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‘Alarming’ increase in drug seizures at El Paso ports of entry in December

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Officials have seized massive quantities of illegal narcotics at El Paso ports of entry since the beginning of December, part of an ongoing trend of heightened drug flows into the United States and rising deaths from drug overdoses.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers confiscated 105 pounds of fentanyl at El Paso ports of entry since the start of the month, nearly one third of the total amount of fentanyl seized in the entire 2021 fiscal year. They also seized 32 pounds of heroin and 714 pounds of methamphetamine. Among those apprehended after driving the drugs across the border, all were either U.S. citizens or U.S. legal permanent residents, according to a CBP news release.

“Over 105 pounds of fentanyl, that was pretty alarming,” said Sandra Hawkins, a supervisor in the CBP El Paso Field Office. “Especially because it’s only (been) two weeks since December. … As far as a trend, the trend is that we are seeing more fentanyl.”

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The rise in the use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl by Americans contributed to a record-breaking year for opioid overdose deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 100,000 Americans died by overdose in the 12-month period that ended April 2021, a 28.5% increase from overdose deaths the year prior.

Jeremy Slack, a professor of geography at the University of Texas at El Paso who researches drug trafficking, said that increased drug busts like this are an indicator that the level of addiction is very high.

“There’s a high likelihood that we’re going to see those numbers (of overdoses) continue to increase,” Slack said, explaining that the biggest takeaway from the large seizures is that the opioid crisis is getting worse.

“The fact that fentanyl outpaces heroin by that much is really scary,” Slack said of the December drug seizures.

More than two pounds of fentanyl and 524 pounds of methamphetamine (pictured) were seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Santa Teresa cargo facility on Dec. 7; they had been concealed within the roof of a tractor trailer. (Photo courtesy of CBP)

In El Paso, as in the rest of the country, overdose deaths have spiked dramatically.

Fentanyl-related overdose deaths in El Paso county increased 150% between 2019 and 2020 — from 18 to 45 — according to data on the county medical examiner’s website.

The year 2021 is on pace to exceed that, with 45 fentanyl-related deaths in El Paso county as of Aug. 24 –- the same amount in eight months as there were in all of 2020. The medical examiner’s office did not provide more recent numbers on 2021 fentanyl-related deaths.

Renae Eze, spokesperson for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, attributed the rise in illegal narcotic seizures at the El Paso ports of entry to a failure of President Joe Biden’s immigration policy even though the December seizures by CBP were made at ports of entry and none of the arrests for the alleged trafficking included undocumented immigrants.

Slack said that conflating the issues of immigration and drug trafficking is inaccurate and jingoistic.

“To put the blame on asylum seekers is so disingenuous and just so patently false that it really shocks me that anyone could even believe this,” he said. “The policies of accepting asylum-seekers … they don’t have anything to do with drug seizures at the ports of entry.”

Cover photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seized more than eight pounds of fentanyl (pictured) at the Ysleta port of entry on Dec. 2, along with seven pounds of heroin and 11 pounds of cocaine. The driver was a U.S. citizen. (Photo courtesy of CBP)

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René Kladzyk

René Kladzyk is a musician and writer based in El Paso. She performs original music as Ziemba, and has written for publications including Teen Vogue, i-D, and The Creative Independent. Her new album came out on Sister Polygon Records in September 2020, and she is hopeful that we’ll be able to enjoy live music together IRL again soon enough.

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