(CNSNews.com) – U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers searching a cucumber-laden tractor trailer at the Nogales crossing on the U.S.-Mexico border at the weekend found and seized the largest shipment of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl in CBP history.
In a hidden compartment of the trailer driven by a 26-year-old Mexican, the officers found nearly 254 pounds of fentanyl, in powder and pill form, valued at approximately $3.5 million, Nogales area port director Michael Humphries told reporters at the port of entry on Thursday.
They also found in the same space more than 300 packages, weighing almost 395 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at $1.1 million – the third-largest seizure ever of methamphetamine at an Arizona port of entry.
Reacting to the news, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said the seized fentanyl would have been enough “to kill millions of Americans.”
“This was not just a drug bust – it was a dirty bomb coming across our southern border.”
Humphries said the produce truck was referred for secondary inspection, and scanned through a non-intrusive inspection system.
After anomalies were observed in the floor of the trailer, CBP sniffer dogs were deployed, and detected a suspect odor. A physical search revealed the hidden compartment and its contents.
“Fentanyl is 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine,” Humphries said. “It is said that a quarter milligram – or the size of a few grains of salt – of fentanyl, which is a dangerous opioid, can kill a person very quickly.”
“This amount of fentanyl, our CBP officers prevented from entering our country, equates to an unmeasurable dangerous amount of an opioid that could have harmed so many families,” he said. “This did not happen on CBP’s watch.”
Humphries praised the officers involved who, he said, “selflessly perform their duties with dedication, vigilance, and professional even during a funding hiatus.”
“Opioids pose a real danger to every community in America and are having fatal consequences across our nation. This past weekend our CBP officers were able to stop an enormous amount of these deadly narcotics from hitting our streets.”
The truck driver was arrested and has been charged by the Department of Homeland Security’s investigative division, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with two counts of possession of narcotics with intent to distribute. He is in federal custody.
“This case clearly shows that HSI’s and CBP’s collaborative efforts continue to have an impact, as those attempting to smuggle illicit drugs are stopped at the border,” HSI special agent in charge Scott Brown said in a statement. “These efforts exhibit the combined resources of law enforcement agencies’ resolve to combating these deadly drugs from entering our communities.”
In fiscal year 2017, CBP officials seized a total of 1,188 pounds of fentanyl, a 150 percent increase over the previous year, and half of the seizures were made on the U.S.-Mexico border, CNSNews.com reported last May.
A U.S. Senate subcommittee investigation found that more than 40,000 people in the U.S. died of overdoses from fentanyl and its variations in 2016 – more than half of the total 63,600 drug overdoses that year.
An official at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy testifying on Capitol Hill in mid-2016 explained that “illicit fentanyl is sometimes mixed with powder heroin to increase its effects or mixed with dilutants and sold as synthetic heroin.”
“Increasingly fentanyl is being pressed into pill form and sold as counterfeit prescription opioid pills,” said Kemp Chester, associate director for the office’s National Heroin Coordination Group. “The majority of the elicit fentanyl in the U.S. is clandestinely produced in Mexico or in China. Fentanyl is extremely dangerous and deadly.”
Due to its lethality, exposure also poses risks to law enforcement officers.
“Fentanyl exposure can injure or kill innocent law enforcement officers and other first responders,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration employees last June. “Inhaling just a few airborne particles could be fatal. Our police officers and first responders face this danger every day.”
Rosenstein reported that just weeks earlier, a police officer in Ohio nearly died after accidental exposure during a vehicle car search to “an extremely potent opioid, most likely a fentanyl-related compound.”