U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested a man who was allegedly attempting to smuggle nearly $3.7 million worth of fentanyl from Mexico into California on Monday, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The agency said the man, who is a U.S. citizen, attempted to smuggle 250 pounds of fentanyl in his truck’s spare tire and gas tank. Border Patrol agents discovered the illicit drugs when a K-9 unit flagged the black GMC truck during a vehicle stop near Campo, Calif., near the Mexican border.
“Our agents prevented these dangerous narcotics from reaching our communities,” Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke said in a statement. “I am proud to say that our Border Patrol agents here in San Diego Sector are responsible for over 50% of all the fentanyl seized by the U.S. Border Patrol this fiscal year.”
Experts say fentanyl has greatly increased the number of drug overdoses in the U.S.
Deaths from drug overdoses rose to an all-time high of more than 107,000 in 2021, according to the CDC. The 15 percent increase from the year before follows an even bigger increase in 2020, when drug overdose deaths jumped 30 percent.
Overdoses were one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. last year, on par with the number of people who died from diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Overdoses killed about a quarter as many Americans last year as Covid-19, which was the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
Overdose deaths often involve more than one drug and officials say fentanyl increasingly appears in other drugs without the buyers’ knowledge. A recent study found that a large share of illicit pills seized by drug enforcement authorities that had been marketed as OxyContin, Xanax or Adderall actually contained fentanyl.
“The net effect is that we have many more people, including those who use drugs occasionally and even adolescents, exposed to these potent substances that can cause someone to overdose even with a relatively small exposure,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Kelly Dougherty, Vermont’s deputy health commissioner, told the New York Times in May that state officials had begun a new public messaging to tell people to assume that fentanyl is everywhere in the state where 93 percent of opioid deaths were fentanyl-related.
“In the beginning stages of the pandemic, we were attributing the increase to life being disrupted,” she told the outlet. “What is really the primary driver is the presence of fentanyl in the drug supply.”
The Biden administration has struggled to control record numbers of illegal immigrants surging across the border in recent months. Border Patrol agents who would otherwise be working to secure the border against human and drug trafficking have been diverted to process and care for asylum-seekers, who are no longer being forced to wait in Mexico thanks to the repeal of the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols.