by Photo courtesy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency

San Diego is now considered an epicenter for fentanyl trafficking into the United States, U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman announced Thursday. 

Border officials in San Diego and Imperial counties have seized more fentanyl, a powerful synthetic and lethal opioid, than the nation’s 300-plus ports of entry. According to Grossman’s office, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized over 5,091 pounds of fentanyl in the first nine months of 2022 along ports of entry at San Ysidro, Otay Mesa, Tecate, Andrade, and Calexico. 

That accounts for 60 percent of the 8,425 pounds of fentanyl seized in the nation. 

According to statistics released by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office, fentanyl-related overdose deaths have increased 2,375 percent in San Diego County, from 33 in 2016 to at least 817 in 2021.

“A decade ago, we didn’t even know about fentanyl, and now it’s a national crisis,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “The amount of fentanyl we are seizing at the border is staggering. The number of fentanyl seizures and fentanyl-related deaths in our district are unprecedented.

Seizures by Border Patrol stations within the San Diego and Imperial Valley Sectors include Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, Brown Field, El Cajon, Campo, Boulevard, San Clemente, Murietta, El Centro, and Calexico.

According to San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke, 2016 was the first year San Diego Sector Border Patrol tracked fentanyl seizures with a total of 71 pounds. Since 2019, fentanyl seizures in San Diego increased by 323 percent. 

“This fiscal year to date, San Diego Sector has already seized over 600 pounds, an increase of 745 percent, with two months remaining in the fiscal year. We will continue to work with our National and International partners to dismantle these criminal organizations and keep our borders free of these nefarious actors,” Heitke said. 

Imperial County follows closely with a 272 percent increase of fentanyl seizures from 2019 to 2022, from 40 pounds to 149 pounds – with three months still to count in 2022.

Federal authorities said this epidemic stems from criminal organizations that are increasingly manufacturing fentanyl for distribution and sale in the United States.   There has been an approximately 1,600 percent increase in the number of people charged with fentanyl-related crimes over the last five years. 

Along with prosecutions of alleged traffickers, the office said an outreach campaign focused on education and prevention has been established to provide the public with information regarding the drug's dangers. These efforts include hanging a poster at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry. 

Anne Maricich, acting director of Field Operations for CBP's San Diego Field Office, said, "U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in the San Diego Field Office have the arduous task of sifting through 150,000 northbound travelers every day to find those conducting illegal activity, including narcotics smuggling. Drug trafficking organizations will use anyone they can to help them with their dangerous and illegal activities, including regular border crossers as well as teens, in the hopes that they won't arouse suspicion.''

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