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DEA has seized over 55 million fentanyl pills in 2023 so far, Garland says

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Washington — Law enforcement agencies have so far seized over 55 million pills of fentanyl this year and more than 9,000 pounds of powder containing the deadly drug, Attorney General Merrick Garland told dozens of families whose loved ones died after ingesting fentanyl. And the Drug Enforcement Administration is on pace to seize more fentanyl in 2023 than in any previous year, a yield that continues to grow annually, according to DEA Administrator Ann Milgram.  

“Violent drug cartels are manufacturing and moving fake pills designed to look exactly like brand name drugs and instead, they contain deadly fentanyl,” Garland said, highlighting what he said are the dangers posed by the work of the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels in Mexico. 

Fentanyl Families
Attorney General Merrick Garland accompanied by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Anne Milgram, looks at photographs of people who had died from drugs during the Second Annual Family Summit on Fentanyl at DEA Headquarters in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023.

Jose Luis Magana / AP


“They are fueling this epidemic,” the attorney general alleged, “The Justice Department is attacking every aspect of the cartels’ operations.”

Fentanyl, a strong opioid about 50 times more powerful than heroin, has become increasingly present in the U.S. drug supply and has caused a wave of overdose deaths among people who consume it or use drugs they didn’t realize were tainted with the substance. 

Garland, Milgram and approximately 150 individuals affected by the growing proliferation of fentanyl on America’s streets gathered at DEA headquarters outside of Washington, D.C., Tuesday for the second annual Family Summit on Fentanyl. 

In 2022, 110,757 Americans lost their lives to fentanyl, Milgram said. 

The event coincided with recent attempts by law enforcement and Justice Department officials to tackle the opioid and fentanyl problem facing the U.S. and pressure transnational organizations that fund and traffic deadly drugs. 

Earlier this month, the U.S. secured the extradition of Ovidio Guzmán López, son of notorious drug trafficker and former Sinaloa cartel leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán

López and other sons of El Chapo were charged in April, along with nearly two dozen members and associates of the Sinaloa Cartel for allegedly orchestrating a transnational fentanyl trafficking operation into the U.S. 

Investigators said the defendants — part of the “Chapitos” network — facilitated the purchase of the precursor chemicals of fentanyl from China, manufactured the deadly drug in Mexico, and then smuggled it into the U.S., where it was sold on the street. 

Garland’s mention of López’s arrest prompted applause from the families of fentanyl victims gathered at DEA Headquarters on Tuesday. He has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that include allegations of drug trafficking and money laundering.

Federal investigators also charged four Chinese nationals with supplying the Mexican cartels with the precursor chemicals that make up the fentanyl drug in April, a prosecution that is the first of its kind. The charges allege the four sold the chemicals to the cartels — fully aware that the chemicals would be used to concoct the deadly substance. 

Milgram said the challenge for the DEA is not just combating those who sell the chemicals and smuggle the drugs into the U.S. Law enforcement must also fight what she characterized Tuesday as the “last mile,” which targets individuals are selling fentanyl to victims, some of whom may not be aware that the drugs they’re buying contain fentanyl. 

In the last year, the DEA administrator said over 3,000 individuals were charged with trafficking and selling drugs for the cartels inside the U.S. Currently, according to the DEA, there are 600 active investigations into the deaths of people who died of fentanyl overdoses, a number Milgram conceded Tuesday is not enough, but continues to expand. 

“We are facing and confronting a threat that is ever-growing. It has never been more deadly or dangerous,” Milgram warned. “We are talking about billions of dollars that are crossing the globe today that profit from fentanyl.”

Two people were arrested earlier this month and charged in connection to the suspected opioid death of a 1-year-old boy at a Bronx home-based daycare center where three other children were found possibly exposed to drugs. 

To boost education and awareness around fentanyl and curb purchases of the drug, Garland announced the Justice Department is dedicating $345 million in grants in the coming year for training, increasing access to treatment medications and focusing on those who are at risk for drug abuse.

“No one, especially no young person, should have to face this threat alone,” the attorney general said.

Just outside the auditorium where the U.S. officials addressed the victims’ families, pictures of Americans who had lost their lives to fentanyl and opioids covered the walls,  creatinga growing memorial and a reminder of the dangers the drugs pose. 

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