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Synthetic Drugs Flood California Crossing of US-Mexico Border

FENTANYL / 26 NOV 2021 BY SETH ROBBINS EN

A record seizure of methamphetamine and fentanyl at a US-Mexico border crossing near San Diego underscores how this corner has become a major smuggling corridor for synthetic drugs.

Nearly 8,000 kilograms of methamphetamine and about 180 kilograms of fentanyl were discovered amid auto parts in a tractor-trailer at the Otay Mesa crossing in California, according to a November 19 news release by the US Justice Department. The seizures represented the largest single haul of each drug during the past two years, according to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

SEE ALSO: Coverage of US-Mexico Border

Agents found the nearly 6,400 packages of illegal drugs after an X-ray scan revealed anomalies in the trailer, and a narcotics-sniffing dog signaled an alert at its door.

“This is a staggering seizure,” Randy Grossman, US District Attorney for the Southern District of California, said in the news release. “But for the vigilance of our law enforcement partners, this record-breaking deluge of drugs would have caused incredible damage in our communities,” he added.

The US has seen a surge in drug overdose deaths recently, driven primarily by synthetic opioids, mostly fentanyl. Of the nearly 100,000 people who died from drug overdoses between May 2020 and April 2021, about 64,000 had consumed synthetic opioids, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

InSight Crime Analysis

The record haul reflects an increasing flow of methamphetamine and fentanyl across the border between California and Mexico, and the bust is the latest in a string of large seizures by agents at the Otay Mesa crossing.

According to CBP figures, its San Diego sector operations have seized nearly 52,000 kilograms of methamphetamine and nearly 3,000 kilograms of fentanyl during the 2021 fiscal year, which began in September 2020 and ran through October 2021. That’s a five-ton increase in methamphetamine compared to the previous year. Fentanyl, meanwhile, more than doubled from 2020. 

While so much attention has been placed on drug smuggling in empty stretches of the border between the US and Mexico, most drugs enter the US through legal ports of entry. California has two of the busiest – San Ysidro and Otay Mesa. According to a USA Today report, 90 percent of drug seizures in the CBP’s San Diego Sector occur at the ports.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Synthetic Drugs

Traffickers typically hide small amounts of drugs inside private cars or trucks. The larger seizures, however, could be a result of the US closing its border to non-essential vehicles amid Covid-19 movement restrictions, pushing traffickers to take gambles on stashing large shipments in tractor-trailers. Traffickers appear to be targeting the Otay Mesa crossing, which serves as a major transit point for commercial transit.

In August, agents at Otay Mesa discovered more than 2,500 kilograms of methamphetamine and some 50 kilograms of fentanyl in a truck’s trailer that contained commercial plastic parts, according to a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) news release.

The San Diego Border Sector's crossings lie across from Mexico’s state of Baja California. The state’s municipalities of Tijuana and Ensenada topped methamphetamine seizures in Mexico in 2020, accounting for more than 5,000 kilograms of the drug, according to government data compiled by the non-profit Mexico United Against Crime (México Unido Contra la Delincuencia -- MUCD).

According to a study on fentanyl seizures between 2017 and 2019, Baja California led all states with 87 seizures. The study also suggested three primary fentanyl smuggling routes, two of which led directly to the California border.

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