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Fentanyl Politics Rage as Mayorkas Touts New Crackdown

Hundreds of U.S. agents and officers have been assigned to a new Department of Homeland Security program to interdict fentanyl shipments across the border with Mexico and to build criminal cases, the Washington Post reports. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, under fire from Republicans for not doing enough to stem a drug-overdose crisis, announced Operation Blue Lotus, an intensified effort using new scanning technology, more drug-sniffing dogs and other detection tools. Calling fentanyl "the drug of death," Mayorkas announced the initiative at the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, Ariz., which has surpassed San Diego this year to become the busiest U.S. gateway for fentanyl smuggling. U.S. authorities are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to install powerful new scanning machines along the southern border, including two in Nogales, that will allow for a tenfold increase in the number of commercial vehicles they can screen. But fentanyl remains very difficult to detect. Its compact size makes it easy to conceal, and its low manufacturing cost allows traffickers to turn a profit despite losing some of their loads to seizures.


The escalation comes amid a storm over recent comments by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador claiming that his country is not responsible for fentanyl production, only its transshipment into the U.S., Insight Crime reports. China used to supply most fentanyl that Mexican smugglers trafficked to the U.S., but this appears to have changed when China cracked down on the trade. Data show that since then, seizures at U.S. postal facilities dropped precipitously. Simultaneously, seizures of fentanyl crossing the US southern border skyrocketed. They also jumped significantly in Mexico. All of this pointed toward the production of fentanyl in Mexico. Regardless of whether Mexican criminal organizations are synthesizing fentanyl at home or are getting it from abroad, the Mexican government’s posture is more about its fraught history with the United States, for fostering demand for illicit drugs, than on the reality of the fentanyl trade itself. Still, there are problems with the data. Neither the United States nor Mexico gives estimates of the seized fentanyl’s purity. Purity is a critical issue since what is seized in Mexico or on the border normally has less than 10% purity, and what is seized coming directly from China has more than 90% purity. More than 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2021, a record, and two-thirds of those deaths were caused by fentanyl, according to the most recent available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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