Fentanyl Seizures at Southern U.S. Border Have Increased 233% in One Year

Seizures of the deadly drug fentanyl increased by about 233 percent between March 2021 and last year as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials say the 652 pounds seized at the southwest border last month is part of a concerted increase in drug smuggling operations.

Data released by CBP Friday revealed that border agents have seized 2,098 pounds of fentanyl, compared with 639 pounds uncovered along the southwest border during the same period last year. The number of seizure "events" is nearly identical to one year ago, but public health officials continue to warn that drug overdose deaths likely exceeded more than 90,000 in 2020 and are on track to worsen in 2021. GOP lawmakers in Washington have pounced on the fentanyl seizure increase as the fault of President Joe Biden's inability to control the "border surge" of migrants.

But immigration groups say the statistical seizure increase is misleading because the pandemic reduced non-travel and made drug smuggling detection much easier.

Biden's Border Crisis is hurting Americans at home: Border Patrol has reported a 233% increase in fentanyl seizures over last year.

The President's policies are not only a national security crisis and a humanitarian disaster, they're also fueling a public health nightmare. pic.twitter.com/TZ4GtJ7oMK

— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) April 19, 2021

In March 2020 alone, border patrol agents seized 245 pounds of fentanyl at the border, but that number has jumped up to 652 pounds in March of this year. The latest CBP statistics show that drug seizures overall peaked in December 2020, when 1,175 pounds of illegal narcotics were seized, compared with 110 pounds the year before.

"There was a 233% increase in fentanyl seizures at the southern border from this time last year. Thanks to Biden's border crisis, fentanyl smuggling is spiking and it's hurting communities across our country," tweeted GOP chair Ronna McDaniel, prompting thousands of shares expressing the same sentiment, including Arizona GOP Rep. Andy Biggs.

But others say coronavirus pandemic travel restrictions reduced travel into the U.S. dramatically, thus allowing customs officials at ports of entry to more easily detect drug smuggling operations.

"This is extremely misleading. The vast majority of fentanyl seizures occur at ports of entry. The increase has nothing to do with the "border surge." Restrictions on non-essential travel cut crossing volume in half, making detection easier. Note how seizures spike post-lockdown!" remarked American Immigration Council policy counsel, Aaron Reichlin-Melnick.

As of 2019, CBP had seized more than 2,000 pounds of fentanyl just one year after federal government officials used emergency scheduling in order to prioritize the effort to curb the flow of the deadly synthetic opioid into the United States. As officials noted at the time, that 2,000 pounds seized three years ago is "more than enough to poison the entire U.S. population."

Across the country, law enforcement have reported dozens of cases of teenagers and other users of painkillers dying as a result of fentanyl ingestion. In Kansas City over the weekend, police said OxyContin laced with fentanyl, described as "deadly as cyanide," has been tied to the deaths of at least three people this month alone.

Public health officials say fentanyl or fentanyl-related substances can reach as much as 50 times the potency of heroin and a lethal dose can be as tiny as a grain of salt.

Recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Commonwealth Fund found U.S. overdose deaths likely topped 90,000 last year, an increase from 70,630 in 2019.

Newsweek reached out to border officials for additional remarks Monday morning.

Tablets believed to be laced with fentanyl are displayed at the Drug Enforcement Administration Northeast Regional Laboratory on October 8, 2019 in New York. CBP Friday revealed that border agents have seized 2,098 pounds of fentanyl, compared with 639 pounds uncovered along the southwest border during the same period last year. Don Emmert/AFP