By Ali Bauman

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There was a major drug bust in the Bronx, and investigators say this is just the tip of the iceberg.

CBS2’s Ali Bauman sat down with the top drug enforcement agent in New York City to talk about how cartels are using the pandemic to find new users and hook more New Yorkers.

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A meth lab was found in an apartment across from an elementary school in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx.

A meth lab was found in an apartment across from an elementary school in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. (Credit: DEA)

Agents say chemicals there were so potent, one match could’ve blown the whole place up.

The Drug Enforcement Administration seized 22 pounds of methamphetamine, along with heroin and counterfeit pills.

“It’s indicative of an organization wanting to establish a market or to develop clients that will utilize the drug,” said Ray Donovan, special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York Division.

He says this is the first meth conversion lab they’ve ever found in New York City.

“For some reason, meth has never really taken a hold here in New York City,” Donovan said.

“And that’s changing now?” Bauman asked.

“That is changing,” Donovan said.

Meth and fentanyl use have both skyrocketed in the city.

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Last year, there was a 214% increase in meth seized and a 59% increase in fentanyl seized, compared to the year before.

“The pandemic has certainly exacerbated the opioid crisis because of social isolation, not having access to health care facilities or treatment facilities,” Donovan said.

“How are the cartels and the dealers capitalizing on the pandemic?” Bauman asked.

“When the states were shutting down, all the cartels did was just continue to produce, stockpile, the price would go up, and as they started opening up, they started pushing more and more drugs in,” Donovan said.

Both drugs are synthetic, so cartels can make an unlimited supply.

“The chemicals are coming in from China … produced in Mexico and then smuggled into the United States with the final destination of New York City,” Donovan said. “Now we see, for example, fentanyl being marketed as pills and distributed to people that normally wouldn’t use it.”

The pandemic has also led to more drug deliveries.

“They’re going into the dark web … You can order whatever you want. The next day, it’s coming right to you,” Donovan said.

With all this, it’s no surprise to Donovan that New York is also seeing more violent crime and more homelessness on the streets and subways.

“Certainly drugs are rampant in some of the poorest, most-hit neighborhoods, especially … but the one thing I can tell you, Ali, is that we are very focused on going after these drug organizations, whether they’re local or international, that prey on many of these victims,” he said.

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Seizing drugs to save lives.

Ali Bauman