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Border fentanyl seizures soaring as cartels push dangerous drugs

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 3 days ago Anna Giaritelli
a person and a dog walking on a street © Provided by Washington Examiner

One of the most deadly drugs in the world, fentanyl, is being smuggled into the United States from Mexico through Western Texas and New Mexico at rates that federal and local police have never seen before.

New Mexico law enforcement officers are seizing extraordinarily high levels of fentanyl that smugglers have sneaked across the southern border. The Las Cruces-Doña Ana County Metro Narcotics Task Force captured nearly 3,200 fentanyl pills between January and most of April. In all of 2020, 115 fentanyl pills were intercepted, marking a 2,682% increase from all of last year and still eight months from the year’s end, task force Commander Sergeant Eric Avilucea told the Washington Examiner.

“Fentanyl pills [are] more prevalent now. They tend to get it through whichever way possible they can," said Avilucea. "They’re, you know, smuggling it through the port of entries.”

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Fentanyl and precursor ingredients are slipping through Customs and Border Protection's ports of entry, but customs officials are also stopping large amounts of fentanyl from getting through their inspection booths. Border Patrol highway checkpoints north of the border, along with CBP’s border crossings in El Paso, the state of New Mexico, and one in Presidio, Texas, caught 247 pounds of fentanyl in 31 incidents that occurred from Oct. 1, 2020, to mid-April. Just in the first 5.5 months of fiscal year 2021, border authorities are seeing far more fentanyl seized than the 36 pounds caught in all of 2020.

map: Doña Ana County, N.M., includes the city of Las Cruces, and stretches along 45 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. Screenshot: Google Maps © Provided by Washington Examiner Doña Ana County, N.M., includes the city of Las Cruces, and stretches along 45 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. Screenshot: Google Maps

“Increasing fentanyl seizures are a reflection of effective law enforcement action as transnational criminal organizations traffic ever greater amounts of fentanyl into the United States," a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official wrote in an email. "Specifically, Mexican drug cartels have capitalized on the opioid epidemic and prescription drug misuse by flooding the United States with mass quantities of counterfeit prescription pills."

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is created in a lab and is 50 times stronger than heroin. More than 87,000 people in the U.S. died last year from a drug overdose, the most in a year. Deaths involving these man-made synthetic opioids rose 60% in fiscal year 2021.

Fentanyl is often trafficked in pill form. The pills can be so strong that the DEA found an average of one in four were potent enough to kill the user. One kilogram of fentanyl can contain 500,000 potentially fatal doses, meaning CBP’s seizures alone potentially prevented more than 56 million lethal doses from making it on to the streets. China produces the main ingredient used to make fentanyl that the Mexican drug cartels are smuggling into the U.S.

The massive increase in fentanyl seizures has come while marijuana seizures are significantly down. Up and down the entire southern border, marijuana seizures have decreased by 81% since 2013, according to the DEA.

Methamphetamine seizures are increasing within New Mexico, according to Avilucea. Since January, 35 kilograms of methamphetamine have been discovered, putting it well on track to blow past the 46 kilograms that were seized in all of 2020. Seizures are larger than in years past, but the number of incidents has not spiked.

Doña Ana County runs along 45 miles of international border and had a 30-foot slatted wall installed along the entire shared boundary. The wall has pushed drug smuggling to the ports of entry.

"I don't believe the wall has prevented any less illegal narcotics coming into our country as we've been seeing an increase, continue to see an increase," Avilucea said.

Most drug seizures by Avilucea's team are made either when a warrant is served on a specific location or vehicles pulled over on the interstate. Drugs moved over the international border are typically dropped at stash houses then transported by vehicle further into the country, oftentimes north toward Denver. The task force that Avilucea heads was stood up more than 50 years ago and continues to exist because of the prevalence of drug smuggling. It comprises the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Las Cruces Police Department, Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office, and New Mexico State Police.

State and local police are “seeing more and more firearms associated with the meth, the fentanyl,” he said. In one incident in February, a state police officer pulled over a vehicle in Doña Ana County. The driver had been headed to a drug deal, and when he was asked to get out of his vehicle, he suddenly opened fire and fatally shot the police officer with an AR-15-style rifle. The man led police on a 40-mile chase before being captured.

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Across the entire southern border, fentanyl seizures have skyrocketed over the past eight years, from two pounds in 2013 to 4,776 in 2020. Since the start of the fiscal year last October, CBP personnel nationwide have stopped 5,586 pounds of fentanyl from entering the U.S.

The majority of illicit drug smuggling has long taken place on the U.S.-Mexico border. CBP officials are seeing a growing number of synthetic, or designer, drugs being smuggled into the country through international mail and express consignment carriers.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and DEA did not respond to requests for comment.

Tags: News, Opioid Abuse, Drug Cartels, National Security, Border Crisis, Donald Trump, New Mexico, Law Enforcement, Crime, Customs and Border Protection

Original Author: Anna Giaritelli

Original Location: Border fentanyl seizures soaring as cartels push dangerous drugs

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