As one of the busiest crossing points along the southwest border, the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, Arizona is a hot spot for fentanyl seizures in passenger and commercial vehicles.
"April, May, we're going to be bringing in 30 to 40 million pounds of produce a day through the Port of Nogales," area Port Director Michael Humphries said. "Several months ago, we got about 1.2 million fentanyl pills and a couple of hundred pounds of meth in the commercial environment."
Humphries closely tracks and tweets every seizure in his area.
"We had two enormous ones," he said. "One was close to 900,000 pills that was concealed in a vehicle. And then the next day, we got a second load that had about 1.6 million fentanyl pills."
He says this fiscal year, officers at the Nogales Port of Entry seized more than 25 million fentanyl pills, which is nearly double compared to the previous year — and there's still six months left of FY2023.
Dug traffickers smuggle the tiny fentanyl pills or fentanyl powder in creative ways.
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"We find some inside of produce, inside of dry goods," Humphries continued."Most of the time, when we get a load in the commercial environment, most of the time it's in the tractor or the trailer, you know, gas tanks, side walls, roofs, sometimes, and within the commodity itself."
And now, a powerful new scanner is helping track down the drugs more efficiently.
"From the time it starts driving through to fully through, is maybe eight seconds to 10 seconds, maybe," Humphries said.
Last summer, U.S. Customs and Border Protection installed a multi-energy portal to scan and take x-ray photos of semi-trucks at a faster rate, cutting down inspection time from 15 minutes to roughly 10 seconds.
CBP says this multi-energy portal, that resembles a giant car wash, allows officers to scan between 400 and 700 semi-trucks a day for drugs. Under the old system, they say they topped off at about 150 semi-trucks. Its another tool to combat drug trafficking.
"The drug cartels have grown bigger, more sophisticated and more treacherous. For more than five years now, they have been trafficking fentanyl — the drug of death," U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 107,000 people died of drug overdoses in a 12-month period ending in January 2022. Sixty-seven percent of those deaths involved synthetic opioids, like fentanyl.
"Last year, 1,773 Arizonans lost their lives to opioid overdose. Nearly all of these cases involve synthetic opioids, like fentanyl," Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs said.
"We are matching this unprecedented challenge with unprecedented solutions," Mayorkas said. "We are surging resources and increasing efficiency, prioritizing smart border security solutions and making historic investments in technology."
To help stop fentanyl from pouring over the border, the White House plans to install 123 large-scale scanners at points of entry along the southwest border by 2026.
Construction is underway in El Paso, Texas to install low-energy portal systems to help identify potential threats and scan vehicles for weapons and drugs.
The first multi-energy portal, like the one in Nogales, is in the works in El Paso. It's a move to increase efficiency along the border, help stop drugs and prevent drug-related deaths.
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