2023 The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Large Newsroom finalist

Cartel Rx: Fentanyl’s Deadly Surge

About the Project

When we set out to investigate how and why fentanyl is ravaging America, we asked ourselves the question Homeland Security Investigations agent Ed Byrne raises at the end of Part 1: Where is the outrage?

How is it that more than 107,000 people in the United States died of overdoses in 2021 – two-thirds of them from fentanyl – with so little public or political debate? Why does it seem surprising to learn that fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans age 18 to 49?

The result of our year-long effort – Cartel Rx: Fentanyl’s Deadly Surge – is a tour de force that holds to account two national governments, four U.S. administrations and multiple federal agencies. Combining groundbreaking reporting, evocative writing, unflinching photo and video journalism, rigorous data research and compelling graphics and design, the seven-part series concentrates on people: The tortured existence of José González in Tijuana, the stoic despair of Lt. Ken Impellizeri of the San Diego police, the uncommon valor of a Mexican admiral known as “the Eagle,” the tragic resilience of a Colorado father named Derron Reed, the brave resolve of Mayor Griselda Martínez, and many more.