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'We can't tell how much is manufactured': How much fentanyl is not getting seized in Arizona?

12News went inside the DEA drug vault in Phoenix to learn more about the opioids that have been crossing over the southern border.

PHOENIX — The cost is thousands upon thousands of lives.

Fentanyl is the deadliest drug in the country, and Arizona is a shipment hub.

"We have seized drugs that were intended to supply every state in the United States," said Cheri Oz, special agent in charge at the Phoenix DEA.

"Manufacturing is happening in Mexico, and it’s being trafficked right here in our backyard in Arizona."

The number of pills, powder, and packs of the synthetic opioid has gone up and over in recent years.

"In 2020 we seized 6 million fentanyl pills. In 2021 we seized 12 million fentanyl pills," Oz said. "The DEA in the entire U.S. seized 20 million pills. So more than half of those pills were seized here in Arizona.”

Oz says the culprit is the Sinaloa Cartel, which owns the drug routes in Arizona. However, the rise in seizures represents a change in business and new challenges.

“Six years ago with fentanyl, we didn’t seize any—it was kinda non-existent,” Oz said.

The reason for the change comes down to money.

"Fentanyl is a highly addictive substance, and hiding it in another product is a really good way to expand your customer base," Oz said.

Unlike other drugs, fentanyl is synthetic and it isn't limited to how much you can grow.

“We could give you an idea how much heroin could be made because we knew how many poppies there were. With this, we can't tell how much is manufactured.” Oz said.

Fentanyl is also easy to produce. It’s manufactured from chemical compounds mass produced in countries like India and China.

Before being shipped, the substance is made and pressed typically in Mexico with pill presses.

“They can do 10,000-20,000 pills an hour,” Oz said. "You can create a pill shape to look like anything you want."

In 2021—Arizona DEA seized 12 million pills of fentanyl.

The seizures saved lives, but investigators don’t know how much they missed.

"When we talk about seizing 12 million pills, we know we are impacting the cartels, but because [the amount produced] is unquantifiable we don't know how great that is," Oz added.

RELATED: Mexican army seizes 'historic' half-ton of fentanyl at warehouse

RELATED: Phoenix police find 166K fentanyl pills in spare tire, suspect arrested

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