DEA Report Shows Illicit Fentanyl, Synthetic Opioids Cause Greatest Number of Overdose Deaths
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued its 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment reporting that illicit synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and carfentanil “trafficked into the United States primarily from China and Mexico,” have caused the largest number of overdose deaths among all opioids in the United States. The STOP Act, which President Trump signed into law after it passed the House of Representatives and the Senate with broad bipartisan support, will help close a global postal loophole exploited by drug traffickers by requiring advance electronic data (AED) on all inbound international packages to the U.S.
While enacting the STOP Act was a major step toward closing the opioid pipeline, much work remains. As the DEA predicts that “fentanyl will continue to be a serious threat to the United States while the current illicit production continues and fentanyl availability remains prevalent,” and that international drug traffickers “will continue to experiment with new fentanyl-related substances and adjust supplies” to evade international regulations, the STOP Act must be implemented promptly and enforced to the fullest extent to keep Americans safe. Our federal agencies must ensure advance electronic data is included on all inbound international packages to the United States, and the U.S. Postal Service must hold foreign posts accountable in providing this information. Stopping the loss of life caused by synthetic opioids is non-negotiable. The U.S. Postal Service must be in full compliance with the STOP Act and meet all deadlines imposed by the law.
Key excerpts from the report are below and the full text is available HERE.
Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Opioids
“Clandestinely produced fentanyl is trafficked into the United States primarily from China and Mexico, and is responsible for the ongoing fentanyl epidemic.” (Page 21)
“The CDC reported a 103 percent increase in synthetic opioid deaths from 2015 to 2016, from 9,580 deaths to 19,413 deaths. Synthetic opioids are now involved in more deaths than any other illicit drug.” (Page 23)
Transportation and Distribution
“Fentanyl is transported into the United States in parcel packages directly from China or from China through Canada and is also smuggled across the Southwest border from Mexico. Large volumes of fentanyl are seized at the Southwest border, although these seizures are typically low in purity, less than ten percent on average. Conversely, the smaller volumes seized after arriving in the mail directly from China can have purities over 90 percent.” (Page 32)
“Fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances are also being imported in low weight, high concentration shipments via mail and express consignment from China. These shipments are likely being imported by small criminal networks because of the potential for fentanyl and fentanyl-related-substances to generate high revenue without the need for allegiance to a larger drug trafficking organization or Mexican transnational criminal organizations. According to CBP data, nearly all fentanyl seized from international mail and express consignment operations originated in China and averaged less than 700 grams in weight. CBP laboratory analysis of similar seizures indicated international mail and express consignment operations seizures are typically over 50 percent pure.” (Page 35)
“Clandestine fentanyl pill press operations are becoming increasingly popular in the United States due to the profitability of fentanyl pills and the large potential user market. Traffickers typically purchase already synthesized fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds in powder form, in addition to pill presses available from China, to create counterfeit pills intended for street sales. Under U.S. law, DEA must be notified when a pill press is imported into the country. However, foreign pill press vendors circumvent this requirement by mislabeling equipment or sending equipment disassembled to avoid detection by port authorities or law enforcement.” (Page 36)
“Fentanyl will continue to be a serious threat to the United States while the current illicit production continues and fentanyl availability remains prevalent. Fentanyl’s lethality will continue to pose challenges and risks to law enforcement and first responders as well as contribute to increasing numbers of overdose deaths. Moreover, new regulations imposed by the United States, China, and Mexico may decrease fentanyl availability and trafficking in the short term but are unlikely to affect long term change, as traffickers will continue to experiment with new fentanyl-related substances and adjust supplies accordingly. Drug traffickers will continue to be drawn to fentanyl because of the high profits associated with its distribution. Additionally, the use of both the open and dark web to obscure transactions and to distribute fentanyl directly to both users and independent drug trafficking organizations presents challenges for law enforcement and policy makers working to restrict the flow of fentanyl to the United States.” (Page 37)