Opioid-related deaths rise as states battle cartels and drug traffickers on US-Mexico border


On September 8, as Arizona Governor Doug Ducey toured a wall of stacked shipping containers along the state’s southern border in Yuma, he said the barrier would stem the flow of immigration illegal and drug trafficking from Mexico to the United States.

A month earlier, Ducey, a Republican, had signed an executive order authorizing the Arizona Department of Military Affairs to erect the fence lined with barbed wire to seal the breaches in the southern border wall.

The $6 million project was part of a half-billion-dollar fiscal year 2023 state budget for border security signed by the governor earlier this year.

“The last time I stood along the border here in Yuma, several migrants illegally crossed the border into Arizona, right in front of us,” Ducey said at a news conference near Morales Dam. at the temporary border barrier.

April Babcock holds a photo of her son Austen, who died in January 2019 after unknowingly taking cocaine containing fentanyl. (Courtesy of April Babcock)

“Now 130 shipping containers fill the gaps in border walls previously wide open to dangerous cartel activity and illegal entry into our country.”

Even as Ducey proclaimed the barrier would block the “revolving door” of Mexican drug cartels, five Arizona residents died of opioid overdoses that day.

The Arizona Department of Health Services shared this grim statistic on its website as the state faces a worsening opioid crisis directly linked to illegal immigration and smuggling.

In 2022, nearly 400 people died from opioid-related overdoses in Arizona, and the year isn’t over yet.

Nationally, the US Centers for Disease Control reported that 107,375 people died of drug overdoses and poisonings in the 12 months ending January 2022, 67% of those deaths involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

“We are in the midst of a national opioid crisis, and the deadliest drugs smuggled into our country [are] of Mexico,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, said in a forceful statement on her official webpage.

Los Angeles Fentanyl Pills
Some of the seizures of approximately 1 million fake fentanyl-containing pills were seized when officers served a search warrant at a home in Inglewood, Calif., on July 5, 2022. (Drug Enforcement Administration via AP)

“President [Joe] Biden knows this, but he continues to double down on his terrible immigration policies, knowing full well that these policies are emboldening and rewarding. [the drug cartels and] profiting from the deaths of thousands of Americans.

The worst illegal narcotics entering the United States from Mexico are heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl, a highly lethal and addictive synthetic opioid.

In the case of fentanyl, China remains the world’s largest producer and supplier.

At the same time, Mexican drug cartels aim to take advantage of new regulations in China that address the opioid crisis in the United States.

Many of the precursor ingredients used to make fentanyl are made in India, although Mexican drug cartels are also producing the drug using lab equipment in ever-increasing quantities for sale in the United States.

A DEA intelligence report for 2020 found that the influx of fentanyl – sometimes 90% pure – into the country is far more diverse than the 2014 fentanyl crisis.

While much of the smuggling of illegal drugs occurs along the southern border of Texas, New Mexico and California, six land entry points in Arizona provide easy access for narcotics traffickers, called “mules”.

Epoch Times Photo
A Mexican Army soldier holds poppy plants grown by narcotics traffickers in the mountains surrounding Chilpancingo, the capital of the Mexican state of Guerrero, in this 2002 file photo. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP via Getty Pictures)

Significant gaps in President Donald Trump’s unfinished border wall and open floodgates near critical entry points in Douglas, Bisbee and Sansabe, make illegal immigration seem easy. And the sheer volume of drugs seized by the DEA and US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) crossing from Mexico into the United States is astonishing.

In the first nine months of fiscal year 2022, CBP officers in Southern California seized more than 5,000 pounds of fentanyl, or approximately 60% of the 8,425 pounds of fentanyl intercepted nationwide.

“Ten years ago we didn’t even know about fentanyl, and now it’s a national crisis,” U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said in a statement.

“The amount of fentanyl we seize at the border is staggering. The number of fentanyl seizures and fentanyl-related deaths in our district is unprecedented. »

On August 26, CBP officers seized $4.3 million worth of fentanyl pills during a traffic stop near the town of Gila Bend, Arizona. The shipment included 340 packages, weighing 187 pounds, with enough fentanyl to kill more than 42 million Americans.

Sending drugs through tunnels

In July, CBP operating on the southern Arizona border recovered more than 40 pounds of drugs from inside a vehicle and 150,000 fentanyl tablets.

The National Intelligence Center’s 2003 Arizona Threat Assessment reports that illegal drug trafficking takes place by rail, horse couriers, and camouflaged backpackers crossing remote areas of Arizona to avoid to be detected.

These areas include the Tohono O’odham Nation, Coronado National Forest, and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Mexican drug cartels frequently build underground tunnels to illegally ship products to the United States. (A smuggler even used the sewer network connecting the two countries.)

Law enforcement in Arizona discovered a dozen tunnels between 1995 and 2003 connecting Nogales, Arizona, to Nogales, Sonora in Mexico.

The report says drug cartels and criminal gangs also allegedly use family ties and personal networks in the United States to transport and distribute “significant quantities” of illegal narcotics.

The amount spent on border security at the state level is significant. State funding for border security in Texas alone is nearly $3 billion for fiscal year 2023 as part of Operation Lone Star.

Since the operation was launched, law enforcement has made more than 279,000 migrant arrests and 17,100 criminal arrests, confiscating 5,800 weapons and $43.5 million in currency.

Epoch Times Photo
Firefighters and police work at the scene of a shooting in which eight suspected drug traffickers were shot dead by Mexican Navy officers in Tlahuac, Mexico City, July 20, 2017.
(Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images)

In June, Ducey authorized $564 million for Arizona’s border security, including the barrier and a central command center.

Meanwhile, increased spending on interdiction of illegal narcotics in Arizona has spurred large seizures of fentanyl across the state.

The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission said $3.7 million in funding for 14 drug task force units led to a significant increase in drug seizures between 2019 and 2020.

But despite the best efforts of law enforcement, the death toll from opioid use and illegal smuggling continues to rise.

During Overdose Awareness Week last August, Biden proclaimed that the overdose epidemic had taken “a heartbreaking toll on our nation, claiming the lives of far too many Americans and devastating families and communities across the country”.

‘Each loss is a painful reminder that now more than ever, we must fight our country’s overdose epidemic,’ Biden said, vowing to spend more on mental health and addictions infrastructure to ‘win’. the opioid crisis.

Epoch Times Photo
Police display confiscated capsules containing approximately 15 grams of cocaine, ready to be swallowed by drug traffickers. New drug sentencing guidelines establish for the first time different sentences for different types of involvement in trafficking. (Mark renders/Getty Images)
Allan Stein

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Allan Stein is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Arizona.

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