Last week, 10 people died from fentanyl overdoses in a span of 24 hours in Will County, Illinois, with a population just under 700,000. The deaths appear to be linked to a batch of cocaine laced with fentanyl, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
During the same week, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents seized 22 pounds of fentanyl Wednesday at the Hidalgo International Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid used medically for pain management, can be lethal in quantities as tiny as two milligrams. Illicit fentanyl is manufactured relatively cheaply by cartel labs in Mexico, often using precursor chemicals imported from China.
The fentanyl seized Wednesday, valued at $339,300, was stashed inside a vehicle selected for inspection at the border crossing.
Opioid-related deaths in America have increased dramatically every year since 2013, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted a “surge in the availability” of illicitly manufactured fentanyl. In 2017, then-President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. Yet, without stemming the flow of illicit drugs across the border, the death toll continues to rise.
Overdoses of fentanyl have become the leading cause of death among adults between the ages of 18 and 45, with 41,587 individuals in that age group dying specifically from fentanyl in 2021 alone. Deaths often occur when other drugs, such as Percocet, cocaine, or Xanax are laced with or replaced by fentanyl.
While Wednesday’s seizure was of significant size, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the total of 10,000 pounds of fentanyl CBP seized at the border just last year.
Some analysts claim that even among those seizures, the majority of illicit drugs are getting through undetected because of the chaos caused by the immigration crisis.
“Border patrol agents are too busy dealing with the influx of migrants, and are not really focused on looking for fentanyl… [they] are not getting the support they need from the federal government,” said Robert Almonte, a security consultant and former deputy chief of the El Paso Police Department, in an interview with the New York Post.
The Post claims that CBP is making illicit drug seizures regularly where fewer migrants attempt to cross, but agents are overwhelmed and making fewer drug seizures in busier crossing points such as those in New Mexico and Texas. CBP data shows agents have had close to 1.3 million southwestern border encounters from October 2021 and April 2022, up from 458,088 for the entirety of fiscal year 2020.