I am announcing that OFAC is designating an additional 15 individuals and two entities affiliated with the Beltrán Leyva Organization. This cartel has been transporting multi-ton quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine to the United States for decades. Now, it’s producing and transporting fentanyl as well. These sanctions, alongside other recent designations, will help disrupt this behavior and undermine the broader dangerous network involved in the illicit supply and transfer of fentanyl. 

As we recently announced, Treasury’s approach will also be strengthened by the launch of a strike force drawing from across Treasury to enable quick and coordinated action to target the illicit financial networks used by fentanyl traffickers. This strike force will allow us to strategically make use of Treasury’s expertise in combatting illicit finance and our sanctions authorities, law enforcement authorities, and intelligence collection and information-sharing tools. Beyond Treasury, the Administration’s efforts would also be strengthened if Congress funds President Biden’s supplemental funding request, which includes $1.2 billion to continue the government’s work to stop the flow of illicit fentanyl, including through deploying cutting-edge detection machines at the border.

Of course, the United States cannot do this alone. Under the U.S.-Mexico Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities, we work closely with our Mexican government counterparts to pursue both high-level dialogue and to take urgent case-by-case action, building on our historically close relationship to jointly combat money laundering and illicit financing threats more broadly. Last August, as part of our strategic dialogue with Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit, we advanced workstreams on financial flow typologies. In October, the United States and Mexico committed to intensify our efforts to combat illicit drug trafficking, particularly of synthetic drugs such as fentanyl. 

Both our governments also recognize the crucial importance of collaboration with the private sector. The financial sector can be misused, far too easily, to enable illicit activities. So, it must be part of the solution. Treasury hosts an annual Public-Private Banking Working Group and held our first cross-border roundtable in August. And later today, I will meet with the Mexican Banking Association to discuss possibilities for further collaboration between U.S. correspondent banks and Mexican banks going forward. 

With that, my thanks to all of you for being here today. The work Treasury is pursuing, as part of the broader Administration’s efforts, is crucial to ending this health crisis and to strengthening our economy and protecting our national security. This work must be done in coordination with Mexican authorities, and actions like the one taken today are a testament to the concrete impacts of our collaboration. They also bring us one step closer to undermining the global drug trade and achieving greater security and prosperity for our citizens and our nations.