Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says that in response to the rising importation of deadly fentanyl into the U.S., his department has deployed agents of Homeland Security Investigations and Customs and Border Protection for, "... a defense-in-depth strategy to battle the scourge of fentanyl." The border agents were placed both domestically and internationally.
Mayorkas appeared Wednesday in a discussion with Washington Post focused on the fentanyl crisis.
Some critics have expressed concern over what they believe is the lack of action taken by officials. Mayorkas said DHS seized over 1.6 million pounds of precursor chemicals that are used to manufacture fentanyl. He said the seizures of fentanyl that have been produced have increased exponentially during the last two years.
The pandemic increased the demand for illegal drugs, Mayorkas said. "When we have a challenge such as the pandemic which causes so many mental health issues, depression, and the like, unfortunately, we see people turn to controlled substances, to illegal drugs as what they think is a balm but is only an aggravating force in their lives."
The pandemic coupled with the cheap cost of fentanyl, some being sold for as little as four dollars, and the strength of the drug itself contributed to over 107,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. last year. More than 60 percent of those were attributable to fentanyl.
Mayorkas said federal, state and local, tribal, territorial partners are also attacking the drug supply. "It is not just a demand issue; it is not just a supply issue; it is all of the above," Mayorkas said.
Investigators are attacking the supply not only in the U.S. interior and at the border, but also in the main country of origin, Mexico.
Mayorkas shared that DHS has worked closely with the government of Mexico and said law enforcement cooperation is steadily growing. He said that the transnational criminal investigative units (TCIUs), are deployed in Mexico to work with Mexican counterparts to interdict the chemicals, the equipment, the finished product, and the proceeds of illegal sales.
"We're really battling all elements of the chain of criminality and the criminals not just in interdicting the drugs themselves, but interdicting the flow of funds from its sale and the instrumentalities that they use," Mayorkas said.
While treatment related to fentanyl is beyond his agency's jurisdiction, Mayorkas mentioned that there have been productive conversations on types of treatment that can be made available. He specifically mentioned that Narcan can be used for emergency treatment. It is an important asset because fentanyl can be concealed in other types of drugs.
Mayorkas said that DHS is in charge of the law enforcement element of controlling the fentanyl epidemic. "Our job is to stop the fentanyl from coming into this United States, but stop it on the streets, make sure that it doesn't reach people," he said.
The agency is using new innovative technology to cut the drug off at its source.
Mayorkas said border enforcement security task forces are working at mail facilities to interdict the receipt of fentanyl precursors. Additionally, Congress funded the purchase of 135 "nonintrusive inspection technology" devices that can see through material to identify where fentanyl is concealed, allowing officers to take immediate action.
"And so, we are using people, technology, processes to interdict the chemical substances, as well as the finished product in the mail facilities at the border, concealed in trucks, and also at sea and by air, interdicting drones and the like," Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas said DHS has accelerated the deployment of the nonintrusive technology and that DHS is offering funds "...to really leverage artificial intelligence to couple with that technology to maximize our impact, our law enforcement detection, interdiction, and prosecution impact."