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DEA seizes greatest amount of fentanyl in agency history in 2023

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U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents in 2023 seized more than 77 million fentanyl pills and nearly 12,000 pounds of fentanyl powder – the most the DEA has ever seized in a single year.

The quantity translates to more than 386 million deadly doses of fentanyl – enough to kill more than everyone in the United States.

Last year, as the agency celebrated its 50th anniversary, it also transformed its organization and strategy, it said, “to meet this extraordinary moment in time as the United States confronts the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced – fentanyl.”

But their efforts weren’t enough to keep up with the supply pouring into the U.S. from the southern border, where the drug is manufactured in Mexico using precursors shipped from China, it said. And the potency of drugs they are seizing is more deadly than before.

“The dedicated women and men of DEA are doing everything in our power to battle the fentanyl scourge that is destroying our communities, but we’re essentially drinking water from a firehose,” Special Agent in Charge J. Todd Scott, head of DEA’s Louisville Field Division, said in a statement. “This is not a problem that can be solved by law enforcement alone.”

The DEA says the unprecedented threat of fentanyl “that is flooding our country” is largely being created by two Mexican drug cartels: the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels. In response, the DEA created a new “strategic layer of Counter Threat Teams to focus on each cartel and the illicit finance networks that fund them both.” The teams use intelligence gathered from 334 DEA offices worldwide “to map the cartels’ global networks and to identify targets for investigation and prosecution,” it said.

While the cartels’ operations are based in Mexico, DEA has identified more than 50 countries where they operate and traced their global supply chain worldwide. The DEA also explained the process of how fentanyl pours into the U.S.: cartels purchase chemicals from Chinese companies, which are shipped to Mexico and then mass produce fentanyl in Mexico. They then traffic and distribute finished fentanyl widely throughout the United States, primarily through a vast network coming through the southwest border.

Last year, DEA agents attempted to disrupt every step of the supply chain. It brought the first-ever charges against Chinese chemical companies and their owners for supplying precursor chemicals. DEA agents also charged and extradited leaders, enforcers, and associates of the cartels, and tracked down the criminal organizations and individuals in communities nationwide who distribute fentanyl on American streets and advertise to sell it on social media channels.

The DEA also said “the fentanyl we see today is even deadlier than before. Fentanyl pills today are more potent.”

It also updated a previous statistic: DEA laboratory testing in 2023 found seven out of 10 pills tested contained a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl. This is an increase from six out of 10 pills in 2022, up from four out of 10 pills in 2021.

Two milligrams, roughly the weight of a mosquito, is considered a lethal dose. Illicit fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 18 and 45.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also predicting record numbers of drug poisonings for 2023. For the 12-month period ending June 2023 it has estimated another 112,323 Americans will have died from drug overdoses with nearly 70% from fentanyl poisoning.

The DEA’s efforts are in addition to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents seizing enough lethal drugs to kill more than 6 billion people in 2023, including 27,000 pounds of fentanyl at ports of entry nationwide.

It’s also in addition to state law enforcement officials also seizing record amounts of fentanyl, The Center Square has reported. Last year, in Arizona, one multiagency effort led to seizing enough illicit drugs, including fentanyl, to kill over 40 million people. In one single Arizona Department of Public Safety bust, enough fentanyl was seized to kill over 800,000 people.

In one single bust in Los Angeles, enough fentanyl was seized to kill over 600,000 people.

In two multiagency drug busts in Florida, enough fentanyl was seized to kill nearly double the state’s population.

In Texas, officials have seized more than 453 million lethal doses of fentanyl, enough to kill more than the populations of Canada and the United States.

Last year, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody also led a coalition calling on the president to classify illicit fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction. Citing the border crisis and the record number of known or suspected terrorists coming through, the coalition argued any terrorist could use fentanyl in such a way to kill a large number of Americans.

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