U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials announced Thursday their biggest fentanyl bust ever, saying they captured nearly 254 pounds of the deadly synthetic opioid from a secret compartment inside a load of Mexican produce during an inspection of a truck heading into Arizona.
The drug was found hidden Saturday morning in a compartment under the floor of a tractor-trailer after a scan during secondary inspection indicated “some anomalies” in the load, and the agency’s police dog team alerted officers to the presence of drugs, the Nogales CBP port director, Michael Humphries, said.
Most of the seized fentanyl, with an estimated street value of about $3.5 million, was in white powder form and about 2 pounds was in pills. Agents also seized nearly 395 pounds of methamphetamine with a street value of $1.18 million, Humphries said.
The seizure, Humphries said, prevented an immeasurable number of doses of the drug “that could have harmed so many families” from reaching the U.S.
Mexican traffickers have been increasingly smuggling the drug into the United States, mostly hidden in passenger vehicles and tractor-trailers trying to head through ports of entry in the Nogales, Ariz., and San Diego areas, authorities say.
Fentanyl has caused a surge in fatal overdoses around the U.S., including the 2016 accidental death of pop music legend Prince, who ingested the opioid in counterfeit pills that looked like the narcotic Vicodin.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials have said that while 85% of the illicit fentanyl entering the United States from Mexico is seized at San Diego-area border crossings, an increasing amount is being detected coming across the border into Arizona from the Mexican state of Sonora, where the Sinaloa cartel controls the drug trade.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in a recent report that fentanyl is now the drug most often involved in fatal overdoses across the country, accounting for more than 18,000, or almost 29%, of the 63,000 overdose fatalities in 2016.