- - Wednesday, January 9, 2019

For years this country has been too lenient on border security. The war on drugs is an ongoing battle that we are losing to foreign smugglers attempting to distribute harmful synthetic opioids far and wide.

It is high time to tighten up border security by empowering law enforcement in order to safeguard American citizens from the danger of being trafficked in through our own mail system. There’s no doubt this has become a controversial issue, but I just don’t see any way around it after learning how devastating the opioid crisis has become to our nation.

Around 75 percent of approximately 42,000 opioid-related deaths in 2016 were caused by illicit fentanyl and heroin. You may be wondering where this “illicit fentanyl” is coming from? It is pouring into our country through our open borders and lax mailing system.

Chinese online fentanyl vendors send hundreds of packages to at least 300 sources in the United States via the U.S. Postal Service. China also commonly sends components of fentanyl to Mexico, where traffickers fashion large quantities into powder to then smuggle across U.S. borders for distribution. As a border state, Arizona is in an extremely vulnerable position. The smugglers are equipped to produce the drugs in such massive quantities that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been unable to properly prepare and combat the volume that is being trafficked in and distributed.

Mexico has discovered a lucrative business of wrongfully selling illegal drugs as legitimate medicines and further escalating American drug addiction. “Mexican Oxy” is a counterfeit prescription pill made by drug cartels in Mexico that are stamped in custom presses to look like a legitimate prescription drug but actually filled with heroin and/or fentanyl, a much more dangerous and illegal concoction. The DEA seized 70,000 counterfeit pills in Arizona in 2017 alone. Tempe police seized 30,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills from the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel.

In the first five months of 2018, customs officers and border agents seized 1,060 pounds of fentanyl. Officials at Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations have made vast improvements in identifying illegal opioids at borders and international mail facilities. Hand-held sensors are now able to detect tiny, but potent, shipments of opioids. Canine units have also been trained to detect fentanyl and other opioids.

China is the largest source of illegal fentanyl with a sophisticated online presence. Homeland Security Investigations utilize software that scans the dark web for opioid sellers and analyzes digital currency transactions to identify bad actors. In April 2018, law enforcement opened investigations on 45 people accused of participating in a drug trafficking ring that attempted to sell more than 65 pounds of fentanyl in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine.

The buck doesn’t stop here. President Trump realizes that the climbing death toll is due to illicit opioids passing through failed border security measures and unprepared law enforcement. That is why he has ordered federal agencies to hire more border patrol agents and knows local law enforcement needs more support — this is how to reverse the epidemic, not through unnecessary regulations on the prescription of opioids to pain sufferers. We must send a message to our foreign adversaries that we will not stand for this destruction of American life.

I am pushing for Congress to bolster the president’s goal to end the opioid epidemic by passing more bipartisan laws like the STOP Act, requiring the U.S. Postal Service to screen packages for deadly fentanyl from overseas, and to prosecute the criminals by holding Chinese smugglers and Mexican drug cartels accountable for their crimes.

China must re-examine its shipping policies if it wants to continue the trade relationship it has with the United States. We must make examples of Mexican drug cartels that have been caught with fentanyl on American soil and bring them to justice for the damage they cause.

•Joe Arpaio is the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. He was a federal narcotics agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and became head of DEA for Arizona.

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