Claim: The amount of fentanyl coming across the southern border is “at historic lows” thanks to President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.
Who said it: White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday, in response to a reporter’s question on Mexican drug cartels.
“Because of the work that this president has done, because of what we’ve done specifically on fentanyl at the border, it’s at historic lows,” Jean-Pierre said. “We’ve done it in a historic way. That’s because of what this president has done.”
Why it matters: Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin, has killed more Americans than the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars combined. In 2021 alone, more than 107,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, with the main culprit being fentanyl mixed with other drugs or chemicals, often without the user’s knowledge.
Provisional data from the CDC show that 100,500 Americans died from a drug overdose in the 12-month period from September 2021 to September 2022. Americans aged between 18 and 49 are more likely to die from fentanyl poisoning than any other cause of death.
The vast majority of fentanyl is smuggled into the country through the southern border, federal authorities believe. Rising overdoses have prompted calls for stricter border enforcement, with some Republicans saying the Biden administration is responsible for the health crisis.
Context: The Biden administration has overseen the largest border crisis in U.S. history. More than 5.5 million migrants have crossed the southern border since Biden took office. Last year, immigration authorities recorded more than 2 million migrant encounters on the southern border.
The border crisis has corresponded with a rapid rise in fentanyl overdoses. Border Patrol officials say the sheer number of people arriving at the southern border, whether to claim asylum or sneak past authorities, has left them ill equipped to stop smugglers.
During his State of the Union address, Biden called for higher penalties for fentanyl traffickers but stopped short of addressing a lack of border security as a cause for the large number of overdoses. Jean-Pierre said after the speech that the United States “has more work to do” on the issue.
Analysis: There is little truth to Jean-Pierre’s Tuesday claim that “fentanyl at the border” is “at historic lows.”
Customs and Border Protection figures show that authorities seized 12,500 pounds of fentanyl at the southern border from October 1, 2022 (the beginning of the 2023 fiscal year), through January 31, 2023. In the entire 2022 fiscal year, CBP seized 14,700 pounds of fentanyl, the most in the agency’s recorded history. The United States is on pace to break that record by the end of March, and perhaps already has.
Although the month of January saw a dramatic fall in fentanyl seizures—down to 1,400 pounds from December’s 6,200—it was still higher than any January on record. The month of December had the highest amount of fentanyl seized on the border than at any time in U.S. history. To put December’s numbers in perspective, in the 2020 fiscal year CBP seized a total of 4,800 pounds of fentanyl.
The Drug Enforcement Administration said it seized more than 379 million deadly doses of fentanyl at the end of last year, more than 1 for every person in the United States. DEA laboratory testing found that 60 percent of all fake prescription pills analyzed contained a lethal dose of fentanyl.
Jean-Pierre said later in her answer that “we are seizing fentanyl at record historic levels,” which is true. More fentanyl has been seized under Biden than under his predecessors, although these numbers still corresponded with record overdoses.
Moreover, fentanyl did not take such a hold on the U.S. drug market until recently. In 2016, 20,000 Americans died from synthetic opioid overdoses. Since then, fentanyl overdoses have been steadily increasing.
In short, fentanyl crossing the southern border is not at record lows. Fentanyl seizures, on the other hand, are at all-time highs under the Biden administration, but this fact has had virtually no impact on the nation’s drug crisis, indicating that massive amounts are still flowing across the border.
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