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CBP on Front Line of Opioid Crisis as Fentanyl Seizures Surge

Fentanyl available in the United States is primarily supplied by two criminal drug networks: the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

This Overdose Awareness Week comes as U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported surging fentanyl seizures in July even as cocaine seizures sharply dropped this summer, and as fentanyl seizures this fiscal year are on track to exceed last year’s number.

“A decade ago, we didn’t even know about fentanyl, and now it’s a national crisis,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Randy Grossman. “The amount of fentanyl we are seizing at the border is staggering. The number of fentanyl seizures and fentanyl-related deaths in our district are unprecedented.”

In July, nationwide seizures of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl, and marijuana decreased one percent by weight compared to June, according to CBP. Cocaine seizures decreased 56 percent, while methamphetamine increased 15 percent and heroin seizures increased 8 percent. Fentanyl seizures soared with an increase of 203 percent.

Marijuana has been lagging behind fiscal year 2021 numbers, with nearly 120,000 pounds seized this fiscal year as of Aug. 3 compared to more than 319,000 pounds seized in FY 2021, according to CBP drug seizure data covering the Border Patrol and Office of Field Operations (OFO). The current fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

As of Aug. 3, more than 148,000 pounds of methamphetamine have been seized by CBP this fiscal year compared to nearly 192,000 pounds in FY 2021. More than 1,500 pounds of heroin have been seized, compared to 5,400 pounds in 2021. Last fiscal year, more than 97,000 pounds of cocaine got seized, and so far this fiscal year nearly 54,000 pounds have been pulled in.

Meanwhile, as of the beginning of August fentanyl was on track to pass 2021 seizures, with 11,203.11 pounds seized last fiscal year and more than 10,600 pounds seized so far this fiscal year.

CBP’s Air and Marine Operations (AMO) has already seized more fentanyl this fiscal year than in 2021: 1,108 pounds as of Aug. 3, compared to 786 pounds last fiscal year.

AMO has seized more than 51,000 pounds of marijuana this year compared to more than 573,000 pounds last fiscal year, more than 151,000 pounds of cocaine compared to more than 227,000 pounds in FY2021, and more than 7,300 pounds of meth compared to more than 11,500 pounds last fiscal year. AMO has also seized 373 pounds of heroin, compared to 480 pounds in FY2021.

Just two milligrams of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid about 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, is considered a lethal dose. “It is inexpensive, widely available, highly addictive — and potentially lethal,” the Drug Enforcement Administration said. “Drug traffickers are increasingly mixing fentanyl with other illicit drugs — in powder and pill form — to drive addiction and create repeat customers. Many fentanyl poisoning victims are unaware that fentanyl is in the substance they are ingesting.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that, out of 107,622 people determined to have died of drug overdoses and poisonings in the United States last year, 67 percent of those deaths involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

Wednesday was International Overdose Awareness Day, and the White House recognized this week as Overdose Awareness Week. “We are targeting drug trafficking organizations by disrupting the operating capital they need to sustain their criminal enterprises,” President Biden said in the proclamation.

Last week, Tucson Sector agents seized 340 packages of fentanyl pills with a value of $4.3 million being transported by two U.S. citizens on Interstate 8 near Gila Bend, Ariz.

On Aug. 23 at the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge, CBP officers seized 12 packages containing a total of 28.66 pounds of fentanyl being transported by a passenger vehicle from Mexico. “This is a significant seizure of fentanyl and our officers took appropriate care, utilizing personal protective equipment during the seizure to minimize potential exposure given the high potency and dangerousness of the narcotic,” said Laredo Port of Entry Director Albert Flores.

In San Diego, seizures of fentanyl are up by about 323 percent over the last three years, from 1,599 pounds in fiscal year 2019 to 6,767 pounds in FY2021.

CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security in May that FY2021 fentanyl seizures were “more than double the weight seized in FY 2020 and equivalent to an estimated 2.6 billion doses that would have otherwise permeated communities across the United States.”

“The majority of drugs entering the United States still enter through POEs along the Southwest Border,” Magnus said. “Ongoing investment in Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) systems has increased CBP’s ability to quickly detect suspected contraband, without hindering the flow of legitimate trade and travel. CBP utilizes more than 350 large-scale and 4,500 small-scale NII X-ray and gamma-ray imaging systems to detect the presence of illicit substances, including synthetic drugs, hidden within passenger belongings, cargo containers, commercial trucks, rail cars, privately owned vehicles, as well as Express Consignment Carriers and international mail parcels. In FY 2021, CBP performed approximately 17.5 million NII examinations, which resulted in the interdiction of nearly 220,000 pounds of narcotics. CBP continues to prioritize the expansion of NII capabilities to increase the probability of interdiction and improve the facilitation of legitimate trade and travel.”

The DEA warned this week of an increase in “rainbow fentanyl” designed to appeal to children. The agency noted that fentanyl available in the United States is primarily supplied by two criminal drug networks: the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

“Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said as the agency marked National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day last Sunday.  “From large cities to rural America, no community is safe from the presence of fentanyl.”

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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