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Bust of fentanyl-smuggling flight attendant underscores growing U.S. illegal drug problem

Drug overdoses are breaking records every year as dangerous opioids flood market.

Published: December 27, 2022 1:21pm

Updated: December 28, 2022 11:13pm

The arrest of a flight attendant for smuggling fentanyl is throwing fresh light on the growing scourge of illegal narcotics in the United States, one that is driving record-high overdoses amid an ongoing wave of illegal immigration and trafficking at the U.S. southern border. 

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California revealed this month that a Texas flight attendant had "pleaded guilty in federal court to a drug-trafficking charge," with the worker "admitting that she used her privileges as a flight attendant to bypass the more robust security screening process" at a U.S. airport in order to smuggle fentanyl throughout the country.

Terese White was found to have "three pounds of fentanyl" taped to her abdomen when in October she attempted to get around normal Transportation Security Administration screening at San Diego International Airport.

As part of her plea deal with prosecutors, White "admitted that she attempted to use her status as a flight attendant, a position of trust, to facilitate the offense," the office said.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says that one kilogram of fentanyl "has the potential to kill 500,000 people." The amount found on White represents a potential of about 650,000 deaths. 

The staggeringly potent properties of fentanyl are underscored by the ongoing overdose crises that has been gripping the United States for years. The U.S. recorded a record-high 107,000 drug overdoses in 2021; that beat out the previous record of just over 90,000 overdose deaths set in 2020. 

Mexico remains a major source of fentanyl for the United States. Federal officials in August of this year noted that "Mexican cartels are increasingly manufacturing fentanyl for distribution and sale in the United States," with raw ingredients being imported from China and "pressed into pills, powder or mixed into other drugs at massive, industrial-scale labs."

Jim Crotty, the former deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, warned in The Hill this week that fentanyl "remains the key driver of the drug crisis," with the drug "increasingly found mixed with other illicit substances, including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. "

Federal officials, Crotty said, need to "seize every opportunity to stop the flow of these deadly drugs at their source — ideally, through enhanced cooperation, but, if necessary, through more aggressive political, diplomatic and economic measures."

The Biden administration, meanwhile, has reportedly yanked from service a fleet of planes used to help enforce drug policy and take fentanyl pills off the street. 

The Air Force has allegedly told pilots of the twin-engine RC-26s that their craft will be sent to the scrap yard and stripped for parts by the end of December, according to a report by CNN. 

The RC-26s are "outfitted with a range of surveillance gear, including infrared imaging systems and secure radio communications," CNN has noted, which has allowed the aircraft to play "a prominent role in several recent operations targeting illicit shipments of fentanyl by serving as the proverbial eye-in-the-sky for agents and officers on the ground."

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