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  4. Fact Sheet: DHS is on the Front Lines Combating Illicit Opioids, Including Fentanyl

Fact Sheet: DHS is on the Front Lines Combating Illicit Opioids, Including Fentanyl

Release Date: December 22, 2023

Over 5,500 pounds of Fentanyl Seized Already in FY2024

WASHINGTON – Updated data from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released today shows that through the end of November, over 5,500 pounds of illicit fentanyl have already been seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in the first two months of Fiscal Year (FY) 2024, with over 3,000 pounds seized in November alone. Additionally, over 750 pill presses were seized in November, bringing the total number seized for the first two months of FY 2024 to over 1,800. DHS is a leader in this Administration’s efforts to crack down on the precursors, production, and trafficking of illicit fentanyl into the United States. Sustaining this success demands that Congress act, without delay, to fund DHS’s request of $1.3 billion included in its October supplemental will provide critical resources to keep fentanyl out of American communities.

Progress this year builds on our efforts in FY 2023, when DHS stopped over 43,000 pounds of fentanyl from hitting our streets and seized more than 3,600 pill presses and $16 million in currency. These efforts by CBP and HSI also resulted in over 5,600 arrests in FY 2023. Since FY21, DHS HSI operations have seized more than 1,570,127 kilograms of fentanyl and methamphetamine precursor chemicals.

The November data follows President Biden’s meeting last month with the Secretary of Homeland Security and other senior administration officials to build on and accelerate U.S. efforts to stop the flow of illicit fentanyl into the United States. Fentanyl is one of the top threats facing our homeland: synthetic opioid-related deaths have steadily increased since 2013, and fentanyl overdoses have been the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18-45 since 2019.

This Administration is working intensively to meet this threat. A recent fact sheet issued by the White House describes whole-of-government efforts to decrease the supply of illicit fentanyl, including by strengthening our cooperation with other countries demonstrated by commitments made by the Presidents of China and Mexico.

Through a whole-of-DHS effort in alignment with President Biden’s National Drug Control Strategy, the Department has stopped more fentanyl and arrested more individuals for fentanyl-related crimes in the last two years than in the previous five years combined. More than 90% of fentanyl interdicted is stopped at Ports of Entry (POEs) where cartels attempted to smuggle it through, primarily in vehicles driven by U.S. citizens. Our strategy to disrupt the flow of illicit fentanyl and precursor chemicals coming into the United States includes improving our detection capabilities through personnel surges, advanced technology deployment, and increased information-sharing. We are making progress, but we need more resources from Congress to continue the fight.

Surging interdiction and investigation efforts across the Department:

The DHS strategy has evolved to target not just fentanyl but the tools and materials transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) use to make it. We are interdicting and seizing precursor chemicals, pill press machines, die molds, and pill press parts used in the manufacturing process. We are targeting pill press supply chains, pill press brokers, TCOs and U.S. recipients who are producing and moving fentanyl, and the money launderers who help facilitate this illicit trade.

Work being carried out by HSI and CBP has included operations throughout this year that have mobilized hundreds of personnel – special agents, CBP officers, import specialists, and intelligence analysts – with surges and deployments at Southwest Border POEs, airports, express consignment facilities, international mail facilities, container stations, and warehouses across the country.

Operations include:

  • Operation Blue Lotus, launched in March 2023, which surged CBP and HSI resources to Southwest Border POEs and worked with state, local, tribal, and territorial partners to expose networks. Operation Four Horsemen was a complementary United States Border Patrol (USBP) operation to stop fentanyl between POEs and at check points near the border.
    • These operations seized nearly 10,000 pounds of fentanyl, and more than 10,000 pounds of other narcotics like cocaine and methamphetamines. In its last week alone, Blue Lotus saw a 2000% percent increase in seizures at a single port of entry and arrested 284 people on fentanyl charges. 
  • Blue Lotus 2.0 launched in June 2023 to leverage the intelligence and investigative information derived from the original operation.
  • CBP’s Operation Artemis targeted the fentanyl supply chain and interdicted items required in the production of fentanyl, supported by HSI. This operation leveraged multidisciplined interagency “jump teams” at strategic locations. In four months of operation, CBP’s Operation Artemis led to over 900 seizures, including over 13,000 pounds of fentanyl precursor chemicals.
  • Operation Rolling Wave surged inbound inspections at Southwest Border checkpoints, covering every sector and employing predictive analysis and intelligence sharing.
  • Operation Apollo is a new CBP counter-fentanyl operation launched in October 2023 to disrupt drug and chemical supply, collect and share intelligence, and leverage valuable partnerships in Southern California. This operation will gather more intelligence on transnational criminals, specifically the logistics and routes they use to traffic fentanyl into the country, so that DHS can better disrupt them.

