MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Warnings continue about the dangers of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s powerful enough to kill a person with a single, small dose.
In a recent letter to law enforcement across the country, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration said agents are seeing a nationwide spike in mass-overdose events, including one recently involving spring breakers in Wilton Manors.
U.S. Border Patrol agents, along with officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, gave Local 10 News an exclusive look at how federal law enforcement on the southern border in Arizona is dealing with an unprecedented flow of fentanyl from Mexico. The drugs stopped at the border are drugs that could have been heading to American towns nationwide.
This fiscal year alone, CBP records show 180 pounds of fentanyl have been intercepted in the Tucson sector, already outpacing the year before by more than double.
One area that agents patrol is a temporary immigration checkpoint on Interstate 19, a main thoroughfare north from the border. License plate readers, x-rays, and canines are used as cars and trucks pass through.
“The primary purpose for the canines here at the checkpoint is to detect concealed humans. Secondary is for controlled substances,” said agent and canine handler Aaron Escobar. “We have seen an uptick in fentanyl here at the checkpoint for sure.”
Local 10 News was there when a van was stopped by an agent who discovered drugs taped to the upper bodies of two young women; one was a teenager.
“This 16 year old had this entire package - imagine this entire side from her hip all the way to her bra, tucked in right there,” the agent told Local 10 News’ Janine Stanwood. “The smaller [package] on the small of her back. And it was taped so strong she looked abnormal in shape.”
Field tests confirmed some of the packages contained fentanyl pills, and others contained heroin.
Fentanyl, developed decades ago to treat pain in hospitalized cancer patients, is smaller in size and more profitable than marijuana, which has seen a decrease in flow since some U.S. states have legalized it.
Deanne Reuter, Special Agent in Charge of the Miami field division of the DEA, told Local 10 in February that chemicals used to make fentanyl typically come from China or India, get sent to Mexico where they are pressed into pills, and smuggled across the border. Sometimes they are mixed with other drugs and often they are stamped to look like prescriptions. The DEA has online resources for anyone wanting more information about fentanyl here: https://www.dea.gov/onepill
On Monday, Reuter told Local 10 News that partnerships with law enforcement are essential.
“The effectiveness of our efforts in combating criminal drug networks is a direct result of the relationships we have cultivated with our law enforcement partners,” Reuter said. “The collaboration between DEA and our local, state, and federal partners is essential to the success of our mission, keeping our communities safe and healthy.”