Innovation, Partnership, and Prevention: DHS Confronts the Opioid Epidemic and Halts Illicit Substances at the Source

Illustrations by Javier Zarracina

Since President Donald J. Trump announced the Initiative to Stop Opioid Abuse and Reduce Drug Supply and Demand on March 19, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has embarked on an aggressive inter-agency operation to implement the president’s initiative and to stem the flow of opioids into U.S. communities.

“Through innovation, partnership and prevention, the men and women of DHS are working to curtail the flow of illicit substances at the source and at the border—before they reach our communities.” said DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan. “Our Department will continue to improve its efforts to interdict illicit drugs at or before they reach our borders, and remains committed to working with federal, state and local partners and relevant stakeholders to disrupt and dismantle the production and movement of these substances devastating American families and poisoning our communities. By mobilizing the entire administration to address this crisis, President Trump is galvanizing all of our resources to combat this deadly epidemic.”

DHS currently leads U.S. Government efforts to interdict illicit opioids and their analogues at or before reaching U.S. borders. In fact, DHS is seizing and blocking more fentanyl shipments than ever before. In Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 18), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) together seized almost 5,000 lbs. of fentanyl combined—or more than 1.2 billion lethal doses and enough to kill every American by overdose four times.

In FY 18, ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seized over 1 million lbs. of illegal narcotics, including 2,737 lbs. of fentanyl and 7,103 lbs. of heroin, and has made over 11,400 narcotics-related criminal arrests over the same time period—of which over 720 were for fentanyl-related offenses.

During the first six months of Fiscal Year 2019 (FY 19), ICE HSI fentanyl seizures totaled 1,340 lbs., compared to 1,314 lbs. for the same period in FY 18. CBP total fentanyl seizures from the Office of Field Operations (OFO) at ports of entry totaled over 939 lbs., compared to 914 lbs. during the same period in FY 18.

Additionally, DHS is blocking more fentanyl shipments through the mail. Thanks to the STOP Act, CBP is detecting more packages containing fentanyl from U.S. mail—a 748 percent increase —and keeping it from reaching American communities. Over 50 percent of all international packages are now being scanned.

CBP operates within major international mail facilities, inspecting international mail and parcels arriving from more than 180 countries. Additionally, CBP and the U.S. Postal Service are working to increase the amount of advance information received on international mail. This advance information enables ICE and other agencies to identify networks of foreign suppliers and domestic importers that are responsible for smuggling fentanyl into the United States. These networks have been targeted for investigation and prosecution.

View the DHS Fact Sheet Online

DHS remains committed to both stopping illicit opioids and opioid analogues at their source and preventing them from coming into our country.

  • Stopping opioids at the source. In partnership with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the State Department, DHS is working with counterparts in China, Mexico, South and Central American countries to prevent opioids and other drugs from ever reaching U.S. shores.
  • Preventing opioids from entering the United States through international mail facilities, and via the internet. Since early 2018, CBP’s National Targeting Center (NTC) Counter Network Division, along with HSI & CBP Attachés, have collaborated to interdict small transshipment packages of fentanyl bound for the United States. NTC now receives advance electronic information about packages from China, helping CBP officers better identify and interdict illicit shipments of fentanyl.
  • Disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal organizations (TCOs). DHS is targeting TCOs responsible organizations responsible for smuggling illicit drugs across the U.S. border and distributing them to a vast U.S. drug market that results in the poisoning and killing of Americans.

DHS is using a vast array of tools to confront the crisis.

  • Specialized Canines. Over 400 CBP K9s are now trained in fentanyl detection.
  • Advanced Technology. DHS is using non-intrusive inspection technology to find fentanyl smuggled into the country, and the Department has launched an Opioid Detection Challenge to incentivize new, innovative detection methods with a $1.5M prize.
  • Dedicated Teams. DHS has increased the number of Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BEST)—which incorporate personnel from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies—to 65 total nationwide. These ICE HSI-led teams help hunt down and disrupt fentanyl smuggling operations.
  • Scouring the Dark Web. ICE HSI has ramped up its investigations targeting “dark web” illicitly marketplaces, many of which involve fentanyl and other narcotics smuggling. ICE HSI now has more than 100 investigations focused on these marketplaces.
  • Sophisticated Targeting. The CBP-established interagency Special Operations unit at the NTC focuses on opioid shipments within the supply chain. These analysts are using law enforcement data and intelligence to go after the threat.
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