Enhancing our interdiction of illicit fentanyl at Ports of Entry:

Technology significantly enhances our detection efforts to stop fentanyl being smuggled through our POEs:

  • Non-Intrusive Inspection: We are dramatically expanding non-intrusive inspection (NII) technology at these POEs. This technology allows us to screen and detect not only drugs, but also currency, guns, ammunition, and illegal merchandise, as well as people being smuggled or trafficked into the country, while minimally impacting the flow of legitimate travel and commerce. By installing 123 new large-scale scanners at multiple POEs along the Southwest Border, CBP will increase its inspection capacity of passenger vehicles from two percent to 40 percent, and of cargo vehicles from 17 percent to 70 percent.
  • Forward-operating labs: CBP is operating 16 Forward Operating Laboratories to provide onsite, rapid testing for fentanyl to frontline personnel – meaning a process that once would have taken weeks now takes seconds. These scientists provide real-time testing for quicker law enforcement actions, prosecutions, and intelligence collection.
  • Artificial Intelligence: We are innovating with the responsible use of AI at our POEs. This year alone, machine learning models that help CBP Officers determine which suspicious vehicles and passengers to refer to secondary screening have led to 240 seizures, which include thousands of pounds of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and fentanyl.
  • Mail facilities: We are working with shippers to get more trade shipment data to CBP. The Section 321 Data Pilot helps us work more closely with non-traditional trade partners to identify and interdict illicit shipments in small packages, without inhibiting cross-border e-commerce.

Working with international partners and the private sector:

Synthetic drugs are a global problem, requiring a global solution. DHS is helping partners in the Western Hemisphere and Asia build their own capacity to combat the smuggling of illicit fentanyl, related chemicals, and related hardware.

  • Transnational Criminal Investigative Units: To improve our international cooperation, HSI partners with vetted foreign law enforcement officials and prosecutors in Transnational Criminal Investigative Units (TCIUs), which support investigations and prosecutions abroad. HSI has established 16 TCIUs, including two International Task Forces. In FY 2023, efforts by the Mexico TCIU resulted in the seizure of 64,138 pounds of precursor chemicals and more than 59 criminal arrests.
  • Collaborating with foreign partners: DHS works bilaterally and multilaterally with our international partners to counter narcotics, including contributing to the U.S. participation in the Global Coalition Against Synthetic Drugs and the Trilateral Fentanyl Commission with the Governments of Mexico and Canada.

Learning and updating our strategy:

The CBP Strategy to Combat Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Drugs, released in October 2023, aligns resources, partnerships, intelligence collection, and lessons learned from CBP’s successful this year, while leveraging CBP’s vast expertise and data holdings. It complements the HSI Strategy for Combating Illicit Opioids, released in September 2023, an intelligence-driven approach that leverages HSI’s extensive expertise in investigating cross-border criminal activity and its unique access to customs and financial data.

We need Congress to act to provide resources to sustain and increase our efforts:

The scope of the fentanyl challenge underscores the need for Congress to provide CBP and HSI with the additional resources, equipment, and personnel they need to continue this critical work, as outlined in the Administration’s supplemental budget request.

DHS’s supplemental funding request includes $1.3 billion for countering fentanyl. This includes 36 new NII systems to detect fentanyl at the Southwest Border, 1,000 additional CBP Officers, critical resources for Homeland Security Investigations, and research and development funds to better detect and investigate fentanyl and opioids. Surge operations have been very effective this year but are not sustainable without these increases in personnel and technology.


Last Updated: 12/26/2023
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