(NEW YORK) – As fentanyl overdoses and deaths rise across America, investigators have turned to the world to stop the flow.
Police and other experts say fentanyl and fentanyl-containing pills have been illegally imported from as far away as China and even smuggled across the US-Mexico border.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 10 years now. And there was a time when we would never find fentanyl. Now we get it all the time – and it comes in different forms,” said Robert Meza, an expert in fentanyl. import to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, ABC News told ABC News.
Even with some recent government crackdowns, fentanyl is still making its way into the country, into the hands of dealers and victims who have no idea they’re taking the potentially deadly substance, law enforcement officials say. order.
Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco told ABC News that the majority of the fentanyl his office has confiscated comes in the form of counterfeit pills that are delivered through the mail. The pills are made to look like painkillers and sold to unsuspecting victims, especially children and teenagers, Bianco said.
“They think they’re experimenting with other drugs,” the sheriff told ABC News.
Some dealers who were arrested for selling the tainted pills, however, said they were fully aware of what was happening on the streets, authorities said. Investigators said dealers were adding fentanyl to other illicit substances, such as heroin, to create new addiction and create repeat customers.
Eric Falowski, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2016 in Florida for intentionally adding fentanyl to counterfeit pills, told ABC News he had his pills sent to him by a contact in China.
“She actually approached me directly and said she could supply fentanyl. She was my best supplier,” he told ABC News.
Under pressure from the United States, Chinese suppliers have struggled to send the pills directly to America, experts said. However, these providers have offered an alternative plan which includes more pit stops.
Investigators said Chinese drug suppliers send the ingredients to make fentanyl to cartels in Mexico. After creating fentanyl, either in raw powder or pill form, the cartels would ship it across the border in trucks, investigators say.
Last year, more than 11,000 pounds of fentanyl entered the United States and more than half crossed the border from Mexico to San Diego, according to investigators. That’s more than double the amount of fentanyl seized at the border compared to 2020, investigators said.
“What you’re seeing now is something that would never have been possible when fentanyl was coming from China. And that’s nationwide coverage of fentanyl,” said Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland and The least of uswho has chronicled the nation’s opioid crisis, told ABC News.
Border Patrol agents have stepped up their search for pills and other contraband fentanyl products.
In one case, officers picked up 2 pounds of fentanyl and nearly 82 pounds of methamphetamine from a car. The small amount of fentanyl is far more potent than dozens of pounds of methamphetamine, experts said.
Investigators said they were unsure if they could stop the flow of tainted drugs, but reiterated that something had to be done to stop the flow into the hands of unconscious victims.
“America is poisoned with fentanyl, and we don’t even know it,” Bianco said.
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