United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) now says that there is a surge in fentanyl coming across the United States border, and the agency has seized more of the incredibly potent narcotic in the first several months of 2021 than it did in all of 2020.
“Customs and Border Protection seized more fentanyl so far in 2021 than all of 2020,” ABC News reported Tuesday. “As of April, 6,494 pounds of fentanyl were seized by authorities at the border, compared to 4,776 pounds in all of 2020. In fact, fentanyl seizures have been increasing since 2018.”
“Fentanyl is an incredibly potent opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than morphine,” an expert noted to ABC News, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, Fentanyl use and abuse surged. Overdoses have continued to ravage the United States even after lockdowns have eased.
CBP has also seen a slight increase in the amount of methamphetamine seized at the southern border and a slight increase in the amount of narcotics seized overall, particularly along the United States-Mexico border, which is also suffering from a steep increase in illegal immigration.
“CBP’s Office of Field Operations has seen a slight increase in narcotic seizures at its southern border ports of entry in fiscal year 2021,” the agency said in a statement. “As cross-border travel shifted to essential-travel only, criminal organizations shifted their operations as well. CBP has seen an increase in seizures amongst U.S. citizens and in the commercial environment as both demographics are exempt from the travel restrictions.”
According to National Public Radio, overdose deaths surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during pandemic-related lockdowns, when most Americans were forbidden to leave their homes for more than essential travel. In previous years, around 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses. Around 90,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2020, and many of those deaths happened because of fentanyl.
“According to preliminary figures released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, synthetic opioid fatalities rose by an unprecedented 55% during the twelve months ending in September 2020,” NPR reported.
“Deaths from methamphetamines and other stimulants also surged by roughly 46%,” the outlet added,” adding that many of those deaths are “linked to fentanyl contamination,” where users did not know they were consuming the incredibly powerful narcotic because it was laced into another drug.
The exact number of pandemic-era overdose deaths, though, may not be known for some time. CDC data on the subject lags about six months behind, and preliminary data on deaths from September to December of 2020 will not be available until mid-summer.
It’s not clear precisely why drug use increased so markedly during the pandemic, but experts, at least initially, seem to be attributing the rise to the pressures of the pandemic itself. “One team of CDC researchers found roughly 13% of people surveyed either began using drugs during the pandemic or increased their use of illicit substances,” per NPR.
The Biden administration is already struggling to contain a different crisis at the southern border — the immigration crisis. The number of CBP encounters with illegal immigrants at the U.S.’s southern border increased again from March to April, though by a slimmer percentage than between February and March.