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Tucson CBP agents seizing enough fentanyl, meth to kill billions of people

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in the Tucson Sector of Arizona are seizing enough fentanyl and methamphetamine alone to kill billions of people.

Similar to agents in other sectors finding drugs hidden in novel ways, recent seizures are of drugs hidden in microwaves, children’s bouncy houses, and under watermelons.

The Tucson Sector, which covers most of the state of Arizona from the Yuma County line east to New Mexico, spans 262 miles of the international border. One of the busiest CBP sectors in the country for illegal activity, Nogales POE CBP agents seized more than 38,500 pounds of drugs in fiscal 2021.

Overall drug seizures went down in fiscal 2022 and 2023 to more than 26,000 and 25,000 pounds, respectively. However, seizures of cocaine and fentanyl have increased over the same time period, according to CBP data.

In fiscal 2023, Tucson sector agents seized a record 12,700 pounds of fentanyl. So far in fiscal 2024 through March 5, they’ve seized more than 4,700 pounds of fentanyl. The amount combined is enough to kill more than 3.9 billion people.

The overwhelming majority of drugs is being seized by Office of Field Operations agents working in field offices and at the Nogales POE. Their work is augmented by canines, invaluable aids in combatting smuggling operations, officials told The Center Square.

Recent seizures highlight the type of drugs and methods being used to smuggle them into the country.

Ahead of Easter weekend, more than 1.1 million fentanyl pills were seized at the Nogales POE, its director, Michael Humphries, said. On March 26, Nogales POE agents found and seized roughly 166,270 fentanyl pills hidden inside a microwave. On March 28, they found and seized more than 661,000 fentanyl pills and 3.9 pounds of methamphetamine hidden inside a deflated children’s bouncy house. On Good Friday, they also found and seized nearly 363,000 fentanyl pills hidden inside the doors and firewall of a vehicle.

In 12 events that occurred in the two weeks prior, Nogales POE agents seized a combined total of 989,280 fentanyl pills, 9.8 pounds of fentanyl powder, 160 pounds of cocaine, 515 pounds of methamphetamine and 2.4 pounds of heroin. The drugs were hidden inside train rails, in the firewall, seats, doors and tires of vehicles, as well as inside pottery and concrete pavers.

On March 25, Nogales POE agents working commercial operations seized 1,420 pounds of methamphetamine hidden in a compartment underneath the floor of a tractor trailer full of watermelons. After the driver was pulled over, the truck was inspected using imaging technology and canines, enabling officers to find the stash.

Two milligrams of fentanyl, the weight of a mosquito, is considered a lethal dose. One pound of fentanyl, or 453,592 milligrams, is enough to kill 226,796 people.

According to AddictionResources.net, a lethal dose of methamphetamine is an estimated 200 milligrams, a lethal dose of cocaine is over 30 milligrams. The lethality of heroine ranges from 30 milligrams to 500 milligrams. Based on these estimates and the recent seizure amounts of Nogales POE agents alone, enough lethal doses of fentanyl, meth and cocaine was seized to kill more than 12.4 million people.

The fentanyl estimate is based on 9.8 pounds seized and 5.4 million pills seized, assuming one pill can contain a lethal dose.

While CBP agents interdict people and drugs being smuggled north, they are also looking for weapons and cash being smuggled south. Transnational criminal operations profit billions of dollars from smuggling people and drugs north, and weapons, cash, stolen vehicles and other contraband south, law enforcement officials have explained to The Center Square.

Over the course of 10 events that occurred between Feb. 19 and March 29, Nogales POE officers working outbound operations also seized “13 AK style weapons, 4 pistols and over $50,000 in cash destined to Mexico to support Transnational Criminal Organizations,” Humphries said. Those attempting to smuggle contraband south used different methods, including a man strapping an AK style rifle to his torso, concealing weapons in vehicle undercarriages and in packages of cookware.

Under the current administration, the largest amounts of weapons and ammunition Tucson Sector agents have seized include more than one million rounds of ammunition in fiscal 2022, more than 18,000 silencers in fiscal 2021, and more than 3,200 vest body armor in fiscal 2024, as of March 5, according to CBP data.

Here's an example of how smugglers try to conceal bringing in fentanyl, meth and other drugs into the country: hiding packages under the floor panel of truck carrying watermelons, hiding them inside train rails, inside of firewalls, seats, doors and tires of vehicles, inside… pic.twitter.com/ldazFMPoXc— Bethany Blankley (@BethanyBlankley) April 9, 2024