A newly announced Homeland Security Department plan to address the U.S. fentanyl crisis includes an expanded presence in Mexico and tracking of precursor chemicals that primarily originate in China, the Washington Post reports. The plan aims to increase fentanyl seizure and break up the supply chains and financial networks tied to the crisis. Along with the expanded presence in Mexico, more investigators will be present at the U.S.-Mexico border. More than 100,000 Americans are dying of illegal drug overdoses per year, an all-time high. “This is a huge priority for us,” said Katrina Berger, director of HSI, a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “The overdose numbers are just astronomical.” Fentanyl accounts for the majority of U.S. overdose deaths.
Trafficking organizations in Mexico illegally manufacture fentanyl in clandestine labs, pressing it into tablets that resemble prescription painkillers. Smugglers typically hire U.S. citizens and green-card holders to move bundles of pills or powder across the border hidden in vehicles or their body cavities. U.S. authorities are on pace to seize more than 25,000 pounds of fentanyl during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, a fivefold increase since 2020. The drug is cheap, as a single blue tablet packing a potentially lethal dose costs $2 or $3. Homeland Security officials say HSI is the federal government’s best tool for fighting the drug, because the agency has the ability to conduct investigations along the entire illicit supply chain, from ports to labs to the U.S. border and in the destination cities where fentanyl is shipped. The majority of fentanyl seizures occur at border crossings in Arizona and the San Diego area, along smuggling corridors dominated by Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel.