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  4. Fact Sheet: President’s State of the Union Highlights DHS Efforts on the Front Lines Combating Illicit Opioids, Including Fentanyl

Fact Sheet: President’s State of the Union Highlights DHS Efforts on the Front Lines Combating Illicit Opioids, Including Fentanyl

Release Date: March 8, 2024

Over 2,000 arrests and over 13,000 pounds of fentanyl seized so far in FY 2024

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, in the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress, President Joe Biden laid out his Administration’s efforts to crack down on the global criminal networks that have fueled American overdose deaths. Updated data from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released today continues to show the Department is on the frontlines combating illicit opioids, including fentanyl. In the first five months of Fiscal Year (FY) 2024, DHS made over 2,000 arrests of subjects connected to fentanyl seizure events. Over 13,000 pounds of illicit fentanyl have been seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Homeland Security­­ Investigations (HSI) and over 1,500 pill presses have been seized in that same period.

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. FY 2023 efforts by CBP and HSI also resulted in over 5,600& fentanyl seizure-related arrests.

Through a whole-of-DHS effort, which supports, President Biden’s Unity Agenda, the Department has stopped more illicit fentanyl and arrested more individuals for fentanyl-related crimes in the last two fiscal years than in the previous five years combined. As the President has made clear, sustaining this success demands that Congress act, without delay, to provide supplemental funding consistent with the U.S. Senate’s bipartisan national security agreement.

This Administration continues to build on and accelerate efforts to stop the flow of illicit fentanyl into the United States. Illicit 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 combat this threat.

  • Seizing Deadly Drugs to Save American Lives. More than 90% of interdicted fentanyl is stopped at Ports of Entry (POEs) where cartels attempt to smuggle it primarily in vehicles driven by U.S. citizens. The President has prioritized deploying cutting-edge drug detection technology across our southwest border and continues to call on Congress to pass the bipartisan border bill, which would deliver 100 more high-tech drug detection machines that could scan 20 times as many vehicles to stop fentanyl from crossing our border.
  • Cracking Down on the Global Criminal Networks that Fuel American Overdose Deaths. Under President Biden’s leadership, the United States is attacking the epidemic at every level, including where it often starts: with China-based entities that manufacture and distribute the chemicals used to make the fentanyl that is fueling American overdose deaths. The Administration has stepped up counternarcotics cooperation with key government partners across America and around the world, including China, IndiaMexico, and Canada – and launched the Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats, which unites more than 140 countries in the fight against drug trafficking cartels and illicit finance. DHS participated in the development of a new Counternarcotics Working Group with China to disrupt the manufacture and flow of illicit synthetic drugs, delivering on the commitments made during President Biden’s meeting with President Xi in November 2023.

Surging interdiction and investigation efforts across the Department:

Over the past three years, the DHS strategy has evolved to target not just illicit 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 CBP and HSI throughout the past year has included operations 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.

Launched in October 2023, Operation Apollo is a CBP counter-fentanyl operation that disrupts drug and chemical supply, collects and shares intelligence, and leverages valuable partnerships in southern California. This operation is gathering 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.

Other recent operations include:

  • Operation Blue Lotus, launched in March 2023, it 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 checkpoints near the border.
    • As a result of these operations, DHS 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. 
  • CBP’s Operation Artemis, supported by HSI, targeted the illicit 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. The four months 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.

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 our southwest border. 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 Artificial Intelligence 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.

Working with international partners and the private sector:

Synthetic drugs are a global problem, requiring a global solution. In furtherance of President Biden’s calls for a global effort, 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: 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. 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 Committee with the Governments of Mexico and Canada.
  • Information Sharing: We are working with shippers to provide more 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.

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 success 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 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. Funding requested in the Administration’s supplemental budget request and included in the U.S. Senate’s bipartisan national security agreement is vital to installing NII systems to detect fentanyl at the southwest border, boosting personnel, providing 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 throughout the past year but are not sustainable without these increases in personnel and technology.


Last Updated: 03/08/2024
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