- - Wednesday, May 8, 2019


The recent government shutdown emphasizes how strongly President Trump believes that securing our border once and for all is essential to preserving the American way of life. This is especially true for Americans living in the southwestern states. But the illegal aliens crossing the border are not the only concern, it’s what many of them are smuggling: Fentanyl.

I was the elected sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, for 24 years and as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Arizona and Texas prior to that, my vast experience in drug enforcement and human trafficking along the Arizona/Mexican border makes me believe that the only way to stop the flow of these dangerous drugs into the United States is construction of Mr. Trump’s border wall.

The acting director of the Drug Enforcement Administration described Mexican drug cartels crossing our open southern border as a critical factor driving the country’s opioid epidemic noting, “Mexican drug trafficking organizations are the biggest criminal threat the United States faces today.” And he’s right. Law enforcement agencies are spread thin and facing dwindling budgets to combat sophisticated drug cartels smuggling illicit opioids. We need to strengthen our border security by building a wall and properly supporting our law enforcement if we hope to have a fighting chance in this war on illicit drugs.

As I’ve noted in The Washington Times, Mexican drug cartels have identified the United States as its most lucrative market, realizing massive profits by preying on the vulnerable and addicted. Their development and distribution of “Mexican Oxy” has become an all-too-easy alternative to legitimate prescriptions for chronic-pain patients who are facing stricter regulations on pain management prescriptions. Last April, Arizona passed a new opioid law placing restrictions on prescribing and limits the maximum dose for new patients. While the intent behind the law was to diminish opioid-related deaths, patients facing these new restrictions are turning to the dark web to self-medicate with questionable knockoffs realistic enough to be deemed “pretty good” by Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, a prescription drug manufacturer.

Even without considering our border crisis, law enforcement already has its hands full with the mass quantities of illicit drugs imported through the Internet and re-sold in our communities. Homeland Security investigations diligently utilize software that can search the dark web for opioid sellers and analyze digital currency transactions to combat bad actors, ultimately leading to hundreds of open investigations. One such investigation led to identifying a former Eagle Scout in Salt Lake City who, with five others, were charged with turning his mother’s basement into an illicit pill lab. When her house was raided in November 2016, 70,000 pills laced with fentanyl and $1.2 million in cash were found. The accused were allegedly selling hundreds of thousands of these deadly pills on the dark web.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Fentanyl is shipped daily from China to Mexico and then smuggled across U.S. borders. Mexican cartels act as the primary conduit for purchasing, smuggling and distributing Chinese fentanyl in our country. There is a reason that some of the biggest fentanyl seizures have been in California, namely its close proximity to its southern neighbor. Total seizures more than doubled last year to 1,196 pounds, but officials say far more goes undetected. While vast improvements have been made in identifying illicit opioids at our borders and international mail facilities, be it hand-held sensors or tactfully trained canine units, drugs still get through and Americans keep dying.

Since June 2017, there have been 2,325 suspected opioid deaths in Arizona alone. Mr. Trump’s push for a physical barrier at the U.S.-Mexico border is a start, but even more can be done to ensure the safety of Americans. This includes improving technology at legal ports that measures up to the sophisticated nature of smuggling cartels, increasing staffing of customs officers to support the new technology, and boosting the resources of local law enforcement to efficiently combat the crisis within their own communities.

It’s critical that we tackle this crisis from both sides of the aisle, and support our president in his goal to end the opioid epidemic. Through bipartisan bills strengthening our border security, like the INTERDICT Act and STOP Act, we can effectively alert our country’s adversaries that those threatening American lives will be persecuted to the fullest degree.

• 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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