CBP: Fentanyl Seizures up 150% in FY2017; Half at US-Mexico Border

By Mark Browne | May 2, 2018 | 8:12pm EDT
Seized Fentanyl tablets. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – Hundreds of pounds of fentanyl smuggled into the U.S. last year and seized by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) came directly from Mexico.

Customs authorities seized a total of 1,188 pounds of the synthetic opioid in fiscal year 2017, a 150 percent increase over the previous year.

“Half of the total seizures in term of weight happened at the U.S. Mexico border,” a CBP spokesman told CNSNews.com.

The amount seized originating in Mexico is a “ball park” estimate because an exact breakdown of the origins of fentanyl seized in the U.S. was not immediately available.

“While seizures are not a reliable indicator of drug flow, the dramatic increase in seizures is a strong indicator that more fentanyl is entering the U.S.,” CBP spokesman Jaime Ruiz said in an email response to queries.

Smugglers rely on a wide variety of means to get the drug across the Mexico border including taping packages to their bodies and hiding it in vehicle seat cushions, gas tanks, dashboards, tires, packaged food, household and hygiene products, checked luggage, and in construction materials on commercial trucks, Ruiz said.

More than 40,000 people died of overdoses from fentanyl and its variations in 2016, according to a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigation and report issued earlier this year.

That’s more than half of the 63,600 Americans who died from drug overdoses in 2016.

The report found that fentanyl is also often ordered online from suppliers in China and then shipped into the U.S. using private express mail services like UPS and FedEx, in addition to the U.S. Postal Service.

In 2015, the U.S. Postal Service and the CBP launched a pilot program requiring senders of international packages to provide their names and specify package contents before they arrive in the U.S.

Suspicious packages are then flagged and sent to the CBP for inspection.

The pilot program only covered packages sent from China and France and was also initially limited to packages processed at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Other shortcomings in the pilot program included a failure by the Postal Service to present the CBP with all of the packages flagged as suspicious.

Of the 498,268,405 packages received by the Postal Service from shippers overseas in 2017, only 36 percent (179,376,625) had the identifying data.

More than 790 pounds of fentanyl have been seized by the CBP so far this fiscal year, CPB Executive Assistant Commissioner Todd C. Owen told a House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing last week.

“It is important to note that the fentanyl seized on the Southern border in lower concentrations is often ready for sale to the end-user. The higher purity of fentanyl seized in the international mail and ECC [express shipping] environments is often intended to be mixed and repackaged by a distributor.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in Billings, Montana last week that the “vast majority of fentanyl is made in China and then shipped here either through the mail or brought across our porous Southern border.”

The U.S. Justice Department unsealed two indictments last week against ten defendants, including four Chinese nationals for fentanyl trafficking in the United States.

“The Mexicans are major players in the fentanyl trade,” said Scott Stewart, an analyst at the international risk consultancy Stratfor.

Drug cartels in Mexico are smuggling “hundreds” of pounds of the drug into the U.S. yearly, largely through regular ports of entry.

Fentanyl offers the cartels new and significant advantages since it is far more potent in small quantities than other illegal drugs and can be produced in a laboratory instead of growing poppies in the field, as in the case with heroin production.

A kilo of fentanyl costs $3,300 to manufacture and sells for $1 million.

“The profit margin is incredible,” Stewart said.

Overdoses from fentanyl are often a result of its potency and mistakes made by distributors when it is converted into pills in the U.S.

“The dosage is in micro grams and that shows why it’s so difficult, why it’s so deadly.”

Fentanyl could be “the most disruptive innovation in the history of the international drug trade,” according to a recent article by scholars at Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University and the Brookings Institution.

“Already, fentanyl’s spread is upending balances of power among drug trafficking groups and could reshuffle control of illegal drug retail markets in the United States and Mexico, such as between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Nuevo Generación,” it said.

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