(The Center Square) – Arizona state troopers last week seized enough fentanyl to kill nearly 800,000 people. The fentanyl had been smuggled in a pickup truck and made it nearly 150 miles north of the border, authorities said.
Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers on Feb. 16 responded to reports of a single-vehicle collision on I-10 in Sacaton. Located just south of Phoenix, it’s a straight shot north along highways I-19 and I-10, 146 miles from Nogales, Mexico.
The driver of a 1989 Ford pickup truck lost control of the vehicle, the truck rolled over, and the driver was ejected, sustaining life-threatening injuries, Arizona DPS said. As emergency responders transported the driver to a hospital, troopers conducted an investigation and discovered numerous packages of pills concealed throughout the truck.
Their investigation led to the seizure of roughly 286 pounds – nearly 1.3 million pills of suspected fentanyl, with an estimated street value of $5.1 million.
Two milligrams of fentanyl is considered a lethal dose. According to a public safety alert issued by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration last November, six out of every 10 pills it’s tested contain a lethal dose.
AZ DPS cited an older statistic of four out of every ten pills, suggesting the seizure was enough fentanyl to potentially kill over half a million people. But using the updated DEA stats, the amount of pills seized, 1,297,000 pills is enough to kill 778,200 people. That’s enough lethal doses being smuggled in one vehicle to kill the entire individual populations of every town and city in Arizona except for Phoenix.
“Unfortunately, incidents like this are an all-too-common occurrence for law enforcement agencies in Arizona and across the country,” AZ DPS said, adding that its “troopers will continue working hard every day to combat the illegal smuggling and distribution of drugs such as fentanyl, undoubtedly saving many lives in the process.”
One individual in possession of 286 pounds of fentanyl nearly 150 miles from Mexico, further indicates that not all fentanyl being smuggled into the U.S. is caught at the border. Customs and Border Protection agents are doing their best to seize record amounts at ports of entry, law enforcement officials have told The Center Square, but what’s not known is how much more is coming through between ports of entry that isn’t caught and is smuggled into the U.S.
Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief John Modlin testified before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability earlier this month that Border Patrol agents seized more than 700 pounds of fentanyl in 2022, about half of which was in the field, meaning not at ports of entry.
“To give you an idea of the lethality of fentanyl, that’s enough to kill everyone in Arizona 21 times or basically half the population of the United States,” he said. Agents seized 52% at the port of entry and the rest in the field after “being backpacked across the border,” he said.
Law enforcement officials have explained that fentanyl precursors are produced in China and shipped to Mexican ports, where Mexican cartels manufacture them into fake prescription pills and lace other drugs with fentanyl.
Mexican cartels operate a multi-billion-dollar business in trafficking people and drugs, Jobe Dickinson, president of the Border Security Alliance, told The Center Square. “They’ve developed a multi-pronged approach as to how to smuggle illegal drugs into this country. They don’t just use one avenue, such as the ports of entry. They also use established smuggling routes and remote parts of the border to get more drugs across.”
A former law enforcement officer serving in southern Arizona, Dickinson has seen first hand the effects of fentanyl on communities and local law enforcement. “If you want to know, if the cartels are succeeding, take a look around the streets in your city,” he said. “Open air drug use is up and overdose deaths across this nation continue to rise because fentanyl is being delivered into our communities at record rates.”
“Local law-enforcement seizures away from the border have skyrocketed,” he added, pointing to AZ DPS’s seizure in Sacaton. “Over one million pills the DPS officers found didn’t likely come through a port of entry. In Arizona, large fentanyl seizures aren’t just happening in our southern counties at the border but they are happening in our northern counties as the cartels move this product on the interstates, trying to take them across America.”
To combat the cartels’ sophisticated criminal network, he said, “We need a secure border using barriers and technology. In as many places as we can. We need high tech ports of entry to vet people and inspect them as they come across, we also need Border Patrol agents out, patrolling the smuggling routes that the cartels are using. Our last defense should be local law enforcement protecting our communities.”