WASHINGTON — United States senators heard from representatives of the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday about the flow of drugs into and throughout the country.
Members of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security, including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., asked questions about how drugs are brought into the United States as well as the points of entry.
“The Department of Homeland Security is one of the many agencies fighting this ongoing battle with the opioid crisis,” she said. “The Appropriations Committee and many other congressional committees are working to ensure the entire federal government is coordinating across its federal agencies to tackle this problem, and it’s important for this subcommittee to understand the unique roles that the Department of Homeland Security plays.”
The Subcommittee on Homeland Security is part of the Appropriations Committee.
Todd Owen, the executive assistant commissioner with the Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations, said more than 545,000 pounds of narcotics have been seized on the borders and waterways so far this fiscal year. The ports of entry include concealment in vehicles, body carriers and through the mail system.
“While most illicit drug smuggling attempts occur on our southwest land border points of entry, the smuggling of illicit narcotics particularly fentanyl and similar opioids in the international mail and express courier environments pose a significant challenge,” Owen said.
Derek Benner, the acting executive associate director of the Homeland Security Investigations division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said his agency seized more than 2,400 pounds of fentanyl in fiscal year 2017, a sharp increase from 69 pounds in fiscal year 2015.
“Although it is primarily produced in China, it is being smuggled into the United States from Mexico in now record amounts,” he said. “HSI’s strategy to address opioid smuggling targets every level of the supply chain, including point of foreign manufacturer, the darknet and illicit marketplaces, as well as the payment mechanisms used by buyers and sellers.”
According to Benner, HSI has trained more than 2,100 law enforcement officers on targeting efforts through the dark web.
The agencies have worked to address the matter through monitoring mail at carrier facilities, as well as seeking to hire agents and representatives to develop cybertechnology to identify individuals involved in drug trafficking.
The appropriations bill passed by Congress in March included additional funding for resources to address issues associated with the opioid crisis, such as drug detection equipment and related research.