WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, the top-ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, today released a report showing that the amount of illicit opioids, including illicit fentanyl, seized by the Border Patrol has increased dramatically over the last five years. McCaskill had recently released a report showing similarly dramatic increases in illicit fentanyl seizures at America’s ports of entry.
In 2016, approximately 116 people in the United States died every day from an opioid-related drug overdose, amounting to over 42,000 fatalities in a single year. While many addicts still use heroin and over-the-counter opiates, the emergence of fentanyl has rapidly increased the deadliness of the opioid epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined opioid overdoses in ten states, including Missouri, and found more than half of the deaths attributable to opioid overdoses tested positive for fentanyl. Most cases of fentanyl-related death or overdose are linked to illicitly produced fentanyl, 90% of which is produced in China.
“We’re seeing huge year-on-year increases in fentanyl deaths in Missouri communities and around the country and, unsurprisingly we’re seeing a dramatic increase in seizures of illicit fentanyl by the Border Patrol as well,” McCaskill said. “Opioid overdose deaths are a national public health crisis that has many components, and illicit fentanyl moving across our borders is something that should concern policymakers.”
The Border Patrol plays an important role in drug seizure efforts and is responsible for the areas along the border that are between ports of entry. Border Patrol Agents also have certain authorities to interdict people and goods within 100 miles of the border.
READ THE REPORT: Combating the Opioid Epidemic: The Interception of Illicit Opioids by the Border Patrol
The report’s key findings include:
- Border Patrol Agents seized over 3,500 pounds of opioids in the last five years, primarily near the southern border. Between 2013 and 2017, the amount of opioids seized each year increased 96%, from 579 pounds to 1,135 pounds. Nearly all (98%) of the opioids interdicted by Border Patrol Agents during this time were seized near the southern border.
- The amount of fentanyl seized by Border Patrol Agents has increased by 72% in a single year. Most of the fentanyl seized by Border Patrol took place in the San Diego sector, where Border Patrol Agents seized 210 pounds, or 74% of all of the fentanyl seized across all Border Patrol sectors. During this same period, 67% of all Border Patrol fentanyl seizures took place in automobiles.
- The majority of opioids seized by Border Patrol Agents are seized well inside the United States, rather than along the border. In past years, approximately 70% of Border Patrol’s opioid seizures occurred 10 or more miles from the border, most of which occurred in automobiles. The majority of these seizures took place in western sectors on the southern border where fencing covers most of the border and where large infrastructure investments have been made to prevent illegal crossings, indicating that opioids are crossing the border through ports of entry and are later being seized by Border Patrol agents at Border Patrol checkpoints.
In her role as the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, McCaskill has prioritized targeting the opioid epidemic. President Trump signed into law a McCaskill-backed bill that arms CBP with additional chemical screening devices to help detect illegal opioids. Last year, McCaskill’s bill to reauthorize the Department of Homeland Security’s program that targets transnational criminal organizations on the border and at U.S. ports in order to combat drug and weapons trafficking and other crimes was approved by the Committee.
McCaskill previously joined Republican Committee Chairman Ron Johnson to request details from the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the United States Postal Service about their efforts to stop illegal drugs from being mailed to the U.S. from China, Hong Kong and other foreign countries. McCaskill targeted opioid shipments from China at a Senate hearing last year.
McCaskill has also targeted the opioid epidemic more broadly and is currently leading the largest Congressional investigation to-date into opioid manufacturers and distributers. She launched the investigation last year, requesting documents from opioid manufacturers and distributors. In September 2017, McCaskill announced the first round of findings, detailing systemic manipulation of the prior authorization process by Insys Therapeutics. McCaskill’s latest report, issued earlier this year, describes how manufacturers of opioids have made significant financial investments into third party organizations—groups which in turn have often engaged in pro-opioid advocacy.