February 01, 2019 17:32:14
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have announced their biggest fentanyl bust ever, saying they captured almost 114 kilograms of the synthetic drug that is fuelling a national epidemic of fatal opioid overdoses.
- The bust was a “cold hit” based on a hunch, according to a DEA official
- Most of the seized drug was in powder form, with about 1 kilogram contained in pills
- US President Donald Trump has praised the bust, thanking officials for a “job well done”
The drug was found hidden on Saturday morning in a compartment under the rear floor of a tractor trailer heading to Arizona from Mexico.
A scan during a secondary inspection indicated “some anomalies” in the load, and the agency’s police dog team alerted officers to the presence of drugs, Nogales CBP port director Michael Humphries said.
Most of the seized fentanyl — with an overall street value of about $US3.5 million ($4.8 million) — was in white powder form, but about 1 kilogram was contained in pills.
Agents also seized nearly 179 kilograms of methamphetamine with a street value of $US1.18 million, Mr Humphries said.
“The size of a few grains of salt of fentanyl, which is a dangerous opioid, can kill a person very quickly,” Mr Humphries explained.
The seizure, he added, had prevented an immeasurable number of doses of the drug that “could have harmed so many families”.
US President Donald Trump took to Twitter to praise those involved in the bust.
Double the previous largest fentanyl bust
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said the previous largest US seizure of fentanyl had been in August 2017 when it captured 66 kilograms of the drug in an apartment in Queens, New York, that was linked to the Sinaloa cartel.
Before that, the largest-recorded fentanyl seizure was 40 kilograms, nabbed from a pickup truck in Bartow County, Georgia.
Mexican traffickers have been increasingly smuggling the drug into the United States, mostly hidden in passenger vehicles and tractor trailers trying to head through ports of entry in the Nogales, Arizona, and San Diego areas.
The DEA’s special agent in charge for the Phoenix division, Doug Coleman, expressed admiration for the size of the recent bust, emphasising that it was not the product of any intelligence from his agency but rather “pure, old fashioned police work” by the agent who pulled the truck over.
“It was totally a cold hit” based on the agent’s hunch, Mr Coleman said.
Drug causing a surge in fatal overdoses
Fentanyl has caused a surge in fatal overdoses around the US — including the 2016 accidental death of pop music legend Prince — who consumed the opioid in counterfeit pills that looked like the narcotic analgesic Vicodin.
US law enforcement officials say the illicit version of the painkiller is now seen mostly as a white powder that can be mixed with heroin for an extra kick, as well as blue pills that are counterfeits of prescription drugs like oxycodone.
The legal prescription form of the drug is used mostly to provide relief to cancer patients suffering unbearable pain at the end of their lives.
DEA officials have said that while 85 per cent of the illicit fentanyl entering the United States from Mexico is seized at the San Diego-area border crossings, an increasing amount is being detected on the border with Arizona — a state where the Sinaloa cartel controls the drug trade and fatal fentanyl overdoses are rising.
The Federal Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said in a recent report that fentanyl is now the drug most often involved in fatal overdoses across the country, accounting for more than 18,000 — or almost 29 per cent — of the 63,000 overdose fatalities in 2016.