Lax borders, lethal overdoses: The rising toll of Biden's hands-off immigration enforcement

Mexican cartels are manufacturing fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl, DEA warns, as states grapple with rising opioid-related deaths, crime

Updated: November 11, 2021 - 11:43pm

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued its first public safety alert in six years in September to warn Americans about counterfeit pills containing lethal doses of fentanyl being produced in Mexico and flooding the U.S. market.

"Opioids were responsible for nearly three quarters of the more than 93,000 fatal drug overdoses in the United States in 2020," said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, announcing the results of  a two-month, nationwide DEA enforcement effort to combat cartel-orchestrated drug distribution networks flooding U.S. with the deadly fake pills. 

The fake pills made by cartels "are more lethal than ever," the DEA said. According to DEA laboratory testing, four out of 10 fentanyl-laced fake pills contain a potentially lethal dose. A lethal dose is two milligrams, small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil.

The number of fake pills containing fentanyl has jumped nearly 430% since 2019, the DEA reported.

DEA agents have confiscated more than 9.5 million of the fentanyl-laced pills so far,  this year, more than the last two years combined, according to the agency. 

Fentanyl is imported in its pure state from China primarily into the Mexican ports of Lazaro Cardenas, Manzanillo or Mazatlan. Once in Mexico, fake prescription pills are made out of individual's kitchens and transported through a well-orchestrated cartel network into the U.S. 

Known in Mexico as "Mexican Oxy" or "M30s" on the streets because on each side of the pill is stamped a "30" and "M," many pills are dyed blue to look like real prescription pills to take advantage of the opioid crisis in the U.S.

Once in the U.S., the fake prescription pills are often sold on social media and e-commerce platforms, making them available to anyone with a smartphone, including minors, the DEA reports.

"The United States is facing an unprecedented crisis of overdose deaths fueled by illegally manufactured fentanyl and methamphetamine," said Anne Milgram, Administrator of the DEA.

Despite  then-candidate Joe Biden's 2020 campaign pledge to "End the Opioid Crisis" — promising to fund prevention and treatment services, hold pharmaceutical companies accountable, and stop the "flow of illicit drugs like fentanyl, especially from China and Mexico" — his policies have only emboldened the cartels, Republican argue. 

In March, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott launched Operation Lone Star to combat increasing crime in the state resulting from Biden's open border policies. By April, Texas DPS reported an 800% increase year-over-year in the amount of fentanyl its officers confiscated.

In June, Abbott expanded border security efforts with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to create an interstate compact, calling on other governors to help combat cartel-fueled crime.

Several Republican governors responded and offered help. Many more called on President Joe Biden to shut down the southern border and implement 10 solutions they proposed, which went ignored. 

After attending an October border summit in Mission, Texas, Idaho Gov. Brad Little said of the amount of fentanyl and meth pouring into Idaho from Mexico, "The magnitude of this problem is almost unbelievable."

To better combat cartel infiltration, Little sent five Idaho State Police troopers to assist Arizona Department of Public Safety officers in July. They participated in a 21-day mission, making arrests and learning new drug detection techniques.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who also attended the border summit, had sent 28 Iowa Department of Public Safety law enforcement officers to assist Texas DPS officers with traffic duties, humanitarian efforts, tactical operations and human smuggling operations. 

"The crisis at the border does not stay at the border," Reynolds said. "In Iowa, law enforcement officials are seeing an uptick in major narcotics crimes. Iowa law enforcement seized roughly 6,136 grams of fentanyl between January and June of this year, which marks a 1,070% increase from the same period last year. 

"Methamphetamine seizures are also on the rise, increasing 122% in the first half of this year, where officers seized 133,444 grams."  

Ducey said from January to September of this year, nearly 2,000 pounds of fentanyl and more than 13,000 pounds of methamphetamine had been seized by authorities in Arizona.

"Just think about how many drugs are slipping through the cracks and slipping into the bloodstreams in our communities," he said at the border summit. "This isn't a figure of speech. This is our reality."

Local media outlets reported over the summer that fentanyl overdoses were the leading cause of death among Pima County residents aged 19 and younger. The border county's health department reported in July that fentanyl overdose deaths from January to June of this year increased 59% compared to those reported over the same time period last year.

While Democratic governors of blue states have refrained from criticizing the Biden administration's relaxation of border security controls, their states have received federal money to combat drug-related deaths and crimes resulting from Mexican cartels flooding their states with drugs.

State law enforcement departments in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania received multimillion-dollar grants to combat drug-related crimes.

In Connecticut, state police received a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate drug crimes after a record number of opioid-related deaths, including fentanyl, were reported last year.

Fentanyl was linked to 84% of drug deaths last year in Connecticut, up from 25% of fatal overdoses just five years prior, according to state statistics. The number of fatal overdoses nearly doubled over the same time period, from 728 deaths in 2015 to 1,369 in 2020, a state record.

In New Jersey, the state attorney general's office reported 1,626 overdose deaths from January through June this year, which would project to more than 3,250 fatal overdoses for the full year, a 6% increase above the 2020 total, according to an analysis by New Jersey Spotlight News.

In August, the DEA launched a nationwide law enforcement effort to combat the distribution of fentanyl-laced fake pills coming from Mexico.

Over a period of two months beginning in August, the DEA in partnership with federal, state and local law enforcement seized 1.8 million fentanyl-laced fake pills, 712 kilograms of fentanyl powder — enough to make tens of millions of lethal pills, 158 weapons, 4,011 kilograms of methamphetamine and 653 kilograms of cocaine.

The DEA also launched the One Pill Can Kill campaign to warn Americans about fake pills flooding the market. The only safe medications to take "are ones prescribed by a trusted medical professional and dispensed by a licensed pharmacist," the DEA warns. "Any pills that do not meet this standard are unsafe and potentially deadly."