WASHINGTON — More than 108,000 people in the U.S. died from a fentanyl overdose from February 2021 through February 2022.
Channel 2′s Washington bureau reporter Blair Miller went to the southern border to learn how the deadly drug is sneaking through checkpoints and getting into local communities.
Miller met Michael Humphries, the port director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Nogales, Arizona.
The checkpoint in Nogales is one of the busiest for people to come and go between Mexico and the United States. That also means it’s a prime gateway for Mexican drug cartels.
Right now, more fentanyl is coming in through Arizona than any other state in the country.
In that region, officers have seized more fentanyl in the last three months of 2022, than the entire year before that.
Humphries showed Miller what his team is up against every day.
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Semi-trucks that come through the area face random searches for fentanyl. That means officers offload the produce, go through it and then it back on.
Recently, officers discovered 776,000 fentanyl pills hidden inside compartments built into the roof of an 18-wheeler.
“Some of these concealment methods these officers here are finding haven’t been seen before,” Humphries said.
That includes a woman who attempted to cross the border with 19,000 pills taped to her legs. Officers say it’s also not uncommon to find pills hidden inside car parts.
They’ve even found more people trying to hide drugs in their body cavities.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne and reporter Tom Regan traveled to the same area in 2019 for a four-part series on fentanyl.
They too found officers battling the same problems.
Officers told them another challenge is geography. It’s difficult to stop smugglers because Pinal County stretches into a Native American reservation that straddles the Mexican border.
It’s off-limits to law enforcement, so people can easily cross the border into Arizona.
Officers say their focus is what comes into the United States, but the cartels are usually eager for what comes back.
Drug payments are usually in the form of American cash, guns, and ammunition.
“We’re seeing assault rifles, AK-47s, AR-type rifles trying to get back to Mexico,” Humphries said.
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