More Fentanyl Than Heroin Seized at the Border for the First Time in U.S. History

Over the past year, federal law enforcement confiscated more fentanyl than heroin at the border for the first time in American history. The Washington Examiner reports, fentanyl interceptions and overdoses reached record highs in the United States, illustrating transnational criminal organizations’ effectiveness in getting their deadly goods into the hands of the general public. 

In the fall, a DEA investigation discovered a direct relationship between Mexican drug cartels and fentanyl-related overdose deaths. However, drug users do not always choose to use fentanyl, which is a large part of the problem in the government’s efforts to combat the crisis. Fentanyl is being mixed into street narcotics, making all forms of illegal substances dangerous.

Fentanyl was first discovered almost a decade ago. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) first acknowledged finding it in 2013, when 2 pounds were discovered. Since then, wholesalers have flooded the country with massive amounts of the synthetic drug. Although federal authorities are seizing record amounts of fentanyl, large amounts continue to slip through the cracks, as indicated by the spike in fentanyl-related overdose deaths.

Approximately 11,200 pounds of fentanyl was recovered by CBP at international mail inspection facilities, sea, land, and airports of entry, as well as by smugglers attempting to smuggle it across the border in 2021, more than double the amount seized in the year prior. CBP data also shows 5,400 pounds of heroin was confiscated in the fiscal year 2021, which ran from October 1, 2020, to September 30, 2021.

Additionally, the DEA recovered more than 20 million counterfeit prescription pills laced with fentanyl. The agency said the pills were enough to kill every American. A user only needs a few granules of the drug to feel its effects, making it easier to smuggle into the country and giving it more value per ounce than other narcotics like cocaine or methamphetamine. The DEA claims 2 milligrams is enough to kill someone who inhales, eats, or injects it. CBP’s efforts to keep 11,200 pounds of fentanyl off American streets may have prevented 2.5 billion potentially lethal doses of the drug from entering the country.

Mexican cartels reportedly buy the components to make fentanyl from labs in Wuhan, China, which they export to the United States. Cartel revenues are laundered out of the United States, back to China, and then to Mexico through Chinese financiers. In December, it was reported that Mexican and Chinese organized crime rings were working together to expand fentanyl production.

A majority of fentanyl use comes from drug users who buy imitation versions of popular prescription medications. Buyers inadvertently purchase drugs from dealers who claim they are selling one thing, but the pills are often laced with fentanyl. Dealers use this method to keep buyers coming back for more of whatever it was that gave them their peak high sensation.

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