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San Diego area becomes ‘epicenter’ of fentanyl smuggling amid spike in deaths, drug seizures

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The San Diego area of California has become the “epicenter” of fentanyl smuggling, as the federal district sees a spike in seizures of the deadly drug as well as a massive surge in overdose deaths.

Officials said in a release Thursday that more deadly fentanyl is seized at the border in the San Diego and Imperial counties — which make up the Southern District of California — than at any of the nation’s more than 300 ports of entry.

“The Southern District of California, which is home to six international border crossings, has become the epicenter for fentanyl trafficking in the United States,” U.S Attorney for the district Randy Grossman said in a video. “The numbers are staggering.”

So far in FY 2022, more than 5,000 lbs have been seized by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agencies in those two counties — amounting to 60% of the 8,425 lbs that have been seized across the country. Seizures have increased in San Diego by 323% in just three years and by 272% in Imperial County.

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This photo shows the largest seizure of fentanyl pills in California history.
(Drug Enforcement Administration)

Meanwhile, deaths have also been surging due to the drug — which can be fatal in small doses and is frequently cut with other drugs, meaning the user often does not know they are ingesting fentanyl.

Officials cited statistics that show fentanyl-related overdose deaths have increased a staggering 2,375% in San Diego County, from 33 in 2016 to at least 817 in 2021. 

The increase in fentanyl has become a major issue at both the southern border and throughout the U.S. The drug is now typically produced in Mexico with precursors made in China and trafficked via the southern border. 

More than 10,586 lbs of fentanyl were seized at the southern border in FY 2021 by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), up significantly from the 4,558 lbs in FY 2020 and 2,633 in FY 2019. Most of the amount seized is caught at ports of entry.

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The DEA has previously warned of a “nationwide spike” in mass fentanyl overdoses and has said the drug is killing Americans at an “unprecedented rate.”

In an interview with Fox News Digital last month, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Dr. Rahul Gupta said that of the 108,000 overdose deaths last year, more than 80,000 were linked with opioids like fentanyl.

Gupta said that the push for profits by transnational organizations is what is driving the transition to synthetic opioids.

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“What’s driving this transition by opening this Pandora’s Box, because now it’s basically a matter of chemistry, and you can create a number of compounds, is ultimately profits,” he said. “The profits of transnational criminal organizations is what is driving both the shift, but also this innovation.”

Officials say that whereas once organizations were adding small amounts of fentanyl to large amounts of other drugs, more recently they are moving larger numbers of fentanyl pills and powder — including four separate loads between July 13 and 18.

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“2016 was the first year San Diego Sector Border Patrol tracked fentanyl seizures,” said San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke in a statement. “In that year, our sector seized a total of 71 pounds. This fiscal year to date, San Diego Sector has already seized over 600 pounds, an increase of 745 percent, with two months remaining in the fiscal year.”

Heitke said that the agency “will continue to work with our National and International partners to dismantle these criminal organizations and keep our borders free of these nefarious actors.”

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