Updated Jun 23: clarified timeline of the 11,201-pound fentanyl seizure
Written by Hudson Crozier
Law enforcement is seizing record amounts of the deadly opioid known as fentanyl in the U.S., a trend that escalated near the end of the Trump presidency and has wildly increased under the Biden administration. Much of it is smuggled through our borders.
More seizures: U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported a 134% increase in fentanyl seizures in fiscal year 2021 compared to fiscal year 2020. In south Texas alone, the increase was by 1,066%.
The scale: The total of 11,201 pounds seized in that time alone could kill 2.5 billion people, around one-third of the Earth's population.
More overdoses: Nationwide rates of overdose deaths from it and other opioids have climbed since 2019, accounting for nearly 75% of fatal drug overdoses in 2020.
The available statistics are only based on the amount of substances border officials manage to obtain. At least hundreds of thousands of border crossings go completely unaccounted for.
Leading cause of death for U.S. adults aged 18-45
CDC data revealed that fentanyl was the leading cause of death for U.S. adults aged 18-45 in 2020, surpassing motor vehicle accidents, suicide, cancer, and COVID-19. Some counties report it as a leading cause of death for people younger than 19.
Border communities, in particular, have experienced an 800% increase in reported fentanyl deaths over the last 5 years.
Where is it coming from? China and Mexico.
The primary source of illicit fentanyl entering the U.S. between 2014 and 2019, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, was China. Chinese nationals, including high-status individuals, have repeatedly been charged with trafficking it.
When it wasn’t entering the U.S. straight from China, it was coming from China through Mexico; Mexican drug cartels have spent years buying it from Chinese traffickers, along with the materials needed to produce it. China denies this and calls such claims “disinformation.”
This year’s data from the Commission on Combatting Synthetic Opioid Trafficking shows that Mexico has replaced China as the main source, producing most of the fentanyl crossing the U.S. border.
How it's distributed
Mexican narcotics factories, some of which are located right on the border or over it, typically produce other drugs or prescription medications that are laced with fentanyl, hoping to get consumers unwittingly addicted if they don't die from it. The easiest targets are young people who are inexperienced with drugs, often reached by dealers through social media platforms like Snapchat or on the street.
Law enforcement in San Diego, California has also found fentanyl in fake OxyContin pills, vaping pens, and Skittles packages. Mexican drug dealers also travel beyond border states. Marijuana laced with lethal amounts of fentanyl and sold to teens has been found as far up north as Connecticut.
What's being done about it? Not much.
The federal executive branch has the most authority over border security, but President Biden's policy decisions have persistently relaxed it, allowing for record amounts of illegal immigration and the drugs that come with it. His administration has focused little on drugs other than recently promising to regulate the nicotine levels in tobacco products.
That doesn’t mean that other federal politicians aren’t concerned. In February, over 100 Republican Congressmen responded by urging Biden to classify fentanyl as a "Schedule 1" drug to attach it with harsher criminal penalties.
At the state level, twenty-six Republican governors released a 10-point plan in October outlining how the Biden administration could work with them to target crises at the border, including drug trafficking.
Out of those leaders, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas is in a crucial position due to his jurisdiction over the U.S.-Mexico border. Millions of taxpayer dollars have funded his "Operation Lone Star," which right-wing and left-wing sources have criticized as fruitless political theater. Some say Abbott should invoke emergency "invasion" powers under the U.S. Constitution, but he expressed hesitation due to how the federal government might retaliate.