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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Tuesday said it has stepped up efforts to combat fentanyl smuggling across the country’s Southern border by launching a major multi-agency operation involving hundreds of U.S. agents, the latest attempt to cut off supplies of the highly addictive synthetic opioid that is responsible for most of the country’s growing overdose deaths.
The project, dubbed “Operation Blue Lotus,” launched on March 13 and will use cutting edge technology, sniffer dog units and an increased number of targeted inspections to combat drug trafficking across the border.
Within a week of its launch, DHS said Blue Lotus led to 18 arrests and the seizure of more than 900 pounds of fentanyl.
Blue Lotus also prevented more than 700 pounds of methamphetamines and more than 100 pounds of cocaine from entering the country, DHS said.
Speaking at the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, Arizona, on Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the initiative is part of the Biden administration’s strategy to “combat the scourge of fentanyl that is devastating communities across the United States.”
Mayorkas, who said DHS has seized more fentanyl over the past two years than it had during the previous five years combined, described Blue Lotus as a “coordinated surge effort to curtail the flow of illicit fentanyl” and bring the dangerous criminal organizations profiting from it to justice.
Troy Miller, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said fentanyl and other illicit narcotics are “primarily trafficked through Ports of Entry,” areas where one can legally enter the country, and that tackling smuggling is one of the agency’s “top priorities.”
Deaths from drug overdoses have soared in recent years, primarily driven by opioids. The class of drugs, often called narcotics, are widely used in medicine to treat pain but can be highly addictive and they have had a marked impact across the country in recent decades. There is no singular cause explaining the opioid epidemic—experts point to systemic failures across health, policing, social support and regulation—nor a singular form of opioid that is to blame. Street drugs like heroin, prescription drugs like OxyContin and synthetic drugs like fentanyl have all played a role. While prescription and street opioids are addictive, dangerous and deadly, experts are particularly worried over the rise of drugs like fentanyl, which are similar in appearance to other street drugs and are so potent they can kill in minute quantities. Fentanyl is often used to lace other drugs, exacerbating the risk of accidental overdose. There are effective and lifesaving medicines to treat opioid overdoses, such as Naloxone, but its price means many who need it cannot access it.
109,000. That’s approximately how many people the CDC estimates died of a drug overdose in 2021. The figure, an all-time high, marked the first time overdose deaths have topped 100,000 in a calendar year. Synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, were responsible for the vast majority of these deaths, according to CDC data, killing more than 72,500 people.
Politicians say they’ll stop fentanyl smugglers. Experts say new drug war won’t work (NPR)
Fentanyl Helps Push Overdose Deaths to Record Level in New York City (NYT)