November 3, 2021

A Surge of Drugs Adds to Biden's Border Crisis


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • President Biden’s border crisis has included an increase in the flow of lethal synthetic opioids, threatening public health and safety.
  • The average amount of fentanyl seized from 2018 through 2020 was 321 pounds a month. Through the first nine months of this year, the monthly average is 830 pounds.
  • The potent drug is the leading cause of overdose deaths in the United States, a problem that has increased during the pandemic.

The crisis that has seen millions of people illegally trying to cross our southern border has also included a dramatic increase in the flow of illegal drugs at the border. The average amount of fentanyl seized from 2018 through 2020 was 321 pounds a month. Through the first nine months of this year, the monthly average is 830 pounds. In fiscal year 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 10,586 pounds of fentanyl at the southern border, more than double the amount seized in FY 2020.

Pounds of Fentanyl Seized Increases Dramatically

Southern Borders Fentanyl Seizures

Lethal substance

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, originally developed for managing severe chronic pain and for use as an intravenous anesthetic in the 1950s. Doctors prescribe the drug to help cancer patients who have developed a tolerance to other narcotic drugs. However, due to its strong opioid properties, the drug has a high potential for misuse and addiction.

Precursor chemicals for fentanyl are produced in China. Pills containing the synthetic opioid are primarily manufactured in Mexico and trafficked into the United States or sent through the mail. Black-market fentanyl is mixed with other drugs like heroin or OxyContin. A user might not even know he is purchasing a drug that includes fentanyl, risking fatal overdose. Fentanyl, which is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine, can kill a person in very small doses. The DEA says that “a deadly dose of fentanyl is small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil.” Two milligrams of the drug can be lethal to a person, depending on their tolerance level and body size. At that dosage, a pound of the drug could be enough to kill 227,000 people.

Much of the illicit fentanyl in the U.S. today is in the form of fentanyl analogues, substances that have a lab-altered chemical structure created to skirt federal law enforcement. In 2018, these fentanyl-related substances were temporarily categorized under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. This classification requires the most stringent controls on the handling of these substances, as well as highest criminal penalties for violations. The temporary listing of fentanyl-related substances has been renewed a number of times, most recently in the FY 2022 continuing resolution. It is set to expire on January 28, 2022.

A Sharpening Crisis

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have become the leading cause of overdose deaths in the United States. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported, overdose deaths hit a new record of 92,476. The agency said there was a 31% increase in overdose deaths between March 2020 and March 2021, the latest month for which it has released data. Authorities associate these deaths with the increase in illegally produced fentanyl.

The southwest border crisis is creating opportunities for cartels and other criminal organizations to increase the flow of illicit drugs, including fentanyl, into the U.S. The border crisis is a major cause of the drug epidemic across the country, killing Americans and devastating families and communities. It is a preventable crisis with devastating consequences that the Biden administration should take seriously.