As cars move away from us, we barely slow down for red lights.
We almost take off while we speed over a hilly section of road.
On board an ambulance of the Red Cross, we’re responding to a call for help in Tijuana, a city located in northern Mexico. It is one of the world’s most dangerous cities.
Two-person team using a walkie-talkie asks about the details of an emergency.
Zulma tells me, “It is a shooting.” “We can get up to a dozen in a single day,” Zulma Cruz says, as we pass by a National Guard vehicle and a silhouetted soldier with a machinegun.
As I approach what has now become a crime scene and a medical crisis, I see the streets of this city’s most cartel infested area flooded with police officers and military.
Locals are watching a second ambulance, where I can see the ambulance teams treating a man that appears to be conscious.
Zulma grabs her oxygen canister, trauma kit and goes to help her colleague.
Zulma, a paramedic with years of experience, is used to the presence of the security forces, as well as the stares from the local community. Many of them are members of or identify with the cartel.
The patient was shot in the brain.
Three cartels fight for control of Tijuana: the Sinaloa Cartel (Jalisco New Generation), the Tijuana Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation.
Over 2,000 murders occur here every year – over six a day. In London, just over 100 people died in homicides last year.
The Red Cross is the only one that can save lives on the street.
Zulma told me that the cartel gunmen would sometimes approach her while she was trying to save other victims from a hit and tell her to stop treating them.
The gunmen, according to her colleague at the Red Cross, who did not want to be identified, could not be convinced.
The gang member told me, “That man died here,” and then her partner said to me that he had shot him a second time.
We just had to leave.
Zulma, I ask you if you think that a lot violence and chaos in the streets are linked to the growing business of fentanyl.
She replies, “It’s definitely true!” without hesitation.
“I believe that there is a link between all of that, including the drug cartels, street fights, and the fighting for sales …”
This time, the Red Cross is called again to deal with a fentanyl-related overdose.
They carry antidotes to fentanyl poisoning, one of the most toxic substances in the world.
Read More: Inside the secret fentanyl laboratory
Narcan is a drug that can save lives.
The fire brigade is administering first aid when they arrive. Alan Leon, a paramedic, jumps into action and prepares to administer Narcan.
He speaks briefly to the family that has gathered round the unconscious victim lying on the pavement of a residential area.
The man has stopped responding. Juan is his name, and he’s dying.
Alan tells a policeman to raise the drip higher.
Then he injects Narcan into a vein of the victim using a cannula. He explains his actions to the emergency services colleagues.
All of them wait. They’re all waiting.
Alan presses his fist gently into Juan’s chest and tells the others to wait.
He touches Juan’s chest and there is an abrupt movement. The Narcan is working.
Juan, who was utterly shocked, sits up and grabs the medical equipment all around him.
He says, “I’m fine. I’m fine.” It’s quite amazing.
Alan tells him to hold on for a moment, then administers another dose of Narcan.
He tells Juan, “It reverses the fentanyl.”
Juan leans on a nearby vehicle and starts talking. He’s amazed he survived.
As he fist-bumps our producer, his wife and son, who were watching the entire scene, embrace him.
Ambulance crews are witness to fentanyl abuse, fentanyl-trafficking, gang warfare, deaths and murders every day.
Click here to read more
Inside the secret drug lab. Gunshot wounds and deadly chemicals. Cartel kingpins
Shooting at Mexican resort kills six adults and a child under 7
The red-light district in Tijuana is the place where the most people are aware of the drug cartels, the street fentanyl use and sales.
This is a very popular tourist destination.
They fight to keep or gain territory because they make money from drugs and sex here, 24 hours a days.
Last year, the Mexican Army, National Guard and police were all deployed to the area to combat organised crime and reduce homicides.
We joined the Baja California State Police for a patrol through the district.
The cartels are only interested in money, not what fentanyl can do to people.
They know exactly what they are doing and what they produce. They know the problems that they cause by selling the drugs. They know people in this country are more addicted to the drug. But they don’t seem to care. Instead, the officer who did not want his name used said, “They only think about themselves.”
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Cartels know that Mexico’s security forces are very active in the city but still taunt them by posting videos to social media sites like TikTok showing their weapons, drugs and money.
The officer said that the officers would often use this tactic to send a clear message to other organizations, or to police officers, telling them they could not touch these groups. But, the officer added, “We fight back against them all… We try to arrest them in all conflict zones.”
Read on: Million dollar streets littered with bodies contorted from the effects of Fentanyl
The fentanyl trade is centered in this district of Tijuana, which is also the entry point for drugs and people being smuggled across the border.
This trade fuels an illegal drug epidemic within the United States and a war on the streets in Mexico.