- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2019

Homeland Security spent millions of dollars on drug detection devices for use at the border even though the detectors can’t reliably spot the type of deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl that is pouring across the border, the department’s inspector general said in a report this week.

Not only do the devices fail to spot fentanyl at less than 10% purity — which is the level most commonly smuggled across the border — but Customs and Border Protections’ Office of Field Operations (OFO) didn’t even have guidelines on how to use or update the detectors, the inspector general said.

Since fentanyl is a synthetic drug and its chemical signature can change, not having the most up-to-date library to match samples against could mean officers are missing the latest formulation of the drugs.

“Currently, OFO cannot ensure that it is protecting the United States from criminals smuggling fentanyl with purity levels less than or equal to 10 percent, thereby increasing the risk of fentanyl or other illicit narcotics entering the country,” the audit said.

The report, released Thursday, was the second this week to find the federal government bungling the response to the opioid crisis.

A Justice Department inspector general’s report found the Drug Enforcement Administration approved a surge in opioid production even as abuse rates skyrocketed, and the DEA cut back on a key tool that could have helped prevent bad pharmacies, doctors and manufacturers from involvement in opioid distribution.

Fentanyl is as much as 50 times more potent than heroin. A 2-milligram dose is lethal.

When it’s smuggled into the U.S. through the mail or courier, it’s usually very pure and is relatively easy to detect from a sample. That product is usually then processed and cut in purity for street sale.

But the fentanyl smuggled across the southwest border is usually already street-ready, at less than 10% purity.

The problem is CBP bought detectors without properly testing them — and it turns out they can’t always detect fentanyl of purity less than 10%, the audit said. One unit had a success rate of just 50%.

Even after a warning, CBP went ahead and bought more of those detectors. In 2016 and 2017 it spent $8.1 million on 94 screening devices that struggle to detect low-level purity, then spent another $17.5 million at the beginning of fiscal year 2019 on 185 more devices, the audit found.

Investigators made four recommendations about improving detection. CBP agreed with all four.

The agency said it’s working with the manufacturer “to increase the functionality of the devices currently deployed.”

The agency also belatedly issued procedures for use of the handheld detectors.

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