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Fentanyl Seizures and Drug Busts

Fentanyl is a highly potent and addictive synthetic opioid.1 Over the past decade, fentanyl misuse and addiction has created a national crisis and dramatically contributed to the opioid epidemic.1 From 2013 to 2021, more than 258,000 people died from fatal fentanyl overdoses.1

Border officials continue to conduct massive fentanyl seizures in efforts to remedy the opioid epidemic and save lives. In 2023, law enforcement seized over 79.5 million fentanyl-laced pills and nearly 12,000 pounds of fentanyl powder.2 Keep reading to learn more about fentanyl, how much fentanyl has been seized, and how to find a fentanyl addiction treatment center near you.

Why Is Fentanyl So Popular?

Fentanyl has become a popular drug over the past decade.1 This manmade opioid is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.1 Although originally used in medical settings, illegal fentanyl use has increased significantly.1 Fentanyl’s high potency has made it an attractive option for drug traffickers to profit from.3 Since fentanyl is so potent and addictive, it takes very little to produce a high, making it cheaper to produce.3

Fentanyl is made in a lab using precursor chemicals and sold as pressed pills or in powder form.1 Fentanyl-laced pills often mimic pharmaceutical drugs such as oxycodone.1 Recently, an emerging trend of colorful fentanyl pills, or “rainbow fentanyl,” that look like candy has increased.4 Drug cartels use this tactic to make fentanyl attractive to children and young people.4

Is Fentanyl Illegal?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves fentanyl use for pain relief and as an anesthetic.1 Prescription fentanyl, such as Actiq and Duragesic, is prescribed by medical professionals to help patients experiencing chronic pain or severe pain due to accidents or surgery.3 However, it is commonly sold and used illicitly in many forms. People misuse prescription fentanyl patches by removing their gel contents and injecting or ingesting them.1 Drug traffickers also combine fentanyl powder with other drugs, like heroin, or create pressed pills.1

Other opioids, like heroin and morphine, are made from a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pods of opium poppy plants.5 Fentanyl is a manmade opioid created using the same chemical structures as other opioids.3 Fentanyl can either be completely synthetic or semi-synthetic, containing both natural and manmade substances.3

In 1970, the United States Controlled Substances Act made fentanyl a Schedule II narcotic.1 This act categorizes fentanyl as a highly dangerous drug with a high potential for abuse and severe psychological or physical dependence with use.6

What Is a Fentanyl Drug Bust?

A fentanyl drug bust, or seizure, is when law enforcement or police officials confiscate fentanyl from people who are thought to be distributing it illegally.7 These individuals are then arrested and charged.7 This could be instances where someone is caught smuggling, making, or selling large quantities of fentanyl.7

Drug busts targeting fentanyl typically involve undercover work, extensive surveillance, and collaboration between local, state, and federal agencies to dismantle illicit drug networks.7 These operations aim to disrupt the supply chain of fentanyl, prevent its distribution onto the streets, and protect communities from the devastating consequences of fentanyl addiction and overdose deaths.7 Fentanyl drug busts are crucial in combating the opioid crisis and saving lives.

As fatal overdoses and addiction rates rise, fentanyl seizures have increased drastically. In 2023, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized about 27,000 pounds of fentanyl.8 The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) revealed that laboratory testing suggested that 7 out of every 10 illicit pills seized contained fentanyl.2

Where Are Fentanyl Seizures Happening?

Fentanyl seizures happen nationwide. Since much of the fentanyl in the U.S. comes from drug cartels in Mexico, many fentanyl seizures occur at the US-Mexico border in states like California, Arizona, and Texas.9 Most of these seizures happen on land at ports of entry.9 Drug smugglers often travel in private and commercial vehicles equipped with hidden compartments containing fentanyl. Some may travel by foot through and between land ports of entry along the Southwest border.9

Fentanyl drug busts can also happen at U.S. maritime borders, where smugglers attempt to deliver fentanyl in ship cargo through coastal ports of entry. A fentanyl bust may occur on the streets or in communities. Drug traffickers often run fentanyl mills in neighborhood apartments and basements, where they prepare and package bulk fentanyl into street-ready products.10

Biggest Fentanyl Drug Seizures

Several large fentanyl seizures have recently occurred in the U.S. The DEA seized over 74.5 million fentanyl pills in 2023, exceeding 2022’s total of 58 million pills.2 In 2023, the CBP made the biggest fentanyl drug seizure in the history of the Andrade Port of Entry at the U.S.-Mexico border of California.11 Officials noticed irregularities in a vehicle’s gas tank during an imaging system screening. Nearly 54 pounds of fentanyl was confiscated from the vehicle.11

The biggest fentanyl drug seizure in New York City also happened in 2023, when 4 people were charged with running a fentanyl mill.12 Law enforcement confiscated about 24 kilograms of suspected fentanyl; 200,000 fentanyl pills; 4 commercial pill presses; and a kilo press from the residence.12 Each suspect was charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics and distribution of narcotics.12

States Seeing the Most Fentanyl Seizures

Since fentanyl primarily makes its way to the U.S. through Mexico, border and coastal states are often sites of most fentanyl seizures. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Southern California, San Diego is a national epicenter for fentanyl trafficking.13 San Diego and other land entry ports, like Otay Mesa, Andrade, San Ysidro, Tecate, and Calexico, have seen the highest number of fentanyl seizures in the country.13

Although the total amount of seizures for each state isn’t clear, reports from law enforcement from cities within these states give insight into the numbers. Here are the top 6 states with the highest level of fentanyl drug busts:

  • California. In San Francisco, the federal district courts in Sacramento and Fresno had about 86 cases of fentanyl distribution offenses in 2023.14
  • Arizona. The DEA Phoenix Field Division seized over 3 million fentanyl pills and 45 kilograms of fentanyl powder, and it made over 40 arrests in 2021.15
  • Texas. In 2023, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) seized over 3.1 million lethal doses of fentanyl during one traffic stop in Mission.16
  • New Mexico. In 2021, the El Paso Division (which covers West Texas and the whole state of New Mexico) seized 2,886,783 pills and 261.5 pounds of fentanyl, enough doses to kill the entire state of New Mexico and the 17 counties of West Texas within the El Paso division.17
  • Pennsylvania. Between 2020 and 2021, there was a 346% increase in fentanyl seizures.18
  • New York. The DEA New York Division confiscated 4.2 million fentanyl pills and over 500 kilograms of fentanyl powder in 2023.19

Finding Fentanyl Addiction Rehabs Near You

Seeking treatment for fentanyl addiction is a life-changing step that can help you avoid overdose and addiction’s negative consequences. Finding the right treatment center can seem overwhelming, but several options are available to fit your situation. The first step is reaching out to your provider or an addiction specialist for an assessment. The assessment will help you understand the level of care that suits you best, whether that be residential or outpatient treatment.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help you find the best rehab for you. Our qualified admissions navigators can guide you through the process, answer your questions about addiction, verify your insurance, and connect you with top-quality care. Overcoming opioid addiction or fentanyl misuse can be a difficult battle. But therapeutic interventions, like medical detox, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and peer support, can help you start your road to recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with fentanyl addiction, contact AAC to learn more about treatment options. Call .

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