Cartels Are Smuggling Fentanyl on Passenger Buses

The disappearance of 43 students in 2014 was also linked to the potential smuggling of drugs in passenger buses.
Fentanyl and heroin (L) seized on the passenger bus (R) in the state of Sonora this week. Photo: Mexican government.

MEXICO CITY — The recent arrest of two bus drivers carrying four kilos of fentanyl and a kilo of heroin in Mexico highlights the use of commercial passenger routes for trafficking drugs towards the United States.

Authorities discovered the drugs stashed in the siding of the bus next to the passenger seats last week. 


The two men, identified by their first names Jose and Ruben, were detained in the border state of Sonora traveling on a highway that connected with Sinaloa, home of the eponymous Sinaloa Cartel.

Passenger buses have long been used by Mexican drug cartels to traffic drugs around the country, and north towards the U.S. In December, authorities seized over 58 thousand fentanyl pills hidden inside a cooler on a bus traveling from Sinaloa, through Sonora on its way to Tijuana—just south of San Diego. In August, two bus drivers were arrested for attempting to smuggle nearly 21 thousand fentanyl pills through Sonora as well.

Perhaps, most notoriously, one of the principal theories about the disappearance of 43 students in 2014 may have involved drugs being hidden inside a bus. 

Students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in the southwestern state of Guerrero commandeered several buses on September 26 2014 to transport their peers to a protest in Mexico City. The practice of commandeering buses by Ayotzinapa students, which has a long tradition of activism in the region, is generally tolerated by local transportation companies.

But soon after, the buses came under fire from local police and civilians allegedly working for the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel. The Mexican government still has not confirmed a motive for the disappearance of the students, but text messages previously released by the government showed that at least one of the buses expropriated by the students was potentially being used to traffic heroin towards the U.S. The students were then mistaken for rival cartel members trying to steal the merchandise, at least initially, when the bus was attacked.