SAN DIEGO (AP) — As overdose deaths continue at a record pace, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced a new government-wide strategy Thursday involving scores of agencies that will target the precursor materials used by traffickers to make fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.
Troy Miller, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement that his agency will work with the postal service and express consignment carriers, air carriers, and other logistic companies to share information about suspicious goods, potential transit routes, and other data that can help thwart the supply chain of fentanyl and other illicit synthetic drugs. Legal goods that could be targeted include molds and presses to make pills, as well as chemicals.
Miller planned to announce the program in San Diego at a border crossing. The pilot project will be launched in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, and will leverage partnerships at all levels: state, local, tribal, territorial, law enforcement, governments, commercial industries, nongovernmental partners, and the international community, to combat networks tied to the deadliest overdose crisis in U.S. history.
Legal goods used in the making of fentanyl have been arriving increasingly via air cargo from Asia to airports including Los Angeles International Airport and then driven south into Mexico where cartels produce the drug and send it back to the U.S. to be sold illegally, officials said.
The aim is to hit “each node of the supply chain, based on data-driven intelligence,” the agency said in its plan.
The government said the plan will also target otherwise legal precursors which are increasingly being used for illicit purposes, such as in the manufacturing of methamphetamine.
It is the latest effort by the Biden administration in its fight against the drug crisis. Earlier this month, the government announced a series of indictments and sanctions against Chinese companies and executives blamed for importing the chemicals used to make the deadly drug. The actions included charges against eight Chinese companies and their executives, who were accused of advertising, manufacturing and distributing precursor chemicals for the illegal sale of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
CBP said it plans to target more businesses, including shippers, who are involved.
Mexico and China are the primary sources for fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked directly into the U.S., according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is tasked with combating illicit drug trafficking. Nearly all the precursor chemicals that are needed to make fentanyl come from China. And the companies that make the precursors routinely use fake return addresses and mislabel the products in order to avoid being caught by law enforcement.
Fentanyl, a powerful opioid, is the deadliest drug in the U.S. today. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that drug overdose deaths have increased more than sevenfold from 2015 to 2021.
More than 100,000 deaths a year have been linked to drug overdoses since 2020 and about two-thirds of those are related to fentanyl.