CA: San Diego becomes epicenter of fentanyl smuggling amid spike in deaths, drug seizures

Fentanyl-related overdose deaths have increased 2,375% in San Diego since 2016

More fentanyl is seized at the California- Mexico border than any other border region in the country, according to data released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other federal officials this past week.

The designation isn’t all that surprising, given the region’s longtime status as the predominant gateway for trafficking fentanyl into the United States. But the amount of fentanyl being seized here points to the drug’s increasing hold on the illicit U.S. drug market.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid up to 50 times more potent than heroin that is cheaply manufactured by Mexican drug cartels. It is often pressed into pills — often disguised as prescription opioids — but also laced into other street drugs or sold as powder. Small amounts can be lethal, and rising overdose deaths have been attributed to inaccurate dosing and potent “hot spots” caused by poor mixing methods during the manufacturing process. Often, users don’t know they are taking fentanyl.

In the first nine months of fiscal 2022, from October through June, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized just over 5,000 pounds of fentanyl at ports of entry, checkpoints and during other law enforcement operations in San Diego and Imperial counties. That’s about 60 percent of the total amount seized by border officials nationwide.

In San Diego, seizures have increased by more than 300 percent in the last three years.

The loads themselves have also gotten bigger. No longer content with smuggling small amounts of fentanyl with larger payloads of other drugs, such as methamphetamine, Mexican cartels are now sending massive amounts of fentanyl alone across the border, according to border officials.

Earlier this month, Border Patrol agents stopped a man with 50 pounds of fentanyl inside his vehicle near Murrieta. And in a recent six-day period, CBP and Border Patrol intercepted four separate vehicle loads of fentanyl weighing between 100 and 250 pounds each in Campo and Calexico.

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