The opioid crisis in the United States continues to claim lives every day, and a primary culprit of the mortality rate of this crisis is fentanyl.  Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 100 times more potent than morphine, classified as a Schedule II substance.  While it can be prescribed under close medical supervision to patients with severe pain following surgery and other limited circumstances, cartels have discovered that it is a cheap way to increase the bulk and potency of other illegal drugs regardless of deadly consequences.

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, fentanyl is responsible for a 38.1% increase in overdose deaths involving opioids with nearly 90% of opioid overdose deaths linked to fentanyl in 2021 in the country. 

Two major shifts have occurred recently regarding how this substance is coming into the United States.  Originally, fentanyl was primarily entering the United States via post directly from China where fentanyl was being manufactured in clandestine labs.  The Chinese government cracked down on fentanyl manufacturing, so labs had to make a pivot.  Current, labs in China produce fentanyl precursor chemicals and ship them to Mexico.  From there, cartels manufacture fentanyl and recruit passenger vehicle and truck drivers to smuggle the substance into the United States. This is the first major shift. 

Originally, cartels were primarily moving fentanyl into the United States by adding it to other illicit drugs.  Now, they are manufacturing fentanyl pills and transporting these pills in large quantities across the border. 

Cartels recruit fentanyl mules who will draw the least amount of scrutiny at the least risky points of entry to move drugs across the border into the United States.  According to the DEA, fentanyl is most commonly transported across the US-Mexico border at official points of entry, concealed in compartments of passenger vehicles or interspersed with legitimate goods on tractor trailers driven by US citizens.  In 2021, seizures made at ports of entry accounted for 95% of all fentanyl seizures, with most of the remaining 5% found in cars driven by US citizens.  US Customs and Border Patrol reports that the rate of fentanyl seizure at ports of entry has skyrocketed. For example, in San Diego alone, the rate of fentanyl seizure has risen 323% in the past three years. 

There are two glaring themes:

First, the rate of fentanyl entering the United States has skyrocketed.

Second, fentanyl is primarily moving into the United States through controlled points of entry by US citizens.  In a six-month period, the US Customs and Border Patrol reported 89 seizures involving fentanyl.  Undocumented immigrants were only involved in three of these seizures.

Despite data to the contrary, the myth persists that undocumented immigrants and migrants seeking asylum are responsible for fentanyl overdose in the United States.  There is absolutely no data to support this theory.  A component of this myth is that the fentanyl smuggling spike has occurred due to open borders.  This is simply not true.  Seizures are occurring at strictly controlled points of entry, and the bulk of smugglers are US citizens, not foreign nationals.  Another argument is that border patrol agents are too busy chasing down illegal migrants to catch fentanyl smugglers.  If this were the case, the seizure rate would go down, not up with increased migration.

To effectively combat the opioid crisis and the deadly issue of fentanyl being smuggled into the United States, the solution needs to be data-driven, not fear-driven. 

Sheila Danzig

Sheila is the director of CCI  Sheila specializes in overturning RFEs and Denials for work visas